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From Issue #20 July 4, 2013

Wood Stock

A once-obscure bit of printing history on the shores of Lake Michigan finds rekindled interest.

By Jacqui Cheng Twitter icon App.net icon 

Photo by Jacqui Cheng.

The remnants of the Hamilton district in Two Rivers, Wisconsin — the former headquarters of the country’s largest producer of wood type in a town that once hummed with manufacturing — now largely sits quiet. The industrial building housed two last bits that came out of over 100 years of wood manufacture: a laboratory furniture operation, and the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. Save some old business cards scattered on the ground, the factory is empty.

Thermo Fisher Scientific, the descendant owner of Hamilton Wood Type Manufacturing and its buildings in Two Rivers, announced abruptly in 2012 that it would shut down its furniture division in Two Rivers. The museum was forced to move, and found a space a few blocks away. Now relocated and only recently chugging back to life, its unofficial motto is unchanged: “Preservation through use.” The museum houses one of the few remaining shops in the world that can produce wood type, a mainstay for a century in the production of many kinds of printed work.

Like vinyl records, the sales of which have climbed back into the millions a year, wood type appears to be getting its groove back. A branding and exposure makeover for the museum, combined with the rapid rise of maker and crafts movements, have helped wood type carve out a new space.

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