As print is slowly killed (or at least deeply altered) by the advent of the Internet, relics of the early era of print become even more novel. In the early 1500s, the printing press was less than a hundred years old, italic had recently been invented by Aldus Manutius, an Italian typographer, and in many places, printing was still a crime. Christophe Plantin, a printer from Paris, fled the city for Antwerp because printers were being burned at the stake for heresy.
In Antwerp, Christophe Plantin first began printing by making books for private households, then in 1555 he started the first commercial printing press and began printing books. As his operation grew, Plantin brought on Jan Moretus, who spoke Latin and Greek as well as modern languages, and soon became his son-in-law. The press continued for over three hundred years, until 1867. Their offices are now, appropriately, a museum of printing.
So what does this collection contain? A Bible from 1450? Check. Two of the oldest printing presses ever? Check. A Gutenberg Bible? Check. The Font Garamond? Check. Amazingly this museum houses the world’s only copy of the original Garamond letter dies. It was these catalogs of letter dies, called upon when a particular font is digitized, which form the basis for the Garamond font which you can now pull up in any text editor.
In 2002, UNESCO honored the museum as a World Heritage Site. It may soon be one of the few places we can go to learn about the history of physical print, seemingly an increasingly ancient art. (There are also lots of Rubens’ paintings, just because they can.)
In addition, you also get to visit the printer’s private home, showing a typical upper-end household from the early modern era. Even the garden still follows the early 17th-century style, including the actual plants and how they’re arranged, to give visitors a good idea of what this printing house looked like in its hay day.
Know Before You Go
Don't have time to see everything? Some of the books and collections are available to see online on their website.