The Typographic Hub

Printers’ guide to Europe

23rd June 2013

For some people their job is also their passion. Printing is a job that often becomes compulsive and people pursue their obsession enthusiastically and even when on vacation they just can’t quite seem to get it out of their system. So if you are typophile holidaying in northern Europe this summer, here are a few printing must-sees.


Eurostar brings Europe to our doorstep, and one of its closest destinations is Paris. Whatever the season, Paris offers some of the best shopping, cuisine and entertainment in Europe, as well as the finest art and architecture. It also has much to offer the typophile.

Situated in the Marais on the Right Bank of the Seine is the Bibliothèque Forney. Its collections include a wealth of material on the applied and graphic arts, the French printing industry, traditional and contemporary typographic techniques, printing, papermaking, photography, advertising and engraving. It also has an extensive collection of trade literature and type catalogues. The Bibliothèque Forney is located in a magnificent monument to mediaeval civil architecture with a whimsical assortment of stone turrets decorated with wolves and monsters. It also has a formal garden and a pretty courtyard that is a welcome retreat from the noise of the city.

Also in the Marais is the Musée des Arts et Métiers that occupies the medieval abbey of St-Martin-les-Champs. This historic science museum houses a wealth of machines and models relating to great inventions from 1500 onwards, including Pascal’s calculating machine and Blériot’s plane. In addition, a significant part of the Musée is devoted to a collection of nineteenth century iron printing presses, rotary presses, proofing presses, stereotypes and machine tools. It is certainly worth a visit.

French printing collections do not end in Paris; there are plenty of regional museums. If you travel through the Gironde, visit Bordeaux city and sample its history, culture and legendary wines. Bordeaux is not only a marvellous centre for wine but it is also a vibrant hub of trade and industry with over 15 museums. The Maison des Métiers de l'imprimerie is a museum of the printing trade and it presents the history of graphics from 1800 to 1956, and includes typography, lithography and bookbinding.

On your way to the French Alps stop over in Lyon. It is not only the gastronomic capital of the world it is also home to one of Europe's most important printing museums. The Musée de l'imprimerie is located in the 15 th century Hôtel de la Couronne. It contains a significant collection of books, engravings, tools, technical equipment and machines relating to the history of printing. The musée displays several methods of reproduction: wood engraving, intaglio engraving, lithography, and photomechanical processes (half-tone engraving, photogravure). It also possesses a remarkable collection of engraved wood blocks from the 16th to the 20th century. There are regular exhibitions covering all aspects of book production: drawings, engravings, lithographs, posters, and ancient and modern works of exceptional quality. There are also printing workshops especially for children.


Amsterdam is more than moules-frites and hash cakes. Enhance your trip to the Dutch capital with a visit to De Typografische Bibliotheek and take a look at the Tetterode Collection that contains a wonderful selection of twentieth century typography: the archives of Lettergieterij Amsterdam; printed ephemera such as calendars and waysgoose-prints; and one of the largest collections in Europe in the field of book production, distribution, and conservation. See also the Athias-chest that contains punches and matrices with which Hebrew type was cast for more than two centuries and from which thousands of Hebrew and Yiddish books have been made. This collection also has some beautiful prints, showing a large variety of illustration and reproduction techniques and pictures from type-foundries and printing establishments. The Tetterode collection is a must for any typophile visiting Amsterdam.

Haarlem is just 20km west of Amsterdam and the centre of Dutch tulip growing. The surrounding countryside gives great views of the bulb fields and the town itself has a beautiful 16th- and 17th-century centre and several museums. The firm of Joh. Enschedé has been in existence for almost three centuries. Located in the premises of Enschedé‘s Haarlem division it contains the history of the foundry. Its main collections comprise: the firm’s archives; punches and matrices of the typefoundry; archives of the Oprechte Haarlemsche Courant; the banknote collection; and the filatelic collections. All date from the beginning of the 18 th century.

