I guess one of your first visits to an archive, or a library, or museum of things related to your interesest will always be one of the most memorable. Even if the things and facts that blew your mind then seem funny (to say the least) today.
I remember my first visit at the Anna Amalia library in Weimar in 1997. I had just come back from an internship in the Netherlands that a.o. brought me to the Plantijn Moretus museum, guided by Fred Smeijers. For a young type enthusiast bursting of curiosity (more than knowledge) there is already barely a more mind-blowing experience imaginable than holding punches by Hendrik van den Keere et al. and learning about how they made them. There, I had Fred to answer all my questions and put things in context.
Fast forward a few weeks later, by myself back in Weimar, I was looking at these marvelous books printed by the private Cranach Presse of count Harry Kessler which by themselves are totally mind-blowing! In case you ever have a chance to see their edition of Hamlet printed on vellum, it’s INSANE! I wanted to know all about these books, who made them, what these typefaces are, and who had made those, who the illustrations, the binding … I had so many questions I couldn’t quite put into order or connect, or even know what keywords to search for in the library’s physical card-based catalog, pre-Google. How for instance is it possible they say this type in the Vergil is Jenson when other books say that guy is long dead and from the 1400s, oh ok, a guy called Edward Price then, and who is Emery Walker? And the whole can of worms of private presses and revivals opened in front of me.
It was there where I finally “got” type history – painstakingly, embarrassing and on my own, even though I had read Counterpunch and saw Fred work for months. I guess the things you painfully figure out yourself are always the stuff that really sticks, and boy was I proud of myself and my “amazing research” (that everyone else but me already knew).
When I came to Fred with my findings and excitement about all these fancy private press books and typefaces he just shrugged and said (something like) “Private Press books are shit. Making cheap books beautiful is the real challenge and art”. I was disappointed right that moment, but sleeping on it, I knew he was right. Cured my interest in fancy press books forever.
(Comments are open! I’m curious about your archive and library stories.)
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