TYPA is a non-profit association that was established in the spring of 2010 as a private museum to save the last surviving letterpress machines and equipment salvaged from printing shops from destruction. We are the only memory institution in the region – in Finland and the Baltics – specialising in printing and paper arts. Since its establishment, TYPA has operated as a working museum and place of interest, which, in addition to traditional maintenance and exhibition of collections, conducts various printing workshops and hosts longer courses for students and professionals. From the very beginning, the biggest challenge for TYPA has been finding suitable premises, which has been particularly difficult due to a lack of sustained public support. We have now had to move twice and even our current premises are only a temporary rental space.
TYPA (pronounced ‘tüpa’ in Estonian and ‘type-a’ in English) The name ‘TYPA’ was born from a sort of emotion and does not really mean anything in particular. In Estonian it can be understood as a portmanteau of ‘tüpograafia’ (typography) and ‘paber’ (paper). Meanwhile, in English, it can be a blend of ‘type’ and ‘paper’ or ‘typography’ and ‘paper’. Or maybe an ironic misspelling of ‘typo’? Or something else altogether. Due to the many interpretations it lends itself to, we find it a neutral and universal combination of letters that perfectly encapsulates our multifarious activities. After all, in addition to the museum, we also run a residency programme, a notebook factory, an education centre, an art gallery, a working graphic art studio, a children’s art class, a volunteer programme, provide letterpress printing services, etc. And no doubt TYPA’s range of activities will only grow in the future.
TYPA’s predecessors were Culture Factory Polymer in Tallinn and Pärmivabrik in Tartu. As a result of the efforts of multiple responsible cultural operators and artists, a number of printing presses and auxiliary equipment that were destined to be scrapped were saved and put into use. Operating under the name Cultural Printing Shop, printing of large-format wall posters – mainly for art exhibitions and concerts – was also continued. However, printing was still a side gig for everyone involved and no suitable facilities were available for the work, so a non-profit association was soon established to pool the collected heritage items and competences.
TYPA was put together in March 2010 from two museums founded by chance in the same building. Lemmit Kaplinski and Madis Mikkor founded MTÜ Eesti Trükimuuseum (Estonian Printing Museum). Meanwhile, Anne Rudanovski founded MTÜ Paberimuuseum (Paper Museum). The activities and themes of the two separately established museums had plenty of overlap and so a number of compatible educational programmes were also run together. First, the newly established Printing Museum and Paper Museum came upon an opportunity to rent premises in the historic printing shop building at Kastani 38 in Tartu. The building had previously housed the printing shop of the Noor-Eesti Publishing House and was also the seat of the then owner of the building: the Greif Printing Shop. In 2010–2014, the Printing Museum rented an approximately 250 m2 space from Greif on the ground floor of the building, while the Paper Museum operated on the next floor. Over time, the need for space grew, and so in 2014, both museums decided to move to the new Creative Quarter of Aparaaditehas.
In the summer of 2014, the Printing Museum and the Paper Museum became the first to move into the new rental premises opened at Aparaaditehas, where in the first few years we co-ordinated the cultural programme, the rental of the premises, and much more besides. While the move and the subsequent renovation work were carried out, the museums were closed to ordinary visitors for a long time. However, we still received pre-registered groups, held public workshops and events, and hosted courses for art schools. In those days, the Printing and Paper Museum operated out of the current location of the restaurant Kolm Tilli and of a section of the current premises of the restaurant Aparaat. During the period spent at Aparaaditehas, several important developments took place: the two predecessor museums were merged into the Estonian Printing and Paper Museum; the last of the equipment was moved from the Polymer Culture Factory in Tallinn to the museum; with the support of the Ministry of Culture, the museum’s collections were entered into the MuIS information system; a gallery was opened for rotating exhibitions; and the Fahrenheit 451° used book store was established as TYPA’s ‘subsidiary’.
In February 2018, the Printing and Paper Museum moved to new rental premises next door, also owned by Aparaaditehas, behind the Samelin boot factory. This is where we are today. Although the premises at Kastani 48f are not yet large enough for all of our operations and equipment storage needs, at 750 m2 on a single floor, they are still larger and better than anything we have had before. This building also houses our gallery, and, for the first time, we have set up a darkroom complete with what is probably the largest functioning process camera in Estonia. Since the end of 2019, the former Estonian Printing and Paper Museum has operated under the name TYPA Printing and Paper Arts Centre.
As a non-profit association, TYPA’s activities are governed by its statutes, in which objectives have been set out in the following areas: collections, information, and skills.
One of TYPA’s key areas of activity is the collection, study, and preservation of various objects related to printing, paper arts, and bookbinding. In our first few years, we often managed to save valuable printing presses from becoming scrap metal and documents, test prints, and other materials of interest from ending up in the trash. In all likelihood, we have by now depleted all of the major treasure troves out there, and so today our attention is primarily focused on the restoration and documentation of our existing equipment. For a more detailed overview of the condition of TYPA’s collections and the related work, visit our Collections page.
Equipment does not run itself. Our past and current helpers include experienced former printers, whose technical know-how as well as memories of daily working life are worth preserving. We have started conducting video interviews with experts from a number of fields, including printers, typesetters, and many others. These interviews include demonstrations of work processes as well as personal memories and stories about the interviewees’ former companies. In doing this, we not only try to document work-related knowledge, but also to gain and give our visitors a better understanding of the world in which these people lived.
TYPA’s founders and team members have never wanted TYPA to be insular and static, but, first and foremost, a working printing studio where many of the exhibits are also in use as tools. Thus we proceed from ICOM’s (International Council of Museums) understanding of what makes a museum a working museum. At TYPA, activities that characterise a working museum include regular workshops, advanced learning courses, and the production of commercial printed materials. We teach printing to kindergarteners, as well as art students and foreign artists, some of whom we also employ as printers. When you walk through our door, you are usually greeted by the scent of printing ink and the noise of many busy hands – a point of pride with us.