The biggest event to occur in a generation or more was the auction of the Melbourne Museum of Printing at the end of November.
While Australia has a great number of printing museums scattered around the country, there has only really been one that could lay claim to being a national printing museum: the Melbourne Museum of Printing. This museum was the collection personally created by Michael Isaacson in the hope that there would be a significant and lasting collection of our printing history available.
I had first met Isaacson when I visited his warehouse in the early Eighties. Someone once commented to me that he was an omnivorous collector—a hoarder, even—who, through his all-encompassing collecting, had prevented others from getting equipment, especially individuals who wanted to set up letterpress printeries.
Quite the opposite, I believe. For Isaacsen originally set himself up as a vendor of letterpress machinery and equipment.
From what I have been told—I was never close or in touch with Isaacsen though I visited and was given the Grand Tour on several occasions—his family owned a property in the country outside of Melbourne.
He discovered the Adana when young and his interest over the years developed into what eventually became the Melbourne Museum of Printing.
This was at a time when people couldn’t get rid of printing machinery and equipment fast enough. Often it was sold for scrap if only to prevent someone from setting up in competition knocking out business cards and letterheads. I remember well one printery which started off as a private press and which had smashed up their Albion for scrap, keeping only the base to use as a stone.
This was the general climate at the time. The dissolution of the New South Wales Government Printing Office in 1989 was part of a wave of closures of these massive and historic printeries throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Another fire sale of Australian printing history. Such printeries had histories which went back to the early years of the colonies to before we became Australia and often contained historic machinery and equipment going back to these early times.
I believe that Isaacsen’s massive and historically important collection of Monotype mats were from the collection of the New South Wales Government Printer. And, no doubt, much else of what was in the collection came from similar sources.