De Historiche Drukkerij museum concentrates on the historical aspects of the printing industry. Situated in the ancient heart of Maastricht the workshop goes back to1900 and actively demonstrates various printing techniques. Lots of print related machinery is on show for visitors including equipment for engraving, punches, founts of type and books. De Historiche Drukkerij is a lively working museum that is interesting even for those with no printing knowledge.

Den Haag is a great place to visit. The city has lots of cultural events and with the North Sea coast so close there is the opportunity for sunbathing. Den Haag also boasts the Museum van het Boek, the national museum of the history and art of the book. It contains classical antiquities and ancient manuscripts, incunabula and early imprints. The library provides literature reflecting these interests, including material on the history of the book and the book-trade, private presses, book production, history of script and calligraphy, early typography, graphic design, paper, book design and bindings. This large library provides unique resources for those interested in the history of printing.


There is certainly nothing boring about Belgium printing.

For many years Antwerp was the diamond centre of Europe and the second largest port. Today it is a fashionable city with better clubs and bars than Brussels and a superb collection of art galleries and museums. South of the Grote Markt is the city’s oldest residential district, and close to the Vrijdagmarkt Square is the marvellous Plantin-Moretus Museum, one of the most celebrated museums in Antwerp. It is a 16th century patrician house set around a courtyard, with original furnishings and the workshops and book collection of Christopher Plantin, one of the great masters of early printing.

The ‘Officina Plantiniana’ was the most famous printing works in Europe. The typefoundry, workshop, type store, correctors’ room and bookshop are still intact and preserved as they were in the 16th and 17th centuries. The type foundry includes 15,825 moulds and 4,477 punches capable of printing 80 different founts all in working order. There are 2,846 copperplates and 13,791 woodblocks. The workshop houses eight 17th and 18th century presses, the oldest of which date from around 1600. The building is magnificent and the collection is imposing as it represents 300 years of typographic work.

Also in Antwerp is the Dagbladmusem [Press Museum] that is located in the home of Abraham Verhoeven an engraver, printer and journalist. In 1605, Verhoeven started printing the Niewe Tydinjhen from his home, one of the world’s first printed newspapers. The museum has the largest and most diverse newspaper collections in the world. The collection exceeds two million examples that come from more than 120 countries. Among the curiosities are the biggest newspaper: The Constellation (USA, 1859); and the smallest newspaper: Utrecht´s Niewblad (Netherlands, 1845). In addition there is a selection of printing and binding equipment and composing machines.


Mainz, is the birthplace of moveable type and home to the Gutenberg-Museum. Adjoining the colourful Markt and a little to its east is Liebfrauenplatz. On the north side of the platz is the magnificent pink renaissance façade of the Hans zum Römischen Kaiser, which houses the offices of the Gutenberg-Museum. The actual displays are in a modern extension behind. The Gutenberg-Museum has been enlarged and extended over several decades; it was expanded once more for the 600 anniversary of the birth of Gutenberg in 2000 when he was also voted ‘man of the millennium’. Visitors to the museum can see a modern re-creation of Gutenberg’s workshop and printing machines and watch occasional demonstrations taking place. On display are examples from Gutenberg’s workshop including the famous 42-line bible from the 1450s as well as illuminated manuscripts, wooden book-blocks, book covers and historic presses. Elsewhere in the museum there are displays of books from around the world.

Augsburg is 220 km southeast of Mainz and it is where you will find the MAN Corporation. MAN has its own museum about its contribution to the development of printing machines and the firms other interest, diesel engines. The museum displays both originals and reconstructions of historical printing machines and machine parts. Two of the original exhibits are particularly worth mentioning: a hand-operated high-speed printing machine from 1846 and the first attempt at a diesel engine that was built between 1893 and 1895. There are many pictures and photographs of the MAN enterprise, Rudolf Diesel, and the building of printing machines. There are also about 1.5 million documents about the history of the MAN group and its predecessor companies.

Wherever you end up this summer, perhaps you can be tempted to dip your toe in to a little of prints past!