Legacy of Letters 2023: Letterpress Extravaganza—6. Modena

July 5, 2023 | Day 6

Livia Cattaneo, Alessandro Colizzi’s wife and a professor of Italian at UQAM in Montreal, Canada, joined us in Parma in the afternoon of July 4. She served as both a translator and a cicerone for the group for this day in Modena and the days ahead in Venice where the logistics of travel and eating were complicated.


Biblioteca Estense

In the morning we visited the Biblioteca Estense where we looked at yet another Carolingian manuscript (Lat. 988 = alfa.J.1.23), an antiphonary written in two versions of rotunda, a sylloge by Giovanni Marcanova illustrated and written out by Felice Feliciano (alfa.1.5.15), and a disbound copy of the second version of Parole in Libertà by F.T. Marinetti which was designed by Tullio D’Albisola.

Page from a collection of five texts written between the middle of the 9th century and the middle of the 10th century (Lat. 988 = alfa.J.1.23). Although the principal scripts of the texts is a Carolingian minuscule in different versions, this page shows a Carolingian interpretation of classical Roman capitals. Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Fred Wiltshire and Jen Thomas looking at an antiphonary written in rotunda script. (Livia Cattaneo is standing in the background.) Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Spread from sylloge by Giovanni Marcanova (alfa.1.5.15) illustrated and written out by Felice Feliciano. Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Detail of micro-calligraphy from a 17th century writing exemplar (gamma.1.10.18). Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Page from a disbound copy of Parole in Libertà by F.T. Marinetti (1932) (aef.marinetti). This second version of Parole in Libertà is known as the “lito-latta” book because its pages were printed lithographically on tin. Photograph by Paul Shaw.


Officina Typo

In the afternoon we visited Officina Typo, the fourth letterpress studio on our itinerary. Officina Typo is run by the husband and wife team of Silvano Babini and Gina Paolini with their daughter Ebe Babini. Silvano and Gina showed us around the shop—its presses, cases of type, printed works. The designs are the work of Gina and Ebe.

A view of Officina Typo. From left to right: Stefano Baldassari, Silvano Babini (back turned), Fred Wiltshire (in the distance), Ebe Babini, and Eran Ben Barak. Photograph by Paul Shaw.

A selection of printed work by Officina Typo. Photograph by Paul Shaw.


Ebe led the keepsake printing—capitals of Triennale in both wood type and metal type—on a cylinder proofing press. The metal alphabet was already pre-printed by the family prior to our arrival. The wood alphabet was set up during our visit by Ebe. As with the day at Il Buon Tempo in Casteggio, the Legacy of Letters 2023 participants quickly began to play with the colors of the design. In the end, the print run included at least five different color combinations. For some of the prints the O and T—at my suggestion—were printed in a separate color. That involved tweezering out the letters, inking them, and then replacing them in the bed of the press.

Ebe Babini setting the type for the keepsake while Jen Thomas watches. Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Silvano Babini running one of the prints. Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Jen Thomas inking type with a hand brayer as Silvano Babini watches. Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Jacob Ford holding up the O and T. Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Eran Ben Barak and Fred Wiltshire inserting the inked T and O (for Officina Typo) into the lock-up. Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Eran Ben Barak hanging prints up to dry as Silvano Babini guides him. (Jacob Ford and Livia Cattaneo are at right.) Photograph by Paul Shaw.

Gina Paolini collating the slip-sheeted prints. Photograph by Paul Shaw.


Interview with Gina Paolini and Silvano Babini

After the printing of the keepsake was completed, we spent half an hour or so interviewing Gina and Silvano about their life and work. Many of the questions replicated those from the email interview I conducted in 2022. The conversation was a quiet end to a wonderful afternoon.

Silvano Babini during the post-printing interview. Seated to his right are Livia Cattaneo and Hofi Benediktsdóttir. Photograph by Paul Shaw.