A Living History of Type and Printing Technology

Opening museums with a department dedicated to printing and typesetting seems to be a trend. Leipzig, however, offers a working letterpress printing workshop and a museum of a unique sort, displaying technology reaching back to the first part of the 19th century.

The Werkstattmuseum für Druckkunst (Workshop Museum for the Art of Printing) in Leipzig is one of these recent foundations. The many rare and historically significant exhibits, through which the working methods and the development of the graphic industry can be clearly understood, even by the non-specialist, set is apart from all the others.

The many matrices for typecasting are definitely among its most important resources. There are a total of 30 tonnes. The list of the names of respected punch cutters who have created these typefaces is even more impressive than their number. At the same time, the location under the same roof with the traditional Offizin Haag-Drugulin (OHD) printing office is ideal. They operate letterpress machines and typecasting under commercial conditions.

This combination is unique in the world. It offers the Leipzig facility the chance to present the Gutenberg’s heritage to a wide public. Since its beginning in 1995, its wide range of possibilities, particularly for printing research, which still lies in deep obscurity, has made the Leipzig Werkstattmuseum one of the most significant museums of its kind. The remarkable features of this working museum, in which the technological status of the graphic industry can be traced from the Sixties back to the early 19th Century, is the fact that it was brought into existence by an individual: the type enthusiast and owner of a Munich composing room, Eckehart SchumacherGebler.

Back to the Roots

In 1960, following his studies at the Akademie für das Graphische Gewerbe, Eckehart Schumacher-Gebler founded his type setting studio in addition to the family business in Munich. Phototypesetting did not exist at that time. Types for hand setting were ordered from various type foundries. In comparison to today’s digital fonts, these were significantly more expensive and also more costly - and heavy - to store.

Typesetting in Changing Times

To keep up with demands from clients, mechanised typesetting was introduced into the Schumacher-Gebler typesetting studio. Monotype, the most perfect system for lead composition, was introduced. The casting of individual letters, as opposed to Linotype’s slugs, also provided the benefit of casting for in-house needs - to the disadvantage of the type foundries. Within a short time, however, this remarkable technology was overtaken by phototypesetting. The first phototypesetting devices for display setting were followed by Diatype and Diatronic, Berthold’s machines for the jobbing area. If the arrival of mechanised typesetting at the beginning of the 20th Century had brought type foundries heavy losses, in particular through the discontinuation of bulk business, phototypesetting took away the very basis of their existence.

Salvation at the Last Minute

In this situation, it is to the credit of Eckehart Schumacher-Gebler that he, recognising the importance of all this material, used his contacts to type foundries to prevent matrices and other foundry tools from being scrapped. He was awarded the ‘Antiquaria-Preis 1997’ by the town of Ludwigsburg (Baden-Württem-0berg) and the Vberein Buchkultur e.V. for this "farsightedness and competence".

Resources from Type foundries and Printing Houses

It was SchumacherGebler’s initial aim to preserve cultural artefacts that could never be replaced. This didn’t stop at equipment from type foundries. Printing workshops also turned to SchumacherGebler if a cylinder press, a platen press, a linotype machine for a guillotine had to be cleared for new machinery.

The Crafts (Profession) Must Survive as well as the Technology

As well as their significance, the number of the artefacts collected had long since reached a point that made it necessary to consider how it would be possible to make these treasures accessible to the public. In any case, it was intended to have a working museum in which more than tokens of technology would be kept for future generations. The old crafts should also be preserved. SchumacherGebler’s ideas tended towards a kind of Noah’s Ark. Older and younger colleagues should exchange knowledge, in order to ensure a swift progression from one to the next generation.

History of the Offizin Haag-Drugulin Printing House (Workshop) in Leipzig

The Offizin Haag-Drugulin has played a significant role in publishing, printing and literary history. Its origins can be traced back to the 18th Century. 1829, when Friedrich Nies from Offenbach acquired the printing workshop, is regarded as the year of its foundation. As early as 1831, Nies had attached a type foundry to the business, which he equipped with typefaces for setting Oriental languages. Since then, the printing workshop has always been a synonym for typographic diversity and quality. At the end of the 19th Century, it was even trying to take the place of the lavishly equipped state printing works in Vienna and Paris in the field of Oriental languages. Examples of its productivity are a widely distributed de luxe edition of the Koran and the fact that Drugulin set up African and Asian printing workshops and provided them with the necessary typefaces. In 1902 the printing workshop published the significant volume "Marksteine aus der Weltliteratur in Originalschriften" (Milestones of world literature in original typefaces), designed and illustrated by Ludwig Sütterlin. It documented the scholarly importance of Oriental typefaces and their aesthetic appeal.

