The Printing Films Archive

Preserving the Visual History of the Printed Word

Published: 9 Mar 2022

Topics: Film, Design, Linotype, Typography, History

TL;DR: I made a website where you can see old printing and typography films

A New Site

I’m excited to announce the re-launch of the Printing Films Archive today. This site has been a passion project of mine since I was given a box of 16mm Linotype industrial films in 2011 while producing Linotype: The Film and I’m happy that the site is still going strong in 2022.

A stack of printing films ready for digitization

The Backstory

Linotype machinist Dave Seat sent the films to me while I was in the middle of production of our film, and casually said, “Maybe you can do something with these?” Of course I was thrilled to be the first person to see these films in over 50 years and we utilized several clips to tell the story of the Linotype.

But I knew I was being entrusted to do something special beyond just our film and I felt the responsibility to make sure they were seen by as many people as possible. This is where the germ of the idea of the Printing Films Archive started.

Close-up of a film leader countdown

Film Participant Becomes Film Donor

During the screening tour of the Linotype: The Film, the collection of Carl Schlesinger — former New York Times Linotype operator, creator of “Farewell, etaoin shrdlu”, and collector/dealer of vintage printing films — was donated to the Museum of Printing through my connection with both his family and the museum.

In early 2013, I spent a few days up in Boston (at the old MOP location) sorting through the films with Frank Romano and deciding which films were the best candidates for digitization and preservation. The Linotype films and Schlesinger films became the backbone of the collection and I launched the site in 2013.

Screening the Schlesinger films with Frank Romano at the Museum of Printing in early 2013. If I remember right, I borrowed a film projector from a local university and flew with it as carry-on luggage ;-)

Adding to the Collection

After the launch of the original site, some friends at Adobe Type reached out saying, “You know, we have a bunch of VHS tapes of old films in our library. Maybe you would be interested?”

These VHS tapes were duplicates that Adobe purchased from Carl years ago and several were films that were no longer in Carl’s collection for some reason. Although the quality of VHS left much to the imagination, these were great additions to the collection.

A couple years after that, friends at Monotype U.K. told me that they were finally digitizing the films sitting in their archive in Salfords (south of London). They agreed to allow the films to be on the site, which tripled the number of Monotype films available.

How do you ship off a dozen films to be digitized and make sure they survive FedEx? Buy a rubber container and use zip-ties: that’s how.

A More Useful Site

Part of my goal with this redesign was to make the site more usable for sharing the collection with others. Now, all listed topics are clickable and sharable with real URLs.

  • Want to see all the films related to newspapers? Here’s your link.

  • Want to share only the photo type films with a friend? Check it out.

  • For some strange reason do you only want to watch the silent films? Here is your link, weirdo!

My Goal for the Future

If you haven’t noticed yet, I am passionate about printing, typography, and newspaper education. I’ve always loved books and archives and I believe strongly in sharing knowledge with everyone in the world.

I want the site to be a single location where students of printing and typographic history can see how machines, type, and newspapers were produced. It’s niche and I love keeping it that way.

Organizing films donated by Carl Schlesinger

Big Thanks

A big thanks goes to my colleague and friend Nick Sloan who helped me get the site off of SquareSpace and onto Netlify and GitHub. This makes the site more affordable and easily maintained for the future.

Special thanks also goes to the long-term supporters of the site: Frank Romano, Laura Minor, Dan Rhatigan, Eric Scace, and my friends at Adobe and Monotype.

Further Reading & Writing