Haverhill Museum Preserves the Rich History of Publishing
Tucked away on a side street in Haverhill lies over 700 years of printing history. One of only three such museums in the country, the Museum of Printing (MOP) preserves, displays and teaches the history of printing and graphic arts from the 1300s to the present day. It is, according to museum President Frank Romano, “the most comprehensive printing museum in the world.”
As evidence of this, when 20th Century Fox needed authentic 1970s-era printing equipment as props for its 2017 movie “The Post,” Romano and the MOP provided exactly what was required.
The MOP also supplies refurbished equipment to graphic arts departments at local schools and colleges. Northeastern University, for example, has a 150-year-old linopress made up of parts from three different presses that were salvaged and refurbished by the museum’s staff of volunteers, who bring the equipment to the schools, set it up and provide training.
The idea for the museum sprang from the collection of printed material Romano salvaged from his former employer, Mergenthaler Linotype Co., when the business moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Long Island in 1969. “I want to save it all for history so it won’t be forgotten,” he says. “I want to save the equipment, the materials, the books, the supporting material and the ideas that encompass the way we’ve communicated over several hundred years, and leave behind something that shows there’s a continuity.”
Save he did. Even as he moved from apartment to apartment, he left nothing behind and continued to add rare and interesting finds, hiring a carpenter to build custom bookshelves to display his growing collection.
By the late 1970s, The Boston Globe was ending its use of the letterpress and Romano owned New England Printer & Publisher Magazine. He approached William Taylor, the Globe’s publisher at the time, about saving some of the equipment for a future museum, and Taylor agreed. They recruited publishers, typographers and others in the printing industry with a shared desire to preserve the history for future generations. Together, they became the board of directors of the newly established The Friends of The Museum of Printing Inc., though the museum itself would be many years in the making.
“The Taylor family helped us find warehouses to store all the stuff in,” Romano says. First in Lowell, then in Lawrence, then in Boston, the equipment remained in storage until 1995, when the group found property in North Andover where some of the collection could finally be displayed, though much of it remained in storage.
The space was not ideal. Volunteer Ted Leigh describes it as overcrowded and lacking organization. “Everything was like it belonged to hoarders,” he jokes, “crammed in, with aisles to walk in between.”
There were other problems. “We spent more time in North Andover on maintenance than we did on the collection,” Romano says, noting that there were issues in the too-dark space with the water and elevator.
There have always been issues with money, too. “We’ve been 41 years without an endowment,” Romano says. “We exist month to month.” When the landlord raised the rent in North Andover, Romano knew the museum would not be able to survive, so he purchased an old electrical supply store on Thornton Avenue in Haverhill and donated it to the museum in 2016, eliminating its biggest operating expense — rent.
It took nine months for a team of volunteers to move the 52 tons of equipment and materials to the clean and bright new location. “We don’t want it to be crowded,” Romano says. “We want it to be open and airy.”
The move allowed Romano to add his personal library to the museum’s collection. Floor-to-ceiling glass-fronted bookcases line the entire perimeter of a large room, displaying about 7,000 books related to printing.
Leigh says the collection is much better organized in the new space. To help tell the museum’s story more completely, Zappar Augmented Reality stations have been installed in 11 places. Visitors can access these on their mobile device with a free downloadable app.
In addition to the only set of photo typefacing equipment in the world, the museum’s collection includes about 100 presses, 50 typewriters, the original Edison No. 0 mimeograph machine, an example of every model of Mac computer, and a Linotype library of over 3,000 fonts.
The collection also includes an original copy of the “Nuremberg Chronicle,” which tells the story of human history as related in the Bible. It was printed in Germany when printing technology was still in its infancy. “I was holding a page of the ‘Nuremberg Chronicle’ the other day that was printed in 1493,” Romano says. “There’s a direct connection between me and some medieval printer who did this on a wooden printing press. I think that’s fantastic.”
The museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers tours by appointment. CDC and State guidance advisories have been implemented. It’s easily accessible via Interstate 495 off exit 49, and plenty of parking is available.