TYPA Print Museum

Charlotte Biszewski

Manager, TYPA

TYPA Print Museum

Kastani 48f, 54001 Tartu, Estonia


ILUCIDARE Special Prizes 2020


Innovation at The Heart of a Print Museum




Born out of the alternative art space of the Polymer Cultural House, in Tallinn, TYPA is a private museum, dedicated to saving the last surviving equipment and skills which surround print, paper and the book. Since its establishment ten years ago as the Estonian Print and Paper Museum, it is a working museum and the only one dedicated to paper and print in the Baltic and Finnish region. TYPA maintains an impressive collection of printing equipment which is not only kept on display but put into production on a daily basis. It is not only a museum, where visitors can experience first-hand the machines of the letterpress industry. It is not only a museum, preserving historical items and exhibiting them to visitors, but a centre of knowledge, preserving the skills which surround the craft of print. All these elements are brought to life through TYPA’s education program, workshops, artistic residency, volunteer and intern program, publishing business and more.

TYPA was founded in 2010, by Lemmit Kaplinski and Madis Mikkor, with the shared aim of salvaging this unique collection of letterpress equipment destined to become scrap metal. Letterpress was the key form of communication for over 500 years, and much of its technology remained the same up until the revolution of computers. As print shops had to drastically change their operations, these machines were either sold on quickly, locked in basements and garden sheds, before being rescued by the museum. When machines like the ones in TYPA’s collection are left unused, then rust and dust quickly erode them, and their working ability is lost. This is a similar story to those who worked in the industry; men and women who would perform an eight-year apprenticeship. It was the main goal to preserve items unique not only to Estonia but also the Baltics and Finland. The paper side of the museum came from Anne Rudanovski, who wanted to create a space in the city for artists and students to explore paper arts first-hand. The two museums were established as separate entities, but chance brought them into the same building and a natural collaboration occurred.

Most of the machines in the museum come from Estonia, either from the Greif printing house in Tartu, Ühiselu in Tallinn or from Riigi Teataja Kirjastus. In many cases, the documentation of this equipment is missing, as is the usual case, many companies having closed hastily. Piecing together the skills to get these presses in operation is an ongoing quest for TYPA’s team. Much of the equipment was produced in Germany, in Leipzig, such as the Victoria Cylinder Press (the largest in the collection) and the AHZ Prepress Camera, which both came from the VEB Reprografiks Company. The oldest press in the collection is the Dingler Press, made in Germany between 1840 - 1860 at the Dingler Machinery Factory in Zweibrücken. Also interesting is the N-14, a soviet version of the Linotype which is one of TYPA’s most impressive machines and has recently been employed to cast a recent publication of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’. TYPA follows the belief that print and paper can only be fully preserved when put into practice, and seeks ways in which heritage can be explored through making and doing. Once they step inside the building, every visitor is guided on a personalised exploration through the exhibition. They can get involved in making their own paper by hand or getting their hands dirty operating a Gutenberg style printing press.


TYPA team


TYPA has adopted a pioneering approach to museum interpretation and sought to embody the definition of ‘Working Museum’, that the best way to preserve machinery is to keep it in action; not allowed to gather dust and rust in storage or archives. This innovative concept means that every piece of equipment on display has been maintained to working order and that the historical processes of book production have been fully embraced. The team uses the equipment in day-to-day publishing jobs, giving visitors a chance to experience these machines in action. The museum has managed to occupy a space between functioning studio and historical archive. Through collaborations with PhD students and the influence of young, international artists, the museum does limit its focus to the historical elements of print and papermaking but embraces new approaches to print. Through an international residency and collaborating with students and other artistic studios in Tartu, the museum is able to give artists access to historic and contemporary printmaking practices.

The success of TYPA is built on its workforce, those who are crazy, determined and eccentric enough to keep a dead trade alive. It is a small team, with an average age of almost half that of the average age of museum workers, young, but highly skilled. It is composed of a mix of book-binders, press operators, cultural actors, designers, administrators and historians; all bring their own knowledge and experience to both the institutions and when giving tours. As a private museum, the institution is held at the mercy of sourcing income through museum visits, ticket sales, selling recycled notebooks and cultural funds. This generates a certain level of uncertainty and struggle to keep its head above water. However, the team has always been able to pull through, even throughout the last year of coronavirus, there has been continual work, seeking to make digital connections or develop travelling exhibitions, which take the magic of TYPA outside. Being unable to find a suitable permanent location is an ongoing struggle: TYPA has experienced three moves in its lifetime. Moving several tonnes of cast-iron machinery and lead type is never an easy feat, but the staff now are experts in the field of heavy lifting.


Print Workshop - Photo Roser Cusso


At uncertain times, when communication in this world is confused, when the internet opened the world to democratic communication and was trampled by the shouting crowd who barged their way in. It is in these times, it helps to look at the past in order to understand our future, bringing lessons from the birth of Gutenberg and the book, where we saw similar stories of false news, censorship and other issues of mass communication. As the keepers of this history, we feel we have a duty to not let this discipline slip into forgotten realms. Despite the many issues and struggles, TYPA continues to develop and grow, moving forward into a professional and clearly developed entity. In this coming year, the museum aims to reach out to artists, print practitioners and other institutions to create more meaningful collaborations. Exploring the boundaries of print and seeking new multi-disciplinary approaches while maintaining its educational outputs. In 2024, Tartu will become a European cultural capital and TYPA hopes to be involved in the dynamic future of this city, being a key player in the cultural, artistic and heritage environment of the city.


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