Melbourne auction fragments two centuries of print history

Printing and telecoms equipment which charts much of the history of the industry comes under the hammer in Melbourne at the end of this month.

Albion and Wharfedale presses, Linotype Paul phototypesetters and even an old telephone switchboard are among items being sold to the order of the landlord of the Melbourne Museum of Printing in suburban West Footscray.

Almost 300 lots pictured on the auction website are a fraction of the tangible history of printing being put up for sale.

The auction - the museum is reported to be $500,000 behind on its rent, and was closed last year - is a treasure trove of printing machinery and equipment going back two centuries.

It's a sad end to the story of a treasured collection, put together by owner Michael Isaachsen - and valued in Melbourne's Age newspaper last year at "north of two million" - but rashly assembled in a building he did not own.

Unless there's an element of showbiz about them - as in the print shop at Ballarat's Sovereign Hill, or Hatch Show Print, now in Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame - there's always a problem keeping funds flowing. Perhaps Neil Southerington can deliver some of that with his Linton Forge and Print Shop in country Victoria; it's a worthy effort by an individual supporter and I hope he has a succession plan.

Sydney's Penrith Museum of Printing has had some substantial gifts - including $75,000 from newspaper industry group SWUG - while Armidale museum's collection, bequeathed by FT Wimble with the support of the Fairfax family, continues with related annual events.

In addition to the historic presses in the Melbourne Museum of Printing collection are items such as a German-made Typograph casting machine, and Monotype's Monophoto Filmsetter unit, the (unsuccessful) attempt by one of the traditional typesetting machine manufacturers to make the transition into photocomposition. There's even a box of glass photographic plates (Ilford's FP3), to be opened only in darkness.

Merganthaler's amazing Linotype is represented by several examples - including the row which once starred in the ABC's Doctor Blake mysteries - and an Intertype or two. There are also Ludlow and Monotype casters (lots of them), huge quantities of woodletter, poster and other loose metal type, and ingots of type metal and the moulds for casting them. Early platens are also so numerous as to trace patent development, and continue to the ubiquitous Heidelberg dubbed the Windmill by bemused Americans. Most bear manufacturers' plates, some supported by those of Australian agents such as Edwards Dunlop, BJ Ball and Cowans.

The Melbourne Museum of Print is probably a larger collection than any I have mentioned, perhaps one of the largest in the world, but lacks the necessary team of supporters and enthusiasts, cleaning, repairing and getting equipment to work.

It's sad that this month's auction will see it broken up.

Isaachsen contests the legality of the auction, and told Print 21's Patrick Howard the landlord held personal guarantees for the rent, and that some items included are owned by other individuals. He also says he is still paying for utilities and had paid off previous overdue rent to August.

Gollant Auctioneers & Valuers are conducting an online sale which ends on November 26, with the two-day live sale starting on site on the following Saturday morning (November 30). Lots are on view from November 23-25.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: The Typograph caster - technology from a bygone age; Neil Southerington from the Golden Plains Shire website

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