Visiting Printers, Museums, and Collections in Belgium

John Major Jenkins
Oak Root PressAcorn Anchor Book Arts

In September, 2008, I traveled to Belgium to give a presentation and while there, I met Patrick Goossens in Antwerp. We had been in contact through the Letpress email list, and he invited me to see his printing press collection. I was fortunate in that a fantastic printing museum is in Antwerp, the Plantin Moretus Museum, and I was able to check that out too. It turned out to be an astonishing day. I was unprepared for the marvels that awaited me, in Patrick's extensive collection and in his friend Herwig's Historische Drukkerij Museum in Turnhout, which we visited that afternoon.

Patrick Goossens and I

In Antwerp, Patrick showed me some of his hand presses and monotype casting machines:

Hand press owned by Patrick Goossens

And some pictures from an old book he had:

This was just the tip of the iceberg. Later we visited his press building just outside Antwerp ... behold ...

Patrick Goossens' collection of hand presses and other printing machines

my reaction

One of Patrick's vintage flatbed cylinder presses

Patrick's rare treadle cylinder press

Patrick Goossens in Antwerp with his amazing collection of vintage hand presses

We loaded a folding machine and drove out to Turnhout, less than an hour away, to visit Herwig Kempenaers. Here, his Historische Drukkerij Museum preserved operational and beautifully restored printing equipment, including an old typograph:


And a machine for sewing signatures:


And a beautiful Bonte cylinder press, made in Brussels:


Now for some moving pictures:

Herwig's "Vve Alauzet & Tiquet - L'express" cylinder press in action (click image)

Really check out Herwig's impressive Historische Drukkerij Museum website.
For example, the photo report on moving and installing the Marinoni cylinder press.
Also, his pages can be Google translated into English with good effect. There are several clips and lots of pictures.

Herwig designed an amazing portrait of Gutenberg in a brilliant use of five different type.

See more on the Gutenberg print

He used type elements - over 50,000 of them! - to effect the shading in this incredible print:

Design by Herwig Kempenaers


Herwig and I

A printer at work with his cylinder press, back in the day...


The Plantin Moretus Museum

A nice little summary on this amazing printing museum is here:

I was able to visit the museum on Tuesday morning before I took the train to Maastricht. It is home to many of the oldest wooden presses around:

There was a room full of handcasting tools, molds, and equipment. Amazing to think that each one of those little type pieces had to be cast by hand, until the development of the typograph machines, monocasters, and then the Linotype caster in the late 1800s.

The Plantin Moretus museum had on display many well designed scienitific books and polyglot bibles. The designing and work that went into these books is truly impressive:

Belgium is truly a place where printing had its birth! Some more resources of interest:
Early block book revived and printed by John Veldener in 1483
Berjeau's 1863 reprint of that book - good intro text
Berjeau's English translation of the Dutch verses associated with the 64 woodcuts of the Boec van den Houte (Book of the Trees)
Carvers of early block books
Woodcutters of Netherlands in the 15th Century by Conway
The Bibliographer: A Journal of Book-Lore
Source of imagery used in early block books
Block book: Biblia Pauperum