I simply had to see this. My dad would have never forgiven me!
Exhibitions don’t necessarily have to be huge or worldwide productions to be impressive. Proof of that I got at the Grolier Club. Founded in 1884 and named after a French bibliophile, the club is a temple for the art of the book.
The exhibition brings a first to New York. In a classical house, so suited for its subject, the Grolier Club gathers some exquisite artefacts of the IMPRIMERIE NATIONALE DE PARIS. It’s the first time that these historical punches, typefaces and books are on view outside of France.
It all starts with the making of the Romain du Roi typeface under the reign of Louis XIV. Kings, emperors, presidents, they all wanted their own character type. Many of them we still use today.
The exhibition shows a remarkable collection of typefaces, not only of the Roman alphabet, but also of other more exotic languages, such as Khmer and Chinese. Napoleon even had the Egyptian hieroglyphs cast in lead.
During medieval times books were patiently handcopied by monks, a very time consuming activity. The introduction of bookprinting in Europe in the 15th century by Gutenberg allowed knowledge and information to be reproduced in large quantities in less time and distributed over larger territories.
The ancient principle of Asian illustrative blockprinting got applied to the written word.
Although the physical object of typeface is hardly used anymore in modern day printing -except for traditional and more artistic printing- fonts have survived the test of time. I am using it here and now. Not in the shape of lead punches. But with a simple touch on the keyboard.
Strange how the book started as an art, then became a mere consumption object, and now, as Ebooks are taking over and many think the paper and printed book is sure to disappear, we see a trend for the resurrection of the art book. The business of art books, coffee table books or highly refined handprinted art books, is flourishing, or at least making a considerable come back.
What does my dad have to do with all of this?
He would have a blast at the exhibition. His entire working career my dad was a printer. From the smallest name card to the bigger billboard poster, he has printed thousands of them. Character by character he formed words and sentences, dates and announcements. With small lead typefaces or the even older bigger ones made of wood!
Although retired some twenty years ago, he still holds on to his printing studio. And on very special occasions or on exceptional request, he puts on his overalls, stands in front of the lettercases and picks out characters to form words and sentences. When we hear the rythmic roaring of the machine, we know it’s time to go and see the result of his work. Of his art!