Autumn 2004

French library under threat

Letter from Caroline Archer, Director, St Bride Printing Foundation

L’Imprimerie Nationale de France – established by Cardinal Richelieu under King Louis XIII, in the 17th century as one of the world’s foremost printing offices – is under threat of closure and dispersal by the French Government. This is a tragedy not only for France, but also for the international typographic community.

L’Imprimerie Nationale is home to a remarkable collection of typographic material, which is a unique and priceless testimony to the history of printing from the 16th century to the present. It includes the Cabinet des poinçons (Punch Room), which contains hundreds of thousands of metal types and punches for both western and oriental scripts; and active workshops that include a foundry, machines for letterpress and lithographic printing, copper-plate engraving, stitching and binding. In addition the library, set up in 1539 by King Francis I, contains over 30,000 books plus the archives of the State printing works. The Library is an international centre of academic excellence, whose collection is a record of specialised typographic know-how and expertise spanning five centuries.

But the collections, workshops and library of L’Imprimerie Nationale de France are in danger of extinction if its future is not ensured. The French government is currently selling off various buildings and businesses of the Imprimerie Nationale Group, a commercial limited-liability company in which the French state is sole shareholder. This is being done with no consideration for this historic heritage, other than packing it into crates for permanent storage. The move is scheduled for the first half of 2005.

The French typographic community is determined that the collections of the Imprimerie Nationale should not be dispersed and are calling for this wonderful heritage to remain in Paris. It is hoped that either an institution can be found that can guarantee adequate resources and capacity to house the Imprimerie, or a fully controlled, non-profit-making organisation can be established to safeguard its future and administer, develop and expand the collection.

But in the first instance the French government is being petitioned to stop its act of typographic vandalism and to consider the preservation of printing history in France. If you would like to know more about the action being taken and lend your support to the campaign to save L'Imprimerie Nationale de France you can read more by visiting: where you can also sign an on-line petition which will be sent to the President of the French Republic.

Many thanks for your support.

Caroline Archer, London

First published in Eye no. 53 vol. 14 2004

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