25 Years

25 Years

The National Print Museum champions print and its impact on the world. The Museum has since inception, aspired to preserve the story of printing – a technology that changed the world and is to this day is of course one of man’s greatest inventions. It is an incredibly special place where heritage, craft and technology of printing live and thrive.

The Museum concentrates chiefly on letterpress printing, the invention of Johannes Gutenberg. The invention is one of the greatest known to mankind and it was the chief manner of printing which prevailed for over 500 years before becoming obsolete, in the commercial sense, in the mid-twentieth century. There has been an international revival in letterpress printing with printers and designers tiring of mass production and digital perfection, and with the appeal of traditional craftsmanship. This revival has been and continues to present great opportunities for print museums around the world.

The foundations of the Museum are rooted in the 1980s, when a group of like-minded printers and compositors (spearheaded by Sean Galavan) began collecting equipment. The Museum is forever grateful to this group who had the foresight to value and collect this material, and to imagine the idea of a national museum of printing. A space was first acquired in the basement of the union offices in Dublin city centre and in the early nineties acquired a state-owned building in a former army barracks close to the city centre, and where the Museum is still housed. Following building improvements as part of a construction project, the Museum was officially opened by the then President, Mary Robinson in 1996. Many museums are rooted in such voluntary efforts. The National Print Museum was fortunate to receive and maintain government support and indeed industry support, and accelerated to become a professional museum by its official opening. The Museum has full accreditation of The Heritage Council’s Museum’s Standards Programme for Ireland. The Office of Public Works will require the building back over the coming years and the Museum is working with government agencies to secure a new home.

The collection is largely made up of printing machines and equipment, type, and a smaller archival collection. It is a unique collection. It is not behind glass or rope, but is instead an example of a working collection. The collection consists of letterpress printing equipment, displayed and organised like a traditional print-shop. The group of printers (referred to as the Chapel – a collective term used for members of a print union) that founded the Museum is still an intrinsic part, maintaining, demonstrating and bringing the collection to life on a, in normal times, regular basis. The Museum has a rather unique approach to conservation, in that it conserves by using. CEO, Carla Marrinan Funder says; “The machines were built to be used. We believe that continuing to use these machines, according to best practice standards, adds immensely to our understanding of them.” It is not only the collection that the Museum preserves, but one of its greatest challenges is preserving the craft. In 2019 the Museum successfully had letterpress printing added to the National Inventory of Cultural Intangible Heritage in Ireland and in the same year the Museum commenced a Skills Transfer Programme, with support from Creative Ireland. It is a huge responsibility to pass on a craft from one generation to another, but the Museum is lucky to have such an enthusiastic volunteer make-up.

Print has, without a doubt, had a huge impact on our histories. Through temporary exhibitions the Museum has been able to unpick some important moments in history and demonstrate the role of print – from major moments in history such as the 1916 Rising or the suffragette campaign of 1918 to the less monumental but deserving themes such as political ephemera and the Irish printed record sleeve. A typical visit to the Museum is an immersive and tactile experience, which involves rolling up your sleeves and printing your own poster. COVID has presented many challenges for Irish museums and the National Print Museum is no exception. The Museum is committed to providing a wide range of socially inclusive opportunities for the lifelong discovery and enjoyment of Ireland’s printing heritage. Marrinan Funder says, “Museums always need to keep changing, rethinking purpose, exploring new opportunities, and ultimately making ourselves and our collections relevant in contemporary society. COVID has made us step back and evaluate and improve how we do things”. During these times the Museum has moved much of its education and learning programming online. On the website you will find an online exhibition on the printers of 1916, a virtual tour of the main exhibition with videos of some of the collection in operation, #printathome activity videos and a new series entitled Cairde Cló with virtual visits to “print friends” around the world. The Museum also has intentions, funds allowed, to digitize its entire collection and make it digital accessible to all. Time has also been spent on improving the visitor experience onsite and when in a position to reopen, the Museum will have on display two temporary exhibitions. A Photographic Celebration of The Chapel and Locked Up in Lockdown – an exhibition of work “locked up” and printed during the first lockdown.

The Museum will turn 25 on Sunday 4 April, Easter Sunday. On this date the Museum will reveal a teaser of the first of a series of exciting birthday collaborations for 2021, which will be formally announced on 23 April. This date is the anniversary of the printing of the nation’s most historic printed document – the 1916 Proclamation). Sign up to the newsletter or follow the Museum on social media to learn more.

A massive and heartfelt thank you to our supporters and the all-important visitors and users of our Museum. The team look forward to learning, exploring and making with you for many years to come!

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National Print Museum and Maser