The Museum of Printing & Graphic Communication, Lyon, France

The following is a guest post by Nancy Stock-Allen.

001MuseeSignIn November, the Museum of Printing and Graphic Communication in Lyon will celebrate fifty years of recording and preserving the history of graphic arts. This constantly evolving institution opened just as the physical means of print production were phasing out and photographic processes —and not long after, digital— reached commercial viability. Back in 1964, the combined efforts of its founder, Maurice Audin, and the city council of Lyon saved this impressive collection of equipment and artifacts from destruction due to obsolescence. Today the museum continues to expand as it adds the newest technologies to the original collection.

002Entrance and CourtyardThe entrance (left) and the interior courtyard are an elegant introduction to the Renaissance-era building housing the museum in central Lyon —13 rue de la Poulaillerie.

003receptionWe luckily arrived on a day of French National Patronomie (historical heritage), which meant free entrance (normally 5€) and several on-going live demonstrations.

004Letterpress shopThe working letterpress shop includes metal type, typesetting equipment and presses.

First stop, a large well-equipped letterpress shop located on the ground floor. Passersby on the street outside could observe the activities through large glass windows. We arrived just as Fernande Nicaise began a demonstration of printing with type to three generations of visitors.


We then headed upstairs to the first exhibition. Many of the exhibits are freshly renovated although a final few installations were still in progress for the upcoming Semicentennial. There were stellar examples of early printing: 13th century Korean wooden type, wood block prints, and early metal type. Each relief-printing artifact appeared next to a sample of its final printed product.



The galleries flow along in chronological order with the development of printing arts. Each space features well-preserved equipment and finely printed specimens. On that day, artisans were working in the technologies featured in specific rooms. For example, in the manuscript gallery we came upon artist Marie Gorrindo demonstrating illumination. Mme. Gorrindo, a calligrapher and painter, has taught at the museum for over ten years. We were impressed by her intricate work as well as her pigments laid out in seashells. 008seashells

Mme Gorrindo’s husband, Roger Gorrindo, was set up in the next gallery for calligraphy demonstrations. M. Gorrindo, an expert stone carver, recently completed a commission of six lapidary plaques to identify the shops of important printers who worked in Lyon between the 15th and 20th century. The finished works can be viewed along a special walking tour of the city.

009GorrindoRoger Gorrindo demonstrating his calligraphic skills, part of his repertoire of lettering talents. Below are a few of the elegant lapidary plaques he carved under commission from the museum.


011printmakerPrintmaker Éléonore Litim set up shop inside a gallery dedicated to image reproduction. In amongst the exhibits of engraving and lithography she demonstrated wood block cutting and a non-commercial method of lithography using aluminum foil.


013lithopostersIn addition to fine books the museum includes a huge variety of French print materials as diverse as money, posters and packaging.

014D&BD&B’s hot metal type of the famous French face, Garamont (Garamond).

One of the obvious strengths of the museum is its treasure trove of French typography. We saw lead type from the famous Deberny and Peignot foundry. Deberny & Peignot’s 1957 release of “Univers” was the first time a typeface was manufactured simultaneously in three technologies: hand-set type, Monotype mechanical type and phototype (a new technology in the 1950’s).

In the 1940’s, Lyon was the location of the first successful photo-typesetting equipment. We were able to learn a bit about this history from Dr. Alan Marshall, the current director of the museum. Dr. Marshall, once a master printer for the alternative press in Scotland, studied the history of phototypesetting for his PhD thesis. He described the French process, named Lumitype, involving a complex application of high-speed photography, electronics and binary calculations; essentially photosensitive paper is exposed to light that passes through a film of negatives arranged on a spinning disc. This innovation of photographic type freed the printing industry from the cumbersome process of casting metal letters. (Fortunately, he also helped translate much of our conversations with the previously mentioned French-speaking artists.)

015MarshallDr. Alan Marshall and the first book printed with phototypesetting, Albro T. Gaul’s, The Wonderful World of Insects, 1953.

018discThe spinning disc of the Lumitype (left) and early computer apparatus for phototypesetting, (right). The large poster features the font Univers.

We left the museum with a better understanding of printing in general as well as the innovations born locally in Lyon. The following day we discovered that Lyon is truly a print-centric town. Many buildings are painted with murals emphasizing the importance of this city in the world’s book trade. Even a cinematic tourist attraction, the Miniature Museum, chose to display a tiny-scaled print shop in the window to entice tourists to come inside.

017Lyon_bookishnessMicro-sized print shop (left) Building-sized mural of books (right).













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Categories: Printshop Tour

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