Tuesday, 9:59am
13 October 2020

Letterpress celebration

Italy’s Tipoteca museum commemorates its quarter century with 25 specially commissioned posters. By Simon Esterson and James Clough

Based in Cornuda in the northeast of Italy, Tipoteca is one of the finest printing museums in the world.

Tipoteca is celebrating its 25th birthday this year, and to commemorate the event the museum asked 25 designers and printers around the world to create a letterpress printed poster, writes Simon Esterson.

Right and above. Poster designed by Turin’s Archivio Tipografico for the 25th anniversary of the Tipoteca printing museum. Letterpress printed in two colours from hand-typeset original metal typefaces and brass rules, 2020.

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Colophon for the 25 commemorative Tipoteca edition, 2020. More than half of the posters were made directly in the printshops of the invited designers.

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Participants include Milan’s Cabaret Typographie, Turin’s Archive Tipografico, Jim Moran from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Wisconsin and Sascha Lötscher from Zurich. The posters (each printed in an edition of 25) are on display until the end of October 2020 and available to buy online.

Below, James Clough puts the museum in context.

Interior of Tipoteca printing museum in Cornuda, Italy.

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Poster design by Cabaret Typographie for Tipoteca anniversary, letterpress printed in three colours from laser-cut MDF matrices, 2020.

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Set up in 1995 in the village of Cornuda in the Veneto region, the Tipoteca already ranks high among Europe’s top printing museums, writes James Clough. A big collection of nineteenth-century hand presses includes one of Italy’s earliest surviving Stanhopes, built in 1840 by Amos dell’Orto of Monza, and together with the platens and some early twentieth-century cylinder machines, these presses have been restored to working order. Besides the Linotypes and Monotypes, another much rarer composing machine on display is a German Typograph as well as an Italian typefounding machine – both from the early twentieth-century.

Poster designed by Jim Moran and the Hamilton Wood Type Museum, letterpress printed in four colours from hand-typeset original wood and metal typefaces, 2020.

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As the name Tipoteca might suggest, the type collections are an outstanding feature of the museum. To date about 1700 metal founts, mostly from Italian type foundries, have been indexed and their sorts printed. The same goes for the 1264 cases of nineteenth- and twentieth-century wood type manufactured by about a dozen Italian firms in sizes ranging from 48 points to 50cm. Printers such as Lucio Passerini of Milan, Alan Kitching of London, Erik Spiekermann of Berlin and the Moran brothers of the Hamilton Wood type Museum in Wisconsin have made creative use of these types for printing small editions and posters: types of the past 150-odd years to make expressive and contemporary works of art. Technical assistance (from Daniele Fachin and his son Leonardo) is always at hand during these printers’ pilgrimages and also for the letterpress workshops.

Poster designed by John Christopher of Flowers & Fleurons. Letterpress printed in four colours from hand-typeset original wood and metal typefaces, 2020.

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There is no doubt that places like the Tipoteca acquire special significance in our digital times. Even a child can understand how an inked relief letter transfers an image to paper. And essentially, it is this simplicity that appeals to today’s design students: choosing, setting and printing movable type is a satisfying experience that has no digital equivalent.

There are collections of steel punches and matrices from the old Italian type foundries and of special importance are the punches cut by members of the Amoretti family who set up one of Italy’s most prolific nineteenth-century foundries following their collaboration with Bodoni in Parma.

Poster designed by Sascha Lötscher of Gottschalk + Ash, Zürich (see Eye 99). Letterpress printed at Tipoteca Stamperia from hand-typeset original metal typefaces and linocuts, 2020.

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Besides the many nineteenth- and twentieth-century specimen books from Italian and foreign type foundries, and the Nebiolo type-promotion leaflets, the Tipoteca’s library includes Bodoni’s charming 1771 specimen book and his famous two-volume Manuale Tipografico of 1818. Other rare specimen books in the burgeoning collection include one from the Vatican Press (1628), one from the Zatta type foundry of Venice (1799) and a broadside specimen of the Printing Office of the Seminary of Padua (1808). Collections of lithographic stones with relative prints, posters both lithographic and letterpress and 6000 punches for striking into plates for intaglio printing of musical scores are just a few of many other treasures in the Tipoteca.

Visitors are welcomed by Sandro Berra who runs the museum with passionate expertise and also speaks very good English.

Tipoteca poster designed by Dafi Kühne (see Eye 100). Letterpress printed in two colours from hand-typeset original metal typefaces and hand-cut linoleum, 2020.

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