Thursday, September 13, 2012


Visiting the Plantin-Moretus Museum, I so enjoyed remembering how central the Printing Press has been to our civilization.  Christoffel Plantin was one of the inventors of book printing in the 15th Century in Antwerp.  His home and workshop are now a monument to the work he and his successors, his son-in-law and grandson did.

Printing Presses in Plantin Museum
Interestingly, the 15th century work I saw reminded me of the work that newspaper printers did up until the 1980s or so when computerized printed replaced live lead.  I was a reporter in the 1960s at the Harrisburg, Pa. Patriot News and one of my duties was to work on Sunday Women’s Pages with the printers in the back shop.  They set the print according to our layout and stories, and I worked with them, overseeing the process, making any final cuts and okaying the page proofs. 
As I walked through the process in Plantin-Moretus, I realized how little the process had changed from mid-15th to mid-20th century.  By the 20th century, mechanized presses printed off the papers rolling through them.  Yet the initial process of setting the hot lead type was essentially the same, and as a young reporter, I was fascinated working with the men who knew how to do this.  Because I was from Virginia, the printers had nicknamed me “Magnolia,” and I had a grand time working with them, watching them pick out the print, smooth and lock it into a frame that matched the size of our printed page.  While the type was set by a kind of gigantic typewriter (typesetting machine), it still had to be taken apart and laid into the frame.
Seeing this process today in the Plantin Museum reminded me of that time gone by.  After initially printing much from the Catholic Church, Plantin significantly contributed to the rise of humanism as he began to print the articles, letters and books by those contributing to the enlightenment through philosophy, history, and poetry.
Library in Plantin-Moreus Museum

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