28 June 2020 People

Susan Shaw, driving force for Type Archive, dies

Book designer Susan Shaw was the force of nature who created the Type Archive, keeping letterpress and type design alive.

Susan Shaw, founder and chatelaine of The Type Archive, has died aged 87.

Shaw was also a skilled designer, typographer and letterpress printer, setting up Merrion Press and printing for the Roxburghe Club. However, it will be for creating and fighting for the Type Archive that Shaw will be remembered. She found a former animal hospital in Stockwell, south London, that had once cared for horses during the era of horse powered transport, housed two baby elephants brought over from India by the Daily Mirror more than a century ago and set about turning into a Mecca for students of typography from around the world.

Shaw was a determined and fierce advocate for the archive, winning support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Lottery Fund and Science Museum to secure and move unwanted type and machinery from Monotype in Salfords, Redhill, itself a military operation in 1992. The acquisition of Monotype’s machinery and matrices was joined by a number of the volunteers who have been active in looking after the collection and, most recently, helping to create the first new Monotype typeface since letterpress was superseded by litho printing.

The collection has been increased through wooden type from Robert DeLittle and the hundreds of boxes of type locked unrecorded in a room at type founders Stephenson Blake in Sheffield.

As well as the lead, steel and brass needed for type, the Archive included letterpress machinery that was able to set the type and presses able to print. It has been active in supplying new matrices to enthusiastic Monotype users around the world. Despite Shaw’s ability to persuade and cajole support from all manner of enthusiastic or reluctant people she met (George Clarke was persuaded that Heidelberg should provide a pantechnicon to move a vast press capable to printing posters with the wooden type to the Stockwell premises), it has never had the resources to open to the wider public.

Like Clarke, many in the industry will attest to Shaw’s commitment to all things to do with type. She wanted local schools to have a typeface of the week to educate seven year olds in the aesthetics of type and to understand the role that type plays in modern society.

She was also frequently critical of slip shod use of type, print and binding quality, and would not understand how others could not share what she could see so clearly. While this undoubtedly enabled this pint sized woman to create and protect the Type Archive, fighting off suggestions that the collection be taken to one of the storage units belonging to the Science Museum, for instance, it could also be counter productive. She was no diplomat.

“She was an astonishing woman,” says Francis Atterbury, Hurtwood Press managing director, who first encountered Shaw through his father at Westerham Press. Shaw was not afraid to tell St Ives what they should do with the business when it was acquired. She was not afraid either to dispense advice on how Printing World should be focused.

She was a strong advocate of type designer Berthold Wolpe, reprinting the catalogue for a 75th anniversary exhibition of his work at the V&A Museum, under The Merrion Press. The original catalogue had been printed by Rowley Atterbury at Westerham and his son has used the digital version of Pegasus, a Wolpe design for the new Hurtwood logo.

The reprinted edition had a cover designed by Shaw and Phil Cleaver. They worked together for decades, Cleaver becoming a trustee of the Type Archive. “People saw a small feisty woman, but without her the Type Archive would never have existed. She was dear friend,” he says.

She was a friend, too, to David Peach whose business, Furnival Press, is on the same site in Stockwell. “We had worked with her for many years while we moved from site to site across South London over the last 30 years. When our most recent building was been redeveloped and we had to move out, I told her we might have to leave London. She cleared space for us on the site and got all her designer friends to use us. She did everything she could for us. She could not have been more helpful.”

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Susan Shaw and Phil Cleaver collaborated on this reissue of the V&A's catalogue of its 75th celebration of Bertthold Wolpe, whom Shaw much admired.

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