The Type Museum is a unique and massive collection of artefacts representing the legacy of type founding in England, whose famous type foundries and composing systems supplied the world with type in all languages. The museum was founded in 1992 and is located in Oval, south London, England.
The Type Museum is the final repository of many of the original forms, punches, matrices and patterns of some of the most famous and successful metal and wood type foundries in the world. It also holds a historic collection of presses. It is estimated that the collections include between five and eleven million artefacts.
The Museum's collection is unique in holding examples of successive generations of technology used for type design and manufacture, from hand foundry and machine composition, through wood type, to photography and film setting (which laid the foundation for today's digital typography).
In addition to holding its collections, it is a working museum that manufactures matrices for letterpress printing. The Museum has become a valuable educational resource for many colleges, and helps to meet the demand for an educational and experimental type workshop.
According to the Museum's website:
[The Museum's holdings include] punches, matrices and moulds from the principal eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London type foundries, complemented by business archives and by one of the world's best collections of type specimen books.
Cataloguing and conservation of a major collection, acquired from Stephenson Blake in 1996, is currently being undertaken with the aid of a grant from The Pilgrim Trust.
Since 1995 the collection has been housed in Stockwell, in a range of industrial buildings built between 1895 and 1905 as a veterinary hospital.
[The Museum's] mission is to collect, preserve and interpret the historic artefacts associated with the spread of the printed word and image, throughout the world, and to place them in the context of modern technology and design and of the far longer history of mankind's use of graphic symbols.
[The Museum's] first goal has been to preserve the means of making type. The Type Museum has been able, with the support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, to acquire key collections documenting the principal chapters in the history of type in Britain
- traditional typefounding, from Stephenson Blake and Co., Sheffield
- woodletter type, from Robert DeLittle, York
- mechanical typecasting ('hot metal'), from the Monotype Corporation
These collections include materials dating from the sixteenth century to the end of the twentieth. Smaller collections include the working papers of Walter Tracy RDI.
Each major acquisition has brought with it substantial quantities of archival material, including highly important collections of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century type specimen books and, in the case of Monotype, the complete business records of a global enterprise. Taken together, these materials form the nucleus of a typographic study centre where documents can be studied alongside the artefacts and processes to which they refer.
The Museum’s major collections include:
- The Stephenson Blake Collection of English foundry type with industrial and hand casting equipment. Stephenson Blake & Company in their long trading history acquired many of the other famous-name English type foundries and these all now reside at the Type Museum.
- The Monotype Collection covers the entire history of Monotype Corporation’s global supply of fine letterpress machine composition in almost all languages and continues as a working company within the Museum.
- The Robert DeLittle wood type manufactory — the last specialist English wood type manufacturer is a superb resource in this vital, engaging and under-researched area of type design.
The Type Museum involves the following entities: the Type Museum Trust, which is a Registered Charity 1009198 and a Registered Museum 1101 and its subsidiary The Type Museum Limited Registered Company 3677895 (trading as Monotype Hot-Metal).
- 100 Hackford Road
- London SW9 0QU
The Museum suffered financially due to difficulties in finding a site suitable for displaying its massive collections, to the point that its financial difficulties threatened the continued existence of the Museum.
In May 2006, staff at the Type Museum were told that they would be laid off and that the Museum would be closed because of lack of funding. This news prompted a wave of support for the Museum in the typographic community and in the media and communications industries. During April, May, and June 2006 there was a grass-roots effort to save the Museum by the newly formed Type Museum Society. The effort failed to prevent the closure of the Museum during the last week of June 2006 but has continued to raise awareness of the value of the collections, argue for renewed access and monitor developments.
In May 2008, it was proposed to move the collections to a National Museum of Science and Industry (NMSI) storage facility in Wiltshire. In response to protests and requests for clarification of the situation, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) issued the following statement:
The Type Museum is an independent trust and is not sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The decision to move its collections to the National Museum of Science and Industry's (NMSI) facility in Swindon was taken by the Type Museum's Trustees. The DCMS has no role in this issue.
DCMS provides £125,000 per annum to the NMSI, to contribute to the storage costs of the NMSI's Monotype collection held at the Type Museum. Other than this, DCMS has no involvement with the Type Museum.
It is unfortunate that Lambeth may lose this museum, but I understand that the Type Museum is unsustainable in its current location and is at threat of going into receivership. This seems to be the best available solution for the Type Museum collections; the typographical collections will be saved for the nation and stay together.
Public Engagement and Recognition Unit
- Tipoteca Museo del carattere e della Tipografia: Typeface and Printing Museum in Milan, Italy.
- Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, is the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type. With 1.5 million pieces of wood type and more than 1,000 styles and sizes of patterns, Hamilton's collection is one of the premier wood type collections in the world.