TYPA centre

Old printing studio

TYPA is a museum and studio for historic letterpress printing, bookbinding and a centre for education, research and art exchanges. As part of their interest in sustainable cultural practices, they also create notebooks and other useful items by re-purposing old books discarded by libraries. Whenever possible, they try to use recycled paper for the sheets inside the notebooks. Founded as a non-profit in 2010, TYPA has become an important centre for printmaking in the university city of Tartu, Estonia. typa.ee

TYPA is located in Tartu and it really has the spirit of this old university city of Estonia, known for its wooden houses and bohemian style. How is the everyday life in your studio?

The days are different. Some sleepy winter days everyone just fiddles with something in their corner. On another we will have hosted a hundred schoolchildren by noon already and there are artists in residence, Erasmus volunteers and regular visitors intermingling in a seemingly chaotic manner. This curated chaos does truly reflect the Bohemian spirit of the academia and we are proud to be part of this.

Woman working with an old printing press

Old printing press

Who are behind TYPA? How did your paths cross?

TYPA team is a diverse group of enthusiasts from Estonia and abroad. Everyone came here for different reasons and stays for different reasons. For some, it’s a quiet place to concentrate on making amazing notebooks, while for others it’s a way to connect to the past and tell stories of how technologies changed and people with them.

Of the people you’ll most likely meet are Mana, who is in charge of the administration and design; Pauline who is the notebook wizard; Masha and Kristiin who entertain visitors; Mirjam who is the communication manager and Lemmit, the general manager, who tries to find a balance between all the different activities going on.

One man and two man standing in the printing studio

We have heard about the legendary manager Gutenberg. Tell us a little bit more about him, did he find you or was it the other way around?

He walked in the door somewhere early 2012 and allowed us to feed him. In return, he posed for the camera, invited people to our events and sometimes allowed them to pet him. We are of course talking about Gutenberg the cat. Sadly when we moved our studio, he decided to remain behind. Must have something to do with the many restaurants and artist’s studios that had moved in to our building. Fortunately, we have the pleasure of now hosting Victoria, who loves old machinery with the same passion Gutenberg did.

A black cat on the table

Your journals are so unique and meaningful, how did you come up with the idea of recycling books to make notebooks?

Literally by chance. We had a box of old books sitting around in the studio right next to a box of defective book pages that we had got from a commercial print shop as samples. They set next to each other for several months, until a visitor asked us whether it would be possible to somehow combine them. We tried and ended up creating Frankenstein journals with half printed pages. But the visitor liked the idea so much that he placed an order for some blank journals made the same way and thus the concept was born together with our first customer.

How do you find the partners who provide you with the old books? Do you collaborate with specific libraries or you receive donations from all over the world?

By now locals already know to bring us their old books. There are so many copies of the same books from Soviet time, that literally everyone has them and there is no place to take them. So individuals, libraries and recycling centers send their leftovers to us. So far we have received a few shipments of books from the UK, but have not done any more significant collaborations. Let us see what the future brings!

What happens with the sheets inside the book?

They go to the Rappin paper mill to be made into paper again and used for different products. What is good to know is that many times the sheets would not have made it into recycling if we had not torn off the covers. Most paper mills do not want to accept books together with covers and so they would be simply sent to a landfill instead.

Do you have some statistics of how many old books you have recycled so far?

Not every book that is brought to us will be recycled. Many times they are broken, dirty or even moldy. We know that we have produced almost 20 000 journals so far, so we think that maybe we have sent about 100 000 books for recycling.

A shelve with colourful book covers

So far, we have mentioned only your notebooks, but you are doing so much more. Please tell us a little bit more about the Little Prince project.

Other than giving old books a new life, we also try and use our outdated historic equipment to create new projects. Currently we are producing a hand made version of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. All the printing happens in-house using only equipment which is very similar to what was available during his life. At the moment we are working on the English version, which is already available for pre-order on our webpage. But if we get a lot of positive feedback, we will definitely also do a French version.

A man working on a book cover and pages

You often organise workshops, is your purpose also educating people and changing their everyday habits?

Education is at the very centre of our activities. Educating ourselves, visitors, schoolchildren. The need for understanding history and the role of technology in shaping societies is more vital today than ever. The history of print is the history of information and events from half a millennium ago help us decipher the seemingly chaotic events of today.

We are very happy to have you in Paris 14-15 December during the Marché de Noël Nordique de la Cité Fertile to host a walk-in letterpress postcard workshop. Could you tell us more about it?

We’ve shipped a small press with us. While originally this device was used for making copies of letters, it also works reasonably well for printing single images carved from wood or more often linoleum. We have a selection of linocuts, blank postcards and several colours to choose from, so each visitor can make her own postcard for this holiday.

A woman printing a cat image

A cat image stamp and paint roll

Photographer: Ahto Sooaru

Location: Typa Centre in Tartu, Estonia