Printing Museum Makes Its History Fun to Learn

Printing Museum Makes Its History Fun to Learn
Instead of simply displaying its artifacts, the International Printing Museum keeps its collection in working order and showcases what they do.

The passion of several men coalesced into the International Printing Museum in 1988.

Co-founder and lead curator Mark Barbour recalled meeting his former partners, Dave Jacobson and Ernie Lindner, and ultimately figuring out where their Venn diagram intersected. Jacobson was an old-school showman who attended trade shows. Lindner came from the family that introduced the hot metal Linotype machine to California. He lived in what is now called the Fashion District downtown – but at the time, it was called the Printing District.

“(Lindner) built a collection over 50 years,” Barbour recalled. “He loved the old machines and started squirreling them away and eventually built up one of the largest collections of antique printing equipment in the country.”

And so the museum was born, first setting up shop in Buena Park and later relocating to its current home in Carson. The institution boasts a replica Gutenberg press, considered among humanity’s greatest inventions. It also owns a collection of artifacts from the former Colby Printing Co. and Earl Hayes Press, as well as iterations of the printing machines used by founding father Benjamin Franklin. And they all work – an essential function of the museum.

Having a practical museum, where attendees can use the machines, is what sets this operation apart from other printing museums, Barbour said.

“Most of the time, it’s a static exhibit of old machines,” he said. “Much as I like to look at them, it doesn’t really bring anything to life.”

Demonstrating how presses work

So the museum brings them to life, having employees dress the part and demonstrate how the machines work while explaining the relevant history. One such demonstration dives into how the original Declaration of Independence was printed in bulk for distribution, whereas the handwritten copy stolen by actor Nicholas Cage in the film “National Treasure” was produced afterward.

Attendees can print their own copies of the declaration, just as they can also print Bible verses from the Gutenberg press – the creation of which allowed for mass-produced books. In addition to hosting groups for these tours, the museum also travels throughout California and Arizona for its shows.

“It’s those kinds of things where we’re really good at our storytelling,” Barbour said. “We get to explore a history that wraps around all of us.”

The museum in recent years has ramped up its lending of equipment to film and TV producers that need period-appropriate set pieces. And last year, when the Los Angeles Times shut down its printing press, the museum scooped up some choice artifacts – original printing plates for the front page from the past 20 years, printer uniforms and antique newsstands.

The museum already owns the original press machine by the then-named Los Angeles Daily Times. Barbour said they have it on loan to L.A. Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, who is building an exhibit attached to the publication’s building in El Segundo. The museum also will let patrons print their own copies of the front page from the very first issue of the newspaper.

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