South London, Stockwell to be more precise, is home to a unique treasure. Many in the design and advertising industries will have heard of it, yet it remains something of an enigma. I am talking, of course, of the Type Museum.
It is one of the few places in London that I visit regularly: I am fortunate in this respect as our studio is only a short walk away. The Type Museum is a sanctuary for designers who spend all day in front of computers, desperately trying to meet deadlines. Every time I step into the place I feel transported to what some call the golden era of typography.
But I don’t buy into that. I don’t think that all things past were better. In fact, I believe that the computer has liberated us and allowed us to be more creative and more productive. But there is a definite quality at the Type Museum that working on the computer cannot provide. It is the fact that everything you see has a physicality. It is real, not made of bits and bytes. It smells, too, and the machines can be noisy. This is a place that makes me happy.
The Type Museum’s collection consists of the Monotype, Stephenson Blake and DeLittle wood type. Not only do these collections contain some of the best known typefaces but the entire place is a testament to the social and industrial history of Britain. You can see photographs of boys working in the foundries. You can read about how the Monotype works were converted from making fonts to making guns during the Second World War. And you can discover why Monotype typefaces were used in anti-German propaganda – the German government used Monotype fonts in much of their print work.
For me as a type designer, one of the most valuable resources is the specimen library. It is on open access which means that you can go there with no particular idea and simply become inspired by the material at hand. If you know what you are after, the Type Museum is likely to have some reference to it, be that in a specimen book or even as a matrix.
For a number of years the Type Museum has provided tours for design colleges and workshops for local schools. The response to these activities is always positive and invaluable. The kids and students are allowed to touch the metal type, while in the workshops they are able to cast type and then set and print it. Whilst the museum has no public opening times it is always worth picking up the phone to see if a visit is convenient.
Over the last year the Type Museum has seen some dramatic changes, largely thanks to Howard Bratter, the former director. A native of New York, he gave up his private press business to come to London and to ensure the future of the museum. His enthusiasm for type and print is infectious, which is another reason why I enjoy a visit.
But as I am writing this the Type Museum is under threat. Despite all the Herculean efforts of Bratter and the trustees, the museum needs sustained funding if it is to survive in the future. In the March issue of Creative Review, Domenic Lippa already pointed to the Type Museum calling it scandalous that there is not more support for this treasure. It is up to the design community to ensure that this world class collection remains together for the benefit of us all. (Besides English most, if not all, languages spoken in the world are represented in their historical printed form at the Type Museum.)
The museum needs your donations. It needs your skills, and those of your company, to raise funds, to raise awareness, to staff the workshops. It needs your muscle to move objects, to clear out space, to paint walls. It needs your connections to initiate a sustained media campaign. It needs you.
For more information on the Type Museum, call 020 7735 0055 or
email enquiries@ typemuseum.org. Bruno Maag is a partner at type designers Dalton Maag and chairman of the Typographic Circle