'Save Mono matrices' appeal as letterpress auction looms

Museums and letterpress printers in Australia have been urged to help stop rare items from Melbourne Museum of Printing going overseas or worse still, being scrapped.

An auction on November 26 will offer hundreds of lots from the Melbourne collection under instructions from the museum's landlord.

Dan Tait-Jamieson, who is secretary-treasurer of The Printing Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, and chair of the International Association of Printing Museums, has written to Australia's 65 letterpress printers and 35 museums with printing collections.

"It would be a tragedy if a lot of the items end up going to scrap, as often happens in these cases," he says.

The Wellington museum is particularly concerned that the Monotype collection should remain in Australia or New Zealand so matrices can be used to make type for letterpress printers and institutions again.

"There are many typefaces that haven't been able to be used for nearly 30 years and there is a risk that they disappear to Europe or the States."

While the preferred option is that the mats remain in Australia, the New Zealand museum claims the only operating type foundry in the southern hemisphere and the skills and personnel to identify, catalogue and repair Monotype equipment. "We want to keep as much of the collection together as possible and there is a huge job sorting the hundreds of thousands of pieces," says Tait-Jamieson.

Current thinking is to bid on as much of the Monotype equipment as can be fitted into a container, principally matrices, moulds and the smaller items that are necessary for casting. He says the 30 or so casters are "too many to save" and will be looking for homes or museums in Australia that would like them for display. "They are certainly not all in working order and it will take a long time to find all the parts to get some of them going again," he says. "They are however, important items of printing history."

He is urging anyone with an interest in printing history to make contact via info@theprintingmuseum.org.nz: "The preservation of as much of the printing equipment as possible is our highest priority," he says.

The Wellington museum's Monotype collection attracted attention in 2017 when it was visited by former managing director of Monotype Typography René Kerfante while on a cruise.

Kerfante worked with iconic type designers including Adrian Frutiger, Hermann Zapf and Matthew Carter, talked to members about the transition from "metal to photo and digital" and his role in the production typefaces for these technologies. He was appointed managing director of Monotype Typography in 1992, after the parent Monotype Corporation - established in 1897 - went into receivership.

The Printing Museum's collection includes more than bound 250 issues of the The Monotype Recorder, believed to be one of the most complete extant, the gift of a vendor in Suffolk, UK.

Pictured: An early Monotype composition keyboard from the auction catalogue

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