Housed in a former workshop is the working exhibition of letterpress-printing equipment ranging from early hand operated presses to power machinery, including hot metal casters.

 

Here in the print room there are examples of hand set, linotype and monotype printing. There are Albion, Wharfedale, Columbian, Adana, and proof presses.

At the heart of the letterpress printing process is the use of moveable type - individual pieces of metal or wood, each bearing a character in relief on one end, that can be brought together to form words and sentences. Johann Gutenberg is traditionally regarded as the inventor of printing in Europe, but the significant part of his discovery was the production of metal type using a mould - the first example of precision mass-production.

The process of making type begins with the punch-cutter, who makes a steel punch in the shape of each letter required. The punch is hardened and then driven into a block of soft copper to form a 'matrix' or mould from which type can be cast.

Type was cast in a hand-mould, which produced types of a fixed height but was adjustable for width so as to be able to cast narrow characters like 'i' and wide ones like 'W'. Molten type-metal - an alloy of lead, tin and antimony - was poured into the mould with a small ladle and solidified almost at once. The piece of type was extracted from the mould and the process repeated. A skilled caster might turn out 4000 types a day.

In the 19th century various machines were developed to cast type automatically at a rate of 20,000 a day or more. But the steel punches had still to be cut by hand.