The Tiny Type Museum and Time Capsule
A tiny museum of authentic type and printing artifacts from letterpress to the present: a prized possession and a teaching tool.
This project will only be funded if it reaches its goal by Fri, March 1 2019 5:28 PM UTC +00:00.
The Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule is a celebration of type and printing, and an effort at preserving history for future generations to re-discover. Each custom, handmade wood museum case holds a couple dozen genuine artifacts from the past, including a paper mold for casting newspaper ads in metal, individual pieces of wood and metal type, a phototype “font,” and a Linotype “slug” (set with your own message), along with original commissioned art and a letterpress-printed book and a few replicas of items found in printing shops.
Ingredients for the museum will be sourced from active letterpress printers, type foundries, artists, and nooks and crannies where people stashed the past in the hopes of someone showing interest in preserving it. I’ll pull all of this together into a unique collection that’s impossible to find outside of a full-scale printing history museum and put it into your hands.
The museum comes with a letterpress-printed book in which I trace the nearly six centuries of development of type and printing since Gutenberg printed his Bible. This book will be the “docent” for the museum, providing insight into the stages in technological and artistic development that took place, and explaining the importance and nature of the artifacts. It will also slip neatly into a slot in the top of the museum case. (The book is available as a separate reward.)
The museum lays out the history of printing in miniature, and serves as an object of study and conversation, a teaching tool, and a time machine—offering a small, but deep, glimpse into the past to those who discover it in years to come.
What You Receive in Each Museum
For this project, I’ll create an edition of up to 100 tiny museums, each of them a little different from the others. Each museum will contain a set of historical artifacts and modern hand-made and mass-produced elements, which includes*:
- The book, Six Centuries of Type and Printing, which I am writing for this project and which will be printed by letterpress—see more details below
- A cast piece of metal foundry type
- A cast piece of hot-metal type
- A historic piece of wood type
- A piece of wood type made fresh at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum
- A modern laser-cut piece of wood type
- A matrix (mold) from a Linotype for casting type for newspapers
- A matrix from a Monotype for casting type for books and other purposes
- A punch used to create matrices for metal type in foundries
- A Linotype “slug,” or “line o’ type,” with custom text that you choose as part of your reward (this is also available as a separate reward)
- A section of flong, a paper mould used to make metal plates for relief printing
- A section of stereotype, the metal plate created from a flong mold
- A sheet or section of a phototype font
- A piece of photopolymer plate, a modern letterpress digital/analog hybrid product
- Samples of printed letterpress (traditional and “digital”) and offset
- A scale-model replica of a California Job Case, a standard drawer of metal type for typesetters
- A replica or actual type gauge, used to measure metal type to figure out its size
- A commissioned work from artist and printer Stephanie Carpenter that incorporates old and new
- A “chocolate-box” sheet that describes all the artifacts included in the compartmentalized drawer in the museum box for your particular set
*This is a tentative list subject to substitution and change, and each museum will be unique.
I’ve acquired some material already and have developed sources for the rest; see details below. I’ll also work to avoid breaking up complete sets of material, like fonts, to avoid taking scarce materials out of circulation.
The museum and time capsule is a roughly 6 by 6 by 12 inch (15 by 15 by 30cm) solid-wood box with two drawers and an integral book slipcase. It will be designed by Anna Robinson and handmade by her and me. The components will be cut using a combination of traditional hand tools, modern woodworking equipment, and laser cutters. The two drawers will feature tiny 3D-printed handles that resemble the ones used on metal type cabinets cases.
The wooden container and the items within will rely on archival-grade materials to ensure it fulfills its long-term goal of being a tiny time capsule. Every box also contains a secret hidden in a puzzle.
The Book: Six Centuries of Type & Printing
Part of this project will involve me writing a book that traces and explains the development of the craft and technology behind printing from Gutenberg’s invention and modification of several key elements that allowed him to produce his Bible and other work, through the shift from craft-scale presses into the Industrial Age, and then into the development of photographic techniques used in printing and type, offset lithography, and finally the shift to digital.
The book, Six Centuries of Type & Printing, will serve as a kind of print-based docent for the museum, with all the components found in each museum described within it in the context of when they were developed and to what purpose, along with illustrations.
