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Deutsches Technikmuseum - Writing and printing

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The Websites of the donation Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin at a glance:

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Writing and print technology

Printing types, images and characters - presented in a barrier-free exhibition

Such topics as typeface production and typesetting as well as the different processes for printing texts, images and characters are presented on a 200 square metre exhibition space.

They are exhibited in such a way that they can be equally comprehended and appreciated by our sighted, blind and the visually impaired visitors. Tactile information graphics, specially made “touch objects” as well as original objects provide multi-sensory experiences and also include unabridged Braille descriptions.

Schwarzweißfoto einer Handsetzerei. In dem großen Raum voller Schubladenregale mit Drucklettern stehen circa 20 Schriftsetzer, die die Lettern für Zeitungsartikel und Buchseiten zusammensetzen.

Hand compositor in the Torgau Print and Publishing House around 1910

From transcription to printing

Up until the late Middle Ages, transcribing by hand was the only way to make multiple copies of books. Paper and parchment were at that time very valuable. Woodblock printing on paper was first utilized in China as a replacement for such laborious work. The first woodblock prints appeared in Europe around 1420/30. They tended to look more like "picture books" because the vast majority of the people at that time could not read. Bookbinders, goldsmiths and potters had already been using form punches and pressure stamps since before 1450.

Photo: Square lead alloy cube (ca. 2 x 2 cm) with decorative lines and the initials of the company founder Hermann Berthold.

Printing type with the company logo from the H. Berthold AG type foundry for use in hand composition. © SDTB / Photo: C. Kirchner

Typeface and print forme production

Typefaces for setting by hand were produced in type foundries for a long time. Until well into the 1930s one of the most important of these was the internationally renowned type foundry H. Berthold AG, which was founded in Berlin in 1858. The Deutsches Technikmuseum is safekeeping a large portion of this company´s amazing inventory in its collection, its historical archives, and its library. Parts of a typecasting cabinet are also on display in the exhibition.

One section of the exhibition that deals with the printing of images has as its centrepiece the complete lithographic workshop from the Berlin-based stone and offset printing master Dietmar Liebsch – and this is further enhanced by some of the museum´s own objects, including a French lithographic press with a hand operated wooded star wheel.

Photo: Many of the parts of an iron press with a hand-operated lever are from a single casting. One can see the ink rollers, gearwheels and crank from a high-speed press.

Original Decker Stanhope iron hand press, 1835. To the left a high-speed press with printing cylinder for hand or machine operation, ca. 1895. © SDTB / Photo: C. Kirchner

The four main printing processes

The exhibition depicts the technical development of printing techniques since Johannes Gutenberg´s foundational innovations from around 1450. The thematic focus is the time between the industrial revolution around 1800 and the period during which optomechanical processes like phototypesetting replaced hand and machine typesetting.
Beginning mainly in the USA, these new processes gained wide use in the 1950s, but were themselves replaced in the 1980s by electronic and digital processes.

Letterpress, gravure, flat screen (offset) and screen-printing are the four main printing processes, each of which is presented with representative examples.

Hand presses, high-speed presses, typesetting machines

Iron hand presses, high-speed presses, rotary printing machines and machines from the fields of type production and typesetting quickly turned the basically hand operated printing trade into a graphic printing industry during the 19th century. 
Offset and direct printing, which today make up more than 70% of total printing volume, are flat-bed printing methods and are based on chemical principles that were first used in lithographic printing back in 1796.

Among the things included in the exhibition:

  • A hand typesetting room (Berlin, 1950s)
  • Iron hand press (Columbia Hand Press, Edinburgh, ca. 1835 and a Stanhope hand press, 1835, from the Royal Prussian Decker Court Printing Office
  • Stone printing press
  • High-speed press  (A. Hamm, Frankenthal-Heidelberg, ca. 1895)
  • Typesetting machine (Simplex, Mergenthal, ca. 1904)
  • Heidelberg Tiegel (1963)
  • Paris music engraving studio
Photo: Teenagers are working on small cast iron printing presses.

Printing on your own in the educational print shop. © SDTB / Photo: C. Kirchner

Educational print shop and demonstrations

Groups (10 years and older, up to 24 people) can practice the "black art" in the museum´s own educational print shop and make their own printed materials with the help of a guide. We request that you contact Herr Krämer at (030) 90 254-218 or by email at kraemer@sdtb.de.

In addition to experiencing the educational printing shop and seeing various printing presses and a linotype machine in action, visitors can also attend a stone printing (lithography) demonstration.