Histories of typographers

A collection of

over 30 years

About 1,700 printing shops visited.

Tipoteca preserves and gives value to an enormous Italian heritage: hand-presses coming from different Italian print houses, lead and wood typefaces, matrices and punches. Here they can find a new vitality. Tipoteca is a surprising place where you can know more about typography in an atmosphere that reminds one of a recent past, quickly removed by our digital world.

If you have some materials that could be saved, contact us!

October 7, 2003.
Castellammare di Stabia.

It was the second time I arrived in this bright city in the gulf of Naples, famous for its archaeological sites, antique thermal baths, boatyards and for a factory that produced navigation ropes. It reminds me of my “Canapificio Veneto”, the factory that in 1883 had made my native village rise.

I visited Castellammare di Stabia one year ago, hosted by Sandro Fedeli, the heir of an historic, prestigious, out of business printing shop, which answered my questionnaire. He gave me a warm welcome in his little laboratory and he showed me the impressive photos of his ancestors standing out on a wall. After lunch, we went upstairs to the attic, where Sandro had organized, item per item, an entire batch of antique wood typefaces. I was concerned about the cost of all these items because the collection was big and precious, so I timidly asked him for the price. He was surprised about my question and he told me he wanted to give that heritage to me as a donation: for him selling the collection would have meant to betray his ancestors’ memory. During my previous travels I have rarely experienced this kind of sensitivity.

In the early 2000s, in order to save historical Italian materials from destruction, Tipoteca sent 8,000 printing shops a questionnaire to know how many typefaces were not-in-use and how many printing machines were available at that time. After the answers, Tipoteca’s staff visited them to establish what kind of material could be saved and brought to the museum. The texts below are notes about these travels which took ten years, and included many Italian villages.


Plump-ciak – plump-ciak…here is the incredible contraption that sucks every single sheet from the pile of paper and carefully replaced it aside imprinted. The rhythm of sounds, the mystery of the unusual tools, the air impregnated with inks and smelling essences.

The walls were covered with posters which reminded us of dates and events: fairs, markets, the raisin’s festival, the conscripts’ meeting and the Assunta’s festivity. Faded printings, stuck one with each other, trying to support the falling plaster, which had hosted them for ages. You are in a printing shop.

From the 1980’s, the worldwide technological evolution in the field of communication and printing overwhelmed the world of traditional typography. What has been preserved for five hundred years, has been abandoned and put aside in a few decades. A category of cultured artisans have been extinguished, dragging with themselves the tools of an art that had passed down knowledge for many years.

What survives about the history of these typographers, from the sleepless nights of Gutenberg to the ingenuity of the last composer, are books, typefaces and printing machines: the only testament of their time on earth they have left us.


Ti-trik – ti-trak, ti-trik – titrak…sometimes, peeking through the door in the half-light of the little workshop, it happens to glimpse a busy artisan in his black apron. If the worn-out sign eludes you, the metal clatter and gasping suck of the water pump lead you to the antique counters to investigate the secrets of this charming profession. You are in a printing shop.


I believe that the tools made by human beings, struggling to realize even more evolved works of art, contain the personality of who creates them. These tools are mediators between manual skills and dream, they have a daily contact with the typographer and in this way they became a part of the tangible memory of his past.

So began the long travels to the most unexpected Italian towns in order to save the saveable. From suburbs to historical villages, from anonymous industrial zones to picturesque villages leaning against the cliff, having to deal with dialects and unknown humanity. Here resigned and furious typographers confided to me their powerlessness within the context of the technological revolution, which overwhelmed all of them, both young and old.

The worn-out, impressive printing machines were raised for the last travel. It seemed they did not want to go away from the place where they had lived. Black, threatening monsters, often injured. Tons of black cast iron with colourful ink all over. The ink of the last poster, still vivid.

Former medieval Hospital in Rivoli

January. I am in a lugubrious abandoned basement. It is dark and very cold. Dust, spider webs and effort. In the half-light I glimpse the profiles of the piled antique machines. Hand presses, flatbed cylinder machines and platens, all damaged by the absurd relocations. This is what survives from the tragic incident Saroglia, which we had to recover and transport. From west to east. “At 4 p.m. we quit, it is too cold”

Silvio Antiga


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