The book will also be an example drawn from history, printed by letterpress. If the first stretch goal is met, I’ll also be able to have the book set in hot metal type with the images printed from engraved zinc plates.
The book will be bound as a hardcover with a foil-stamped name on the spine. It will be about 6 inches tall by 9 inches wide and roughly 64 pages. It's designed to slide into a case slot at the top of the museum, with a little ribbon you can pull to extract it. For the reward below that combines a Linotype slug and the book, the book will have its own slipcover.
While it’s a counterpart to the museum, it will also stand on its own.
Rewards, the Main Goal, and Stretch Goals
I’ve set a goal of $50,000 for the campaign, or about 50 tiny museums, because that’s the scale required to make the production of the cabinets, acquisition of items, and commissions for material fit within the budget.
The main reward is the The Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule at $1,000. It includes everything described above, including the Linotype-set slug* with your custom text of about 15 to 20 words.
I realize the museum’s price isn’t low, but the intent is for it to be comprehensive, authentic, and long-lasting. Sourcing and commissioning material, building a custom case designed to last centuries (and likely longer), and having the book printed in a historically accurate and archival method adds up quickly.
I wanted to do this right, have it be meaningful, and produce a treasure that will last the ages, and you’ll be proud to own, examine, and share.
There are three other rewards that still let you have a piece of the history I’ll be documenting and assembling:
- Book and Linotype slug: $200. Receive the letterpress-printed book, Six Centuries of Type and Printing, and a slug of custom Linotype.* The slug will come with a tiny custom display stand. The book will come in a slipcover.
- Linotype slug: $100. Receive a custom slug of Linotype, with a tiny custom display stand.*
- Ebook: $10. Receive a PDF copy of the book.
- $75,000: The book is not just printed by letterpress, but its text is typeset via hot-metal Monotype and images etched into zinc plates for printing.
- $100,000: I’ll be able to source and commission additional artifacts, including a small “font” of metal type and commission more work from letterpress artists.
*The text of the Linotype slug should be “safe for work” and appropriate for a general audience, as it will be set in metal by a contracted party. Text is subject to review.
A note on taxes appears at the end of this with details about how I collect and charge tax.
Why Make a Museum and How Am I Qualified?
In the last two years, I visited four museums of type and printing history in Oregon, Wisconsin, and London: the C.C. Stern Type Foundry, the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, the St Bride Foundation’s Printing Library, and the Type Archive. (I even wrote a book about the London ones). I was overwhelmed by the incredible amount of material preserved from the past, much of which had been in danger of simply being thrown out or melted down at several points before the museum acquired it or came into being around it.
I was also taken aback by the financial insecurity of most of these and of other museums and archives of printing history. While some institutions are a point of national pride (like the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Belgium) or privately managed by foundations endowed by families (such as Tipoteca in Italy), many operate on a shoestring budget and have come perilously close to shutting down or having their collections permanently shifted to warehouses, which would make them nearly inaccessible for teaching and research.
During the same period, I took a deep dive into time capsules, looking at the world’s largest time capsule outside of Atlanta (and its problematic roots), the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Project, and efforts to preserve history past our lifetimes with the context required to understand it. One of the notions I learned from the Long Now was LOCKSS: “lots of copies keeps stuff safe.”
I want to give everyone a chance to own their own tiny museum that teaches and shows the full span of printing history. But each of you who acquire this museum also will be sending it hurtling forward in time as another insurance policy that printing’s past—and all the understanding of how it worked—won’t be forgotten.
My background is a mix of graphic design and journalism. I received a degree in art at Yale, studying graphic design, where I worked with older designers who had spent their lives in letterpress, while I also mastered newly emerging digital tools. I’ve mixed design and writing across my career, in which I’ve mostly worked as a journalist. In recent years, I’ve written for the Atlantic, the Economist, Fortune, Smithsonian, Fast Company, Wired, Increment, and many others.
In 2017, I was the inaugural Designer in Residence in the letterpress program at the School of Visual Concepts, during which time I designed and letterpress printed a book of my researched and reported articles on type, printing, language, and culture. In early 2018, I published London Kerning, the book mentioned above about London’s past and present type culture and archives.
