Legacy of Letters 2023—Archivio Tipografico in Torino (Part 1)

A pixelated view of Archivio Tipografico by eBoy. Their design was converted to typographic material and printed letterpress in two colors by members of Archivio Tipografico

On Day 2 of Legacy of Letters 2023 we will be in Torino to visit Archivio Tipografico. We visited the cooperative letterpress studio for the first time as part of Legacy of Letters 2017. Last summer, prior to the beginning of Legacy of Letters 2022, I made a second visit to Archivio Tipografico with Peter Kruty, Sayre Gaydos, and Patricia Childers. Both visits were wonderful, but that second one made me realize that it was imperative to include them as part of the Legacy of Letters 2023 itinerary.

I wrote to Gabriele Fumero, the contact person at Archivio Tipografico, to ask if he would answer some questions about the studio. Here is an edited version of our email exchange accompanied by some photographs.

Paul: When was Archivio Tipografico formed ? What was the inspiration?

Gabriele: Archivio Tipografico [AT] was formed around the collection of Emanuele Mensa, a printing teacher who began to collect printing presses and typefaces as soon as they went out of use, due to the advent of offset printing. He began collecting them simply believing that such materials, which were discarded as rubbish at the time, would soon have another life. AT was founded in 2000.

There is a beautiful video about Emanuele, sadly it’s in Italian only—apart from that, you have to meet him to understand why and how he started AT.

Mensa teaches at CNOS-FAP Valdocco, which is the institution that evolved from the first school founded by John “Don” Bosco in the late 1800s to employ orphans and abandoned kids that lived in the streets of Torino. In those schools they could learn a job such as printer, carpenter, wood worker, mechanic… in a controlled environment, without being exploited and badly treated. The professional school that Bosco founded is right next to Archivio Tipografico. Don Bosco’s printshop has been turned into a printing museum.

Members of Archivio Tipografico (in 2022) with Legacy of Letters 2022 leaders. From left to right: Matteo (former intern); Léa (former intern); Danilo; Davide E.; Roberto; [Patricia Childers]; Gabriele; [Sayre Gaydos]; Davide T.; [Peter Kruty]. Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Paul: The Archivio is described as a collective. Who are the members and what are their backgrounds? 

Gabriele: The active members of our collective are 7 people: Davide Eucalipto, Gabriele Fumero, Sonia Gavazza, Danilo Mondino, Roberto Necco, Aurora Stefanini, and Davide Tomatis. Emanuele Mensa is the eighth member. He is the president of Associazione Archivio Tipografico, the supreme master printer and the man who made it all possible.

These are our backgrounds:
Gabriele: BA in graphic design (Torino), MA in Art Direction at ECAL (Lausanne, Switzerland); focused on research and communication of the association; and an enthusiastic cook with erratic results.

Davide T.: BA in graphic design (Torino), MA in Type Design at ECAL (Lausanne, Switzerland); oversees our type design production and streamlines the printing jobs.

Davide E.: BA in graphic design (Torino), MA in editorial design at ISIA (Urbino); editorial, type design and strong pragmatic organizational skills.

Roberto: BA and MA in architecture; 30+ years of experience in graphic design in the cultural field; visionary graphic design, illustration, and yoga guru.

Danilo: MA in illustration; 10+ years of practice as a letterpress and art printer, pushing the knowledge of the technique to get the most expressive results.

Aurora: fresh out of her BA in graphic design; curious and witty graphic designer guided by logic.

Sonia: BFA and MFA; 10+ years of experience as an art printer, talented engraver and illustrator; extremely precise printer; and coffee master.

Work by members of Archivio Tipografico on display in the studio’s entryway. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2017).

The entryway of Archivio Tipografio. The front door is visible in the back. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2017).

Paul: What type of clients do you have? Do you print books or only ephemeral jobs?

Gabriele: We have different type of clients, on the one side people fascinated by the craftsmanship and precious materials typical of letterpress printing, but we also work with people attracted by the idea of using a technique that in many respects is way more sustainable than any other industrial printing technique. We work well with any printing requirement that requires 100 to 500 copies of any type of printed media. We love to design and print books. Last year we managed to print a few art books, among which was one that was entirely handset with lead type. We hope to have more jobs like this in 2023.

View of Archivio Tipografico showing two cylinder proof presses. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2017).

View of Archivio Tipografico showing two of their presses, a guillotine, and a 19th century “turtle”. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2017).

View of Archivio Tipografico showing a sewing station and an assortment of inks. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2017)

Paul: How do you divide up the work? Do people do their own jobs or is their collaboration? Do people have specific skills/jobs (e.g. binding, setting type, running different presses, designing, computer work, etc.)

Gabriele: It’s mostly an intuitive and organic coordination that comes out of spending a lot of time together, I would say that cooking and eating lunch together every day is a key part of our organization, a sort of ritual that gets us to know each other better and better. We kind of have roles but they were all developed and refined during all these years of working together, and they are surely bound to evolve and change in the coming years.

My interview with Gabriele is continued at Legacy of Letters 2023—Archivio Tipografico in Torino (Part 2).

Legacy of Letters 2023 will take place from June 29 to July 12, 2023. It will include stops in Milano, Torino (to visit the Archivio Tipografico), Alpignano, Casteggio, Parma, Modena, Predappio, Venice, and Cornuda. We will visit five libraries/museums, five letterpress shops, one silkscreen shop, and the Tipoteca where we will have a multi-day letterpress workshop.