I am such a Print Geek

Last night I got to take my family to the Crandall Historical Printing Museum in Provo, one of the best historical printing musuems in the entire world. It’s one of my favorite places to go, and it was fun to see my kids get interested as well, though admittedly their attention didn’t last all the way through the end of the presentation. That’s okay, though: when you can keep a 6-year-old interested in the history of the printing press for any length of time, you have claimed a victory.

The museum starts, of course, with Gutenberg, and includes the most complete and most accurate demonstration of Gutenberg’s process anywhere in the world. First they talk about the difficulties of writing and publishing in the days before printing came along, and why printing was such a big deal; then they show you, step by step, how Gutenberg created all his various molds and bits and whatnot, actually casting a piece of type right in front of you. Then they talk about the ink and the paper, and how the press works, and they put it all together and actually print a page on a replica press. It’s awesome. My 6-year-old was, as I said, too restless to stay after this point, so I took him outside for a while, and instead of running around and screaming, like I thought he would, he stood by the front window and pointed out the tools and described for me, in incredible detail, the entire process he had just seen. That, my friends, is victory for education.

The next room jumps far ahead to Benjamin Franklin, often with an actor dressed up as Franklin, who walks you through his own story of printing almanacs and joke books and the Declaration of Independence. Later rooms cover the Grandin press, the local history of Utah newspapers, and so on, culminating in a live demonstration of a linotype machine. If you’ve never seen a linotype machine, let me tell you: you are missing out. It’s like Rube Goldberg and Dr. Suess got together and built the craziest typewriter they could think of, with ranks of letter molds that slide down tubes and ride little rails, and a reservoir of molten metal that forms enter pieces of movable type at the push of a button. It’s completely awesome, and has to be seen to be believed.

The history of printing is the history of the modern world: it is the tool that has enabled our civilization. If you have any kind of a printing museum near you, I encourage you to go as soon as possible. If you can’t see the presses in action, hunt around for a museum that has one or more pages of the Gutenberg Bible, and go see that instead: specific religious beliefs aside, it is a profound experience to stand in the presence of something that was printed, on a press, long before Columbus ever came to America. For a print geek like me, it’s a downright sacred artifact.

7 Responses to “I am such a Print Geek”

  1. Raethe says:

    Neat stuff. There’s a small publishing company here that publishes all their books using old-fashioned presses; one of the guys came out and gave a lecture to one of our classes about how it worked… Fascinating stuff. Solidarity for printing geeks, I guess.

  2. Steve D says:

    this has nothing to do with this topic, but rather your poll. guitar hero is blah. rock band is where its at. they have so much more variety, and i get a better feeling that im playing a rhythm-game rather than a game that prides itself on pushing buttons out of rhythm.

    and the answer real answer is All Mixed Up by 311 and Traveling Without Moving by Jamiroquai.

  3. L.T. Elliot says:

    Great idea. I loved the comparison to Dr. Seuss and Rube Goldberg. Me thinks I’ll have to see this for myself.

  4. Allison Hill says:

    You should see the books Chris has been working with lately-he’s helping to reorganize the special collections area in the newly renovated library at OSU. He sent me a picture the other day of a History of English printed in 1582, and today he had a copy of Don Quixote from 1680.

  5. Arlene says:

    I am moved. I think I’ll take my kids there the next time I’m out that way.

  6. admin says:

    Steve: I actually agree that Rock Band has a wider variety, but at the same time I think I like Guitar Hero’s selection process better. They’re more willing to pick a song that isn’t awesome for all four parts, if it’s good enough; Rock Band insists that all four parts be awesome, and I think that leaves out some really good songs. In the end, though, I just don’t like the Rock Band guitar. It pretty much all came down to that for me.

    Arlene: the museum is very affordable at $3/person, but if you want the full demonstration you need to pre-schedule and pay a group fee of at least $45. Even just walking around is great, though, and the people who work there are delighted to talk and answer questions.

  7. stacy says:

    I went there back as an undergrad in Mel’s class. Really is one of the best print museums around. I can’t think of another place (even in Boston) that has the process laid out for people like that. They do have a nice demonstration in Nauvoo at the newspaper building of the processes of that time period.

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