The business experienced its most brilliant period before the First World War. The splendid selection of typefaces brought about relationships with the most important publishing houses: with Paul Cassirer, Eugen Diederichs, Samuel Fischer, Ernst Rowohlt, Schuster & Loffler and Kurt Wolff among others. The magazines "Pan", "Die Insel" and the "Genius" were printed there as well as the Drugulin Imprint, under which Ernst Rowohlt took the risk of publishing carefully designed editions in large print runs. Many first editions of young authors such as Max Brod, Walter Hasenclever, Franz Kafka, Georg Trakl, Robert Walser, Franz Werfel, Karl Kraus and Heinrich Mann became part of the literary history.

In spite of these conditions, business did not always develop smoothly. After the First World War the interest for Oriental books waned. And people no longer had any money for lavishly designed books, once a speciality of the company. In 1928 the company merged with the Haag printing house, which had moved into the area, and it has traded as Offizin Haag-Drugulin since that time.

"Arisen from Ruins"

The graphics quarter in Leipzig, including a highly significant section of the printing workshop, was completely destroyed in the night of 4th to 5th December 1944. The company building in Salomonstrasse, which had only been completed in 1927, was severely damaged and many valuable typefaces were destroyed. It was possible to salvage others after a careful search of rubble and debris. It was extremely difficult to make a fresh start after the collapse. Of course, like all other important commercial enterprises in the eastern part of the country, the Offizin Haag-Drugulin was not spared expropriation. However, even as a nationally owned company, the Offizin Haag-Drugulin remained faithful to its commitment to quality.

A Fortunate Event in the History of the Offizin Haag-Drugulin

Following the reunification of the two German states in 1990, it was planned to re-privatise this complex organisation. At the same time, the part of the business in Nonnenstrasse, in which all the lead typesetting and letterpress printing technology was now located, proved to be particularly problematic. During this period, in which it was more than uncertain whether the immeasurably precious typefaces were to be saved for the future at all, something extraordinary occurred. In a petition to the Trusteeship Administration in Berlin, about fifty German-language publishers pleaded that the part of the business in Nonnenstrasse, which represented the heart of the former Offizin Haag-Drugulin printing shop, at least as far as the type face resources were concerned, should be extricated from the whole structure and a separate buyer should be sought. The Trusteeship Administration - the state agency responsible for re-privatising East German industry - complied with this suggestion, if after some hesitation.

In autumn 1992, the printing workshop and the whole property at Nonnenstrasse 38 were sold to SchumacherGebler. His aim was to maintain the traditional business in its established purpose as a lead type and letterpress printing business. However, he also saw the chance of finally being able to realise his Workshop Museum in this context, in the available free space.

Since then, several years have passed. Even today, Kafka is still printed from lead type in the Offizin Haag-Drugulin. Only the publishers are different; Bertelsmann, C.H. Beck, Klaus Wagenbach, Insel Verlag, the Büchergilde Gutenberg and other publishers now and again find titles in their lists that are particularly suitable for production by lead type. At the same time, they are making an invaluable contribution to maintaining this technology with their commissions. The fine press printers have rather different motives. Bibliophile editions with original graphics often require suitable lead type. Thanks to the Monotype resources that SchumacherGebler brought from Munich, the Offizin Haag-Drugulin can offer a matrix programme that is unique in the world today. Even rare fonts such as Arrighi, Bell, Bulmer, Centaur, Lutetia or Spectrum can be found in many type sizes.

Museum for the Art of Printing: a Magnificent Gallery
The Printing Workshop Museum has no rival in the variety of its content

Hand Presses

The decorative Columbian Press, built by the American George Clymer (Figure), adorns the entrance hall. The combination of connecting rods, levers and counterweights is fascinating. As a symbol for the distribution of news by the press, the imposing frame is decorated on each side by a winged caduceus surrounded by snakes, the rod of Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Mythical creatures, often interpreted as alligators or dragons, but presenting dolphins as symbols of wisdom, decorate the crosspiece of the press and the counterweight lever, which finishes as an arrow. The counterweight itself in the form of a white-headed eagle, the heraldic beast of the USA, represents an additional dedication to the art of printing. In its claws it carries the cornucopia of plenty and the olive branch of peace. The American origin of the press is emphasised by its name; Columbia is the poetic name for the USA.

A veritable gallery of magnificence containing ten more imaginatively decorated English and German hand presses with artistic reliefs and brass ornamentation is exhibited, each one more attractive than the next. Everything with status and a reputation, including Dingler, Sigl, Krause, Albion, Britannia and Imperial, is represented.


Development did not stop. In 1812 it was possible to start production of the first cylinder press, developed by Friedrich Koenig, in England. The principle of "flat against flat" was superseded for larger formats. Four fundamental principles were developed over time; top cylinder press, swing cylinder press, one- and two-revolution presses. All of them can be seen in the Museum. The oldest of them, an English Wharfedale press operated by hand with a crank wheel, was manufactured in the period around 1870.

