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The typographic Times


[August 2006]
The future of the Imprimerie Nationale heritage


Established during the 16th century, the Imprimerie nationale was the French printing factory possessing precious patrimonial archives including old printing machines, books, and the most important collection of punches (including the Garamond ones).
To conform with European directives, the French government started to transform the company in a state-owned commercial limited-liability company. This was with no thought to finding a long term solution to preserve its historic heritage - part of which is classified as a “historic monument”.

A vigorous movement has arisen to protect the book workshop (“atelier du livre”),which includes the activities of the punchcutters of the "Cabinet des Poinçons", of the hand composition of the historic and exotic types and their printing by letterpress, and the illustration processes. Members of this movement believe that this entity must not be scattered or split up, as regards to its contents or its functions, which include a museum and conservation, typeface creation, publishing and research. They believe that l’Imprimerie Nationale must be released from the control of a ministerial department whose concern is with economic viability.

A petition has been signed to support this idea by more than 25 000 people around the world which was presented to the President of the Republic in May 2005.

Present & future

The commercial entity of the Imprimerie nationale was moved from its historical Parisian premises to two other sites in 2005. The patrimonial sector has been renamed “Atelier du livre d’art et de l’estampe” (workshop for art printing and engraving) and has been moved to an industrial area in a Paris suburb. The building covering 1400 square metres houses the punch cutting workshop, the historical library and the traditional printing office. The casting machines, still in working order, continue to maintain the complete typographical production line. Around 20 skilled workers cover all the activities. But… this situation is only temporary. There is no real project for the future.

The official project
This is the project conceived by the cabinet of the minister of Culture. The idea is to rehabilitate the Arsenal Library, which is part of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (the French National Library), and to present the patronimy of the IN i.e. the library and the punch collection. This implies that the traditional workshop would disappear.

The alternatives
The project that the group Garamonpatrimoine has been promoting for nearly two years is dynamic and looks ahead to the future where the production in the workshop will be maintained and linked to teaching, training and research. Two options are considered:
- La Maison internationale de L’Illustration à Bobigny with the support of the Paris 13 University and some local authorities ;
- The “École supérieure Estienne des arts et industries graphiques” is the national reference for excellence for the teaching of graphic arts and professional training of people involved in the making of books.

Related article: Photoreportage of the Imprimerie Nationale.