Lost Words: an introduction to letterpress at London’s Type Archive

Letterpress studio The Counter Press is holding a two-day workshop at the Type Archive, a South London charity home to 8 million pieces of wood and metal type and equipment dating back to the 1500s

The Type Archive is housed in a former Victorian veterinary hospital which was once home to a baby elephant. (A fact referenced in the organisation’s logo).

A series of brick buildings spread around a cobbled courtyard, it is now home to the National Typefounding Collection, which includes three historically significant collections of type and equipment: the machinery, punches, patterns and documentation from Sheffield foundry Stephenson Blake (which purchased William Caslon IV’s typefounding collection in the 1800s), Monotype Corporation’s hot-metal division from Salfords, Surrey and the contents of Robert DeLittle’s wood type factory in York, once the largest wood type manufacturer in the UK.

The Archive is run by the Type Archive Trust, an organisation headed up by Susan Shaw with help from a team of volunteers from the letterpress printing industry. With a rolling apprenticeship programme, the organisation aims to preserve the UK’s most historically significant collections of wood and metal type and teach new generations how to use them.

The building has been closed to the public since 2006 due to a lack of funding but is hosting a series of exhibitions and workshops this year – starting with a two-day printing workshop run by letterpress studio The Counter Press.

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Lost Words takes place from 29-30 April and costs £300 to attend. The Counter Press says it will offer an intensive, hands-on introduction to letterpress, teaching participants the basics of letterpress and traditional typesetting techniques with wood and metal type. Each student will design, set and print a poster on a Vandercook precision proofing press using type from the archive’s collection and will get the chance to explore some of the type and equipment housed there up-close.

“We were contacted by the Type Archive through our work in letterpress … they liked our work and asked if we would like to be involved,” says David Marshall, who runs The Counter Press with Elizabeth Ellis.

“Having met the team and seen the amazing resources there, it was clear that we needed to do what we could to try to help make the archive available to more people,” he adds. “There’s been years of dedicated effort by the team to get everything in place to begin to open the doors again, and the workshops and exhibitions, it’s hoped, will bring with it the much needed support and funds to ensure that eventually it can open more fully.”

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Despite the age of type in the collection, much of it is still in working order – Marshall says the Monotype collection is almost fully operational, “from punch and matrix making to casting original Monotype fonts.”

As well as printing workshops, there are plans to launch a regular programme of events depending on public support. The Archive is also aiming to host an exhibition this spring. “Reopening after such a long time is tricky, so it’s really a process of trying to get the ball rolling again – the more people can support it, the more the archive will be able to open,” adds Marshall.

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Lost Words takes place at the Type Archive, formerly the Type Museum, 100 Hackford Rd, London SW9 0QU, from April 29-30. Places cost £300 each and all materials will be supplied. You can book a place via thetypearchive.org

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