A MAN-Poly machine certainly has the most interesting history of these printing presses. During WWII this machine was operating on a German army train carriage in the Soviet Union.

Lithograph Technology

The heaviest machine is a direct flat bed machine for lithography, a powerful colossus of about 15 tonnes, built for printing large-format lithograph posters such as those that are familiar with the work of Toulouse-Lautrec or Cassandre. In this case, the German term "Schnellpresse", which means "rapid press", is not to be understood literally. The heavy flat bed with massive stones will not allow more than some hundred impressions per hour.

Platen Presses

In 1830, the principle of "flat against flat" came back into favour with the rise of the platen press. Small and compact, easy to operate and inexpensive to purchase, its main purpose was the production of stationery, bills, business cards, etc., known as "job printing", a market for cheap and quick printing which was growing. Here, there are also four construction principles: Gordon, Gally, Boston and Liberty platen presses.

Hand Composition

Single letters, cast in a hand mould, were the basis of Gutenberg’s invention, for which he was nominated. "Man of the Millennium" by an international committee. In the course of the centuries, the shapes of the letters changed following contemporary fashion as much as technical developments. One of the main aims of the Museum is to collect as many examples as possible of these creative treasures in their original form. That is, as lead letters uninfluenced by digital manipulation. When following the routes through the museum, the visitor will gain an impression of its immeasurable resources of lead, wood, brass and iron letters. According to the present status of registration, there are 7,000 sets of type. They include all the famous Germany type designers of the 20th Century, from Friedrich and Konrad Bauer, Lucian Bernhard, F.H. Ehmcke, Jakob Erbar, Karlgeorg Hoefer, Rudolf Koch, Friedrich Wilhelm Kleukens, Günter Gerhard Lange, Louis Oppenheim, Herbert Post, Imre Reuiner, Paul Renner, F.H. Ernst Schneidler, Walter Tiemann, Georg Trump, Jan Tschichold, E.R. Weiss, Henrich Wieynck to Hermann Zapf and Gudrun Zapf von Hesse.

Mechanical Typesetting

In the Typesetting Machine Department, it is possible to follow the casting process of typesetting machines of the Linotype principle. Since alone six typecasting machines and two Supras are in operation in the Offizin Haag-Drugulin, the complex Monotype system is represented in the museum by only one Monophoto machine. To a certain extent, it symbolises the final stage of a process that was then continued in phototypesetting. The Linotype models and those of other manufacturers following the concept of Mergenthaler are even more numerous in comparison. Eight different models are displayed, from the one-magazine "Ideal" to the six-magazine "Universa", presenting the final state of technology in this section. With its size range up to 48 points, it was principally intended for setting newspaper advertisements. The casting wheel, which is equipped with six moulds, will be automatically adjusted to the selected type size when a button is pressed in order to avoid decreasing performance by unavoidably frequent changes of the type sizes. "Victorline" from 1910, of which fewer than 100 examples were built, is a contrast to it with its delicate appearance. Today, this is probably the only example of its kind. Its history is also unusual: in the possession of the Russian Orthodox Church in Prague at the end of the Second World War, fleeing monks was removed it by horse and cart. In Munich, where they found a new place to stay, it was used for typesetting church publications until a Macintosh (and a mouse) displaced it at the beginning of the Eighties.

The Largest Resource and the Great Aim for Typesetting Research

In innumerable typecasting matrices are the most valuable of all. There are a total of 30 tonnes and another 10 tonnes will b e added at the beginning of 2000. They come from a dozen European type foundries, including those with such illustrious names as Bauer, Breitkopf, Gillé, Molé, Theinhardt, Walbaum and Zanker. This diversity is unique. As well as representing the greatest resource of the Museum, it also determines its central objectives: the study of sources and a long overdue review of type research.

Conservation Activities

It is not possible to fulfil the educational and cultural political tasks of a special museum of this kind without public support. For this reason, in 1994, Eckehart SchumacherGebler called into existence the Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Druckkunst, Leipzig, e.V. (Association for promotion of the art of printing). Noted teachers, artists and designers belong to it. Today, the association has more than 500 members. The first chairman is Ludwig Devrient. The annual meetings, each of which is linked to a typography symposium, are popular gatherings. Public funds, the city of Leipzig and the Free State of Saxony have not found it possible to contribute the necessary financial resources to maintain it without external support, in spite of the extensive resources and the worldwide unique concept of the Museum.

On 23.12.1999, the endowment Werkstattmuseum für Druckkunst, in which the city and the Free State also participate, was launched.

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