Pioneers of Printing (Special Edition): Long Live the Linotype

The Museum of the Printing Arts in Leipzig showcases live presentations of many different printing machines that were used in the printing workflow decades ago. In this article we feature Roland Müller who used to work as typesetter and now works the Linotype in the museum.

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Visiting One of the Last Typesetters and his Linotype

The city of Leipzig, Germany looks back at a rich history in printing. In fact, before drupa first opened its gates in Düsseldorf in 1951, Saxony’s largest city was the most important marketplace for everything printing-related in Germany. One of drupa’s predecessors “Bugra” took place in Leipzig from 1914 to 1993. But even without “Bugra” (short for “Internationale Ausstellung für Buchgewerbe und Graphik”/ International Exhibtion for the Book and Graphics Industries), paper and printing have remained an important pillar of Leipzig’s local industry culture as Germany’s second largest book fair – the annual Leipziger Buchmesse (Leipzig Book Fair) – dates back to the 17th century.

With a printing history as impressive as that, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Leipzig is home to a museum paying tribute to it. The Museum of the Printing Arts Leipzig is not like most other museums as it doesn’t just showcase printers and related machinery from the past but actually puts them in action – with real people working them.

TYPESETTING’S NOT DEAD!

One of said people is Roland Müller who worked for the local paper Leipziger Volkszeitung for 30 years. During his tenure at the paper, Müller fell in love with the Linotype No. 13, a fully-automatic machine that helps him set the type way faster than any typesetter could ever do by hand.

Working with the Linotype has always been fun for the 65-year-old. In his interview, he praises the influence that the machine had, not only on him but on the (financial) success of papers everywhere. Being able to set type at the velocity that the Linotype enabled had papers grow bigger and bigger.

Originally, typesetting was an incredibly time-consuming task where each and every letter, comma, hyphen and period had to be set by hand. Linotype however, works like a typewriter where the setter types in the text template instead and can hence layout the printing plate way faster than he could manually.

While at first, publishers and editors had to be very careful what information they could print at all due to the time it took to layout the pages, Linotype helped them set more type in the same amount of time. This way, papers could not only grow the variety of their content but were also able to incorporate advertisements into the layout thus making even more money.

The Times, They Are A Changin’, Even in Print

Of course, the Leipziger Volkszeitung was a GDR (German Democratic Republic) newspaper and had to deal with censorship quite a lot. Having this little information available at all times, Roland Müller felt honored to be the second person to hear about the GDR government stepping down in 1989 while working the Linotype.

After Germany reunited, Müller’s job changed drastically. With the Leipziger Volkszeitung purchased by German media giant Axel Springer, the whole newspaper production was being modernized. Starting with the digitalization of the typesetting that was now accomplished with Macintosh computers.

But although working conditions and relationships with his supervisors had changed for the better, things didn’t work out that well for Müller in the end. Newspaper circulations were going down across the board, ads were losing value and people had to be let go – amongst them: Roland Müller.

Luckily his unemployment didn’t last too long as he was able get a job with the Museum of the Printing Arts Leipzig. He’s been with the museum for 7 years now and has been happily working the Linotype ever since. Until the day he retires, Müller aims to keep doing so and showing visitors how typesetters used to work in days past.

Whether you know German or not, watching the video interview with Mr. Müller will definitely give you some insights towards the functioning of the Linotype:

In case you’re interested in a practical presentation of printing history, go ahead and visit the Museum of the Printing Arts Leipzig on your next travel to Saxony’s largest city! Or, in case you don’t go there anytime soon, just check out their booth at drupa 2020! Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to leave a comment telling us what you look forward to most when visiting either one!