30 years after its foundation, Type Archive is no more
For many a sad development in the history of type, the Type Archive (TA) has taken the decision to “relinquish its current premises on Hackford Road in Stockwell, South London.”
As noted “the Science Museum Group (SMG) has a statutory duty to ensure that the Monotype collection currently held at the TA is maintained in good condition and SMG will be moving it to its National Collections Centre near Swindon. SMG has also agreed to house the Stephenson Blake collection, on loan from the V&A – the interim owner - while options are explored for a long-term home. The National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport are providing support to enable these nationally important collections to be safeguarded.”
Founded thirty years ago, after successfully rescuing the hot-metal plant and stock of The Monotype Corporation, the Type Museum Trust subsequently rescued and acquired Stephenson Blake & Co. and Robert DeLittle collections.
Spearheaded by its founder Susan Shaw, the Type Museum – later renamed the Type Archive (TA) – has “been kept going by the efforts of its Trustees, a loyal group of volunteers, customers who need its products, and interested members of the public.”
Type Archive continued to make and maintain all the machinery by which letterpress printing is enabled, and preserve the skills that go with it. yet, over the last few years, the TA “struggled to achieve the income required to keep going.”
As recent worsening economic conditions occurred and with the Stockwell premises in need of substantial repairs that would improve accessibility, and ensure the safe use and preservation of the collections, Type Archive is moving away from its home.
Although the TA Trustees “looked at a number of options that would house the collections in an improved environment, none of these options have provided a viable solution and there is no realistic prospect of sourcing the significant funding required in the short or medium-term to address the repairs, accessibility and the care of the collection issues” reads Type Archive’s announcement.
So what is to happen to this treasury of printing and type?
“The TA will surrender the SMG loan of the Monotype Collection, made when the collection was purchased with funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). The Stephenson Blake collection, which was also purchased with NHMF funding, will be loaned by the V&A as interim custodian to the SMG. The DeLittle collection was donated to the TA and conversations regarding its future home are ongoing.”
Not exactly what its founder and a publisher that dedicated to rescuing the remains of the letterpress printing industry Susan Shaw would expect, Type Archive is no more. The “fearless in taking on what she was told was impossible” per The Guardian, Shaw died on 13 June 2020 at the age of 87.
The recent developments prompted a series of worrying tweets about the future of initiatives that aim to preserve this trailblazing craftmanship.
“Similar fate awaits my typographic workshop p98a in Berlin” wrote Erik Spiekermann. “I cannot understand why none of the big publishers, who owe their existence to the printed word, has any interest in the living history of type” he tweeted.
“A sad day for type history: the Type Archive in London is being effectively broken up and shuttered. Its archives will be scattered. The typefounding operation that produces fresh hot-metal casting matrices shut down” tweeted the journalist and author Glenn Fleishman.
Yet, on a more positive note, “members of the public can already access a proportion of the Monotype Collection online, following a major cataloguing and digitisation programme by the SMG, which has created more than 5,800 records, including new photographs and insights” reads TA’s announcement. “Before the collections are moved to the National Collections Centre, the SMG will be inviting TA volunteers to participate in oral history interviews and a film to supplement the written and photographic work already done by the TA. These measures will help ensure some record of typefounding manufacture at the TA is captured and preserved.”
Explore Science Museum Group’s collection here.