Collaborators and Sources
The museum cabinet. I’ve contracted with Anna Robinson, a maker of fine wooden spoons, to design, consult, and build the museum boxes. Anna is a writer and editor, doula and quilter, letterpress printer and cabinetry student (currently enrolled), and veteran of Glowforge, a 2D laser-cutter manufacturer. She’s made a prototype that you can see throughout this project page, and we’ve already learned a lot about what we’ll revise for the next development round.
The book’s setting and printing. I met Phil Abel of Hand & Eye Letterpress (now part of Inkit London) when I was researching London Kerning in late 2017. Phil is a veteran letterpress printer, and designs and prints fine-art books and projects for art and commerce. His firm also donates half its profits towards apprenticeships and training for vulnerable people. Phil will print the book, and, if the first stretch goal is met, contract the Monotype hot-metal typesetting.
Commissioned letterpress print. The museum will include a commissioned work by artist, printer, and designer Stephanie Carpenter, the assistant director of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. Stephanie’s extensive experience with the museum’s collection married with her fresh, often experimental approach in her work marries old and new. (If the top stretch goal is met, I’ll be commissioning more art along similar lines to include in the museum.)
Wood type. I’ll be purchasing, contracting, and making wood type. The museum will contain one piece of historic wood type, made from decades to more than a century ago; one piece of modern laser cut wood type; and one piece of wood type made fresh at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum using historic tools.
Linotype and Monotype. I have several candidates for companies that can produce Linotype slugs to order and Monotype “sorts,” or pieces of type cast using the Monotype system for handsetting. Part of determining the final source will be the total funds raised in this project. With more museums to make, I can incur more overhead cost in production.
Photopolymer and other elements. Boxcar Press in Syracuse, New York, is a full-service, high-end letterpress print shop, but also the leading service bureau for photopolymer plates for letterpress printing. They’ll be my source for photopolymer in the museum. These plates are made from digital files, a melding of old and new, and are part of how letterpress has had a resurgence in the last two decades.
Modern letterpress modular element. P22 Analog and the Starshaped Press developed a set of modular printing blocks inspired by modular projects that date back nearly a century. P22 Blox are created through die-injection molding out of plastic.
General items. I’ll be sourcing from all over, including with the help of David Black, a local letterpress printer and machinery specialist, who has kept a number of Washington letterpresses in shape for several years. David has a rich array of history that he’s kept and sorted.
One of the certain things in life, taxes are always complicated. Here are the details:
Washington State shipping address: I collect tax only for items shipped to address within Washington State, the state in which I live and work. If your reward will be shipped within the state, please add 10% to your pledge to cover tax. I’m sorry this isn’t possible to automate as part of the pledge process. I’ve noted this with each reward, too, to be as clear as possible.
Shipping to other U.S. states: I won’t reach the transaction or dollar threshold to collect sales tax for shipments to any other U.S. state or other U.S. addresses.
Shipments to the rest of the world: I will not be collecting import duties, VAT, GST, or other taxes that may be required by non-U.S. jurisdictions. Items will be shipped with a customs declaration listing the items and the price paid during the campaign, as well as a receipt attached to the exterior required by customs officials in many countries. Recipients will be responsible for any payments required for import in your country.
Please note: The museum will contain historical and modern items that contain stable metal amalgams of lead as well as small and fragile pieces. Everything is safe to handle for anyone who would not attempt to put it into their mouth. Hands should be washed after handling metal pieces. These warning details will be also noted in the museum.
Risks and challenges
A project of this price and scale always has some risks, because I have to bring together so many elements. However, I’ve done significant preparation ahead of time.
• Asked for estimates or bids from a number of parties and created a budget with significant leeway
• Assembled a significant partial draft of the book
• Purchased some museum items and sourced the rest for when the campaign is funded
• Received commitments for commissions in art, type casting, and wood-type manufacture
• Contracted with Anna Robinson (see main story) for a first-stage prototype of the museum case (pictures shown throughout) to sort out practicality and debriefed on steps for the next prototype
I’ve carried out projects of similar financial scope and complexity previously.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- All gone!