The Norwegian Printing Museum

Monday 29 April 2013

Lately, I've been making the museum rounds throughout Stavanger and have been pleasantly surprised at the variety in our little city.  When the PWC sent an email out organizing a trip to the Norwegian Printing Museum, I'll admit, I had no idea it existed but I was intrigued.  The benefit of visiting with the PWC is the admission is usually discounted and they often arrange for a private, guided tour which in this case, was quite essential to really appreciate the exhibition.

As we arrived, we were greeted by an older Norwegian gentleman who explained, "Us old guys all used to work in the printing business.  Now we're retired but we'll show you around."  He won me over quite quickly. There was something so endearing about these men who had long moved on from the printing press yet still came around to maintain the equipment, work on a few pieces as a hobby and impart their knowledge to those who visited.

The building itself was beautiful in it's industrial glory.  Old wooden floors combined with steel supports enveloped the enormous iron machines and the smell of ink permeated the air.  The windows on the far wall peered right out onto the water and sent rays of light through the entire space.  It's almost hard to believe that it was once a simple storage space for the canneries in the early 1900s.

Stavanger had a very lively printing industry due to the abundance of canneries in the area (of course, the cans needed labels.)  Lithography was the trade of choice for labels.  The pictures and text were drawn by hand on large and heavy pieces of limestone.  Multi-coloured labels followed a careful process - each colour was hand sketched on the limestone, pressed, dried and then the next colour, on a separate lithograph, was applied.  In total, over 30 000 lithographs were made in Stavanger for the canning industry alone.

The rest of the museum was dedicated mainly to letterpress which honestly, was quite fascinating.  Up until the 1980s, letterpress was the main method of newspaper printing in the area and what an intricate and I imagine, strenuous, process.  Typesetting was done completely by hand, letter by letter, word by word almost as if arranging a puzzle daily in order to put the newspaper to press.  In 1900, the first typesetting machine came to Norway which basically works like a computer keyboard except working manually to put a cast together shaping a line of text in metal.

We were lucky enough to watch it all come together as the machine clunked and the metals tinged eventually forming a phrase.  The gentleman was kind enough to make a souvenir of sorts for us as we oohed and ahhed at the process.
The Handmade Typecast

It was really quite amazing to see the precision and effort that went into printing and while I love how technology has opened up so many opportunities for us, it made me sad to think of this massive industry and art that is practically extinct with the use of the computer taking it's place.

The Handmade Print of the Norwegian Alphabet I bought at the end of the tour.  
The tour was really quite eye opening for me and as a lover of the written word, I couldn't help but be mesmerized by the letters surrounding me, each of them being created with so much time, effort & care.


  1. Hoorah for printing! My alma mater has a fabulous letterpress collection of rare type and I was always mesmerized by it.

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  3. Beautiful! This looks like a museum I could easily have enjoyed for a couple of hours.

  4. I love this! I love love love books and learning about the history behind the art of bookmaking is fascinating to me. To be honest I'm a little surprised Stavanger was such a hub for printing; that's really cool!!

  5. oh that's amazing - and sad, too, you're right. My grandfather was a printer in the 50s and 60s, and we still have some blocks of type he took home with him from work. They're absolutely beautiful! What a treat to have been shown around by someone in the trade :)

  6. i love watching the traditional way of making things. i was able to see looms in work while in italy and it's still one of my favorite memories from there. i hope these art forms never become completely extinct!

  7. What an amazing museum!

    I'm a complete sucker for letterpress so I'm pretty sure if I ever made it here, it would be hard to get me to leave!

    1. I could have stayed and watched for hours too!

  8. Jay, this is absolutely my place!!! My grandfather used to run a printing business, with letterpress machines, type sets and all. I used to play spent a lot of time there especially during school holidays! I love the smell and I love the look of letterpress prints! Thanks for sharing this, I so need to come and visit if I ever make it to Stavanger!! Kristina x

  9. Wow I could have been lost in there for hours. What a neat place.

    Bonnie Rose | A Compass Rose


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