Printing Museums — Old World Craft Lives OnJune 2008 By Erik Cagle
Sure, there’s nothing wrong with being fast and accurate; it surely pays the bills. But old-fashioned printing harkens us to the days of face-to-face interaction, first-name basis recognition, the brick-and-mortar shop down the street, next to the other local businesses owned by people with whom you golf and attend the same church. In hindsight, this way of life seems idealistic, but from up close, this Dickens or Rockwell-esque painting likely had its share of flaws.
But the great thing about memories is our ability to filter out everything but those most pleasant recollections that cause us to regard the olden days with high regard. That love we hold for old time printing stems from its status as a craft, in stark opposition to today’s science of ink (or toner) on paper.
And that love has produced a collection of printing museums from coast to coast that pay homage to a former way of doing business.
Take the Historical Tour
The hands-on approach comes closer to leaving a human fingerprint than any large web or sheetfed press on the market today. And, in an era where we are excited about equipment promises of “less human intervention,” these museums tip their hat to the period of maximum operator interaction. Not to mention fun.
Our first stop on the museum tour is a little farm on the Delaware River in New Jersey. The obscure Frenchtown, NJ, plays host to The Excelsior Press Museum & Print Shop. You can look all day and not find a velvet rope for visitors. It’s not likely on any museum registry. In fact, the shop is a mess; the old gear there needs to be straightened out and cleaned. The lead cases need to be cleaned and the wood oiled. Actually, it looks more like a mechanic’s garage.
In other words, this sounds like a really fun place as opposed to a stuffy old display behind glass. Alan Runfeldt, owner of the shop, was in the middle of moving (his home, not the shop) and admits that the The Excelsior Museum is in quite disarray. But it’s an actual, living, breathing job shop. He also loves to trade and sell presses and related gear.