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David Bolton Report

EUROPEAN MONOTYPE UNIVERSITY, IN JUNE 2004. Saturday June 26th, 2004, par David Bolton


Under the auspices of Association pour le Patrimoine Industriel (http://patrimoineindustriel.ch) and Association Lettres et Images (http://www.letterpress.ch), the Ecomusée Voltaire in Geneva celebrated 25 years of A.P.I., and also hosted the first one week European Monotype University, in June 2004.

Monotypes in Geneva

Under the auspices of Association pour le Patrimoine Industriel (http://patrimoineindustriel.ch) and Association Lettres et Images (http://www.letterpress.ch), the Ecomusée Voltaire in Geneva celebrated 25 years of A.P.I., and also hosted the first one week European Monotype University, in June 2004.

The Ecomusée site is on two floors and comprises a large collection of printing and allied equipment. This includes two Monotype composition casters, one Monotype super caster, two assembled Monotype keyboards and two disassembled ones, and a wealth of caster and keyboard parts and spares (one of the disassembled keyboards was duly re-assembled and generously given to the Polish attendees to take back to their Book Arts Museum in Lodz). There are two Ludlows, three Linotypes, seven cylinder proof presses (of various sizes), two table-top platens, two large cylinder presses, two auto-platens, three litho-stone presses, an iron hand press, an etching press, two pantograph engraving machines and various milling, etc. machines, a Chinese typewriter, numerous frames of metal and wood type in cases, and in addition a quantity of computers plus a large format digital scanner and printer, etc. and various other pieces of equipment old and new, all in use or available for use, and all mostly having been donated to the Museum.

The Museum itself is in rent-free premises, with free electricity - or at least, free to the organisation, as one assumes the Canton of Geneva meets the bill. It operates a scheme whereby unemployed workers receive benefit if they devise a project and attend at least 16 hours per week to work on that project. So in the Museum there were various artists, and ex compositors and operatives, etc., all working in different areas with the presses, casters or computers. There were also regular working visits by schools with their teacher(s). In all, this seems a very enlightened way of keeping the equipment and knowledge alive. If only other countries would follow this example...

Indeed, one of the "University" attendees, Marcus Müller from the Papiermühle Basle, reported on how the Association of European Printing Museums Juergen Boenig had narrowly missed getting funding from the European Union this year for support for a scheme for widening the use of and learning about the printing holdings in museums, and he was optimistic of a better outcome in the next round of bids.

As for the "University" week itself, this was in many ways a success. The idea of a University copies a similar event run for many years in the U.S.A. by the American Typefounding Fellowship. That is, to bring together typecasting professionals, enthusiasts and beginners, to exchange views, and to work with the machines. The European "University" concentrated on Monotype, and this first occasion saw some 20 attendees from Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Poland, Switzerland, U.K., and U.S., albeit only single figures from some of those countries. Accommodation, food and drink was all provided free of charge, and there was no attendance fee. Professionals from the Imprimerie Nationale, Paris, were on hand to give expert advice, though sadly could not stay the whole week. However, several of the other attendees were seasoned Monotype users, and well able to coach the less experienced, and it is to be hoped that by the end of the week, everyone went away enthused by having worked to produce three casters in running order.

It was perhaps an unfortunate fact that all three of the Monotype casters were out of order at the start of the course, one not only being in parts, but having suffered from an over-enthusiastic coat of new paint, on most of its working surfaces. It took several days to clean up, and to find the many parts that had been rather scattered around the museum in the intervening five years the three machines had been idle. A moral here is not to unnecessarily paint a machine, and also to ensure that one keeps track of all removed parts, preferably storing all parts from one section of a machine in the same container. The Museum itself has not yet completed an inventory of its holding of Monotype parts, and it proved impossible to find a few important pieces. Similarly, the demonstration of a nascent computer controlled casting system would have been better served if the system had been fully tested beforehand, and the reliability of the equipment ensured.

For those organisations considering a similar event (and this particular one is scheduled to be repeated in France in 2005), it might be advisable to bear in mind the language problem. In Geneva, for example, French, English, German, Dutch and Polish was being spoken, but schoolboy French is not sufficient for an understanding of technical Monotype details, and attendant translators would have proved useful. Similarly, there was no specific arrangement for recording the information being proffered, apart from various on-line web cameras that were streaming video to the world, and a video tape being made of a few sequences of some of the work being undertaken. A detailed commentary would need to be added, for this to be useful for future students. Many attendees would have welcomed a more structured programme of events, and for certain sessions to be repeated during the course of the week, so as to allow attendees to work both on a caster, and on a keyboard, for example. A final résumé of proceedings would have been welcomed, but this was probably difficult with several of the attendees being present for only part of the week.

But undoubtedly much was made of the opportunity for international discussion, not only about the actual Monotype equipment, but how this equipment was to be preserved for the future, as working machinery. Duncan Avery, from the Type Museum, London, alerted attendees to the some 60,000 microfiche of Monotype parts, and 50,000 layouts, 25,000 trial proofs, 16,200 customer records, etc that were held in the Type Museum. Some of this material was of value not just for future Monotype users, but for example for social and printing historians viewing the spread of machinery, typefaces, etc across the world. For Monotype users themselves, the week pondered the establishment of a global network for lending or exchanging matrices, moulds and parts; the need for some form of certification of competence of the potential borrowers; the establishment of a database of information about matrix layouts, unit values, etc.; the possibility of centralised mould repair, matrix manufacture, etc. The Ecomusée was already building a digitised collection of Monotype manuals and charts, available on-line. Andreas Schweizer andreasschweizer@gve.ch, the organiser of the week, volunteered to advise any group or body on how the Ecomusée principles and practice might be applied elsewhere, both in terms of funding, and of the capture and spread of knowledge. It now remains to be seen whether the achievement of the Swiss can be enhanced in other parts of the world.

David Bolton alembicprs@aol.com


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