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The Printing Museum in Houston: A Lesser-Known Treasure!

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Exterior of The Printing Museum with crape myrtle in bloom.

Exterior of The Printing Museum with crape myrtle in bloom.

Located just outside of the Houston Museum District is The Printing Museum. It houses an amazing array of items, some of which represent historic treasures of past centuries related to man's early forms of conveying messages in written or visual form. In many cases, one would have to travel to other parts of the world to see similar items on display because of their rarity.

The museum is set up with rooms or galleries featuring different subjects. It is fascinating to discover what unfolds from one space to another. There are wonderful permanent and temporary exhibitions. From papermaking to bookbinding and letterpress to lithography, this place has it all. The journey throughout this facility starts and ends in their gift shop, where you can print your own t-shirt to take away as a souvenir if you wish.

This is one of only a handful of printing museums in the USA. You would have to travel to Massachusetts, California, or Utah to see anything similar to this, so we are fortunate to have this gem of a museum located here. After being closed for 20 months due to a fire, The Printing Museum once again opened its doors to visitors on January 25, 2018.

Ancient Artifacts or Facsimiles at the Museum

A portion of the information displayed to the side of the Hyakumanto Dharani Scroll and Pagoda shown above reads as follows:

Literally meaning "Dharani in One Million Pagoda", Hyakumanto Dharani is one of the oldest relief printing in the world. Empress Shotoku (718-770) of eighth-century Japan commissioned one million copies of Buddhist text known as dharanis, which were then placed into pagodas made of hinoki wood and dedicated to major temples in her realm. The museum's display is one of the 1,700 surviving copies, most of which exist in the Horyuji, Japan.

You can learn more about the dharanis as well as view and see information about things such as the following in the first gallery past the gift shop:

  • Ancient papyrus fragments dating back to 300-350 B.C.E
  • Mesopotamian Cylinder Seals from 3000-1000 B.C.E
  • Illuminated Manuscripts from the 13th to 16th centuries
  • Asian wood type and printing from the 8th and 9th centuries C.E.
  • Codex Zouche-Nuttall (facsimile) 1200-1521 C.E.
  • Leaf from the Qur'an from 1631 C.E., Turkey
  • Read about the importance of the Rosetta Stone and other things.

The importance of literacy to a society cannot be overstated. There are instances throughout history where despots sought to keep people in the dark by burning books and curtailing people's access to the written word. The process of producing literature has gone from storytelling to the painstaking hand-lettering and illustration of books by monks and others to machines, which helped to speed up the process of printing. Each and every invention along the way has helped to increase literacy.

Taking center stage in this Americana Gallery is a working 150-year-old Columbian iron hand press. It is a beauty!

Lining the walls are numerous framed newspapers and publications that offer viewers interesting information regarding historic events of the past. The photo of the first newspaper shown below has a portion of this information written to the side of it:

Frank Leslie (born Henry Carter in England) came to New York as an illustrator and engraver in 1848 and quickly established his own magazine. In 1855, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper which ran until 1922, became the first successful pictorial weekly in America. Leslie's breakthrough was devising a method of speeding the work of preparing illustrations for printing by dividing the image into as many as thirty-two separate sections for individual wood engravers. Significant American illustrators, such as Thomas Nast (1840-1902) began their careers at Frank Leslie's paper, learning the business of illustration and techniques of wood engraving.

See many examples of printed materials on display in this gallery including, among others, The Pennsylvania Gazette published by Benjamin Franklin in 1765.

The only thing that is more expensive than education is ignorance.”

— Benjamin Franklin

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It is in this gallery that visitors get to see a working replica of Gutenberg's press. A page from the Bible is printed on this press for tour groups and can be taken from the museum as a souvenir. On display is a facsimile of the Gutenberg Bible.

Printed pages from various Bibles can also be viewed along with some fabulous 15th- and 16th-century engravings, among other things.

There is an interesting collection of early newspaper equipment in this gallery. All type was set by hand prior to the 1880s. This was very time-consuming!

Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the linotype machine in 1886. The effect of this was to speed up the production of the printed word which greatly affected literacy rates. Take some time to learn about the features of these items on display when taking a tour.

See This Linotype Machine in Action at The Printing Museum

In this gallery is a collection of all kinds of business machines, such as typewriters, photocopiers, more printing machines, and an early Macintosh computer.

Other Features Within the MPH

  • There is the Texas History Gallery, which honors the first printer in Texas—Samuel Bangs. The newspaper he started in Galveston in 1838 is still in operation there today.
  • There is a Papermaking Studio where classes have been held.
  • A Bookbinder Studio showcases many items of interest.
  • The Printing Museum Theater offers different films of interest to people of all ages.
  • Rooms, hallways, and glassed-in cases showcasing permanent as well as temporary exhibitions.

Visitor Information

The address of The Printing Museum is 1324 W. Clay Street, Houston, Texas 77019. There is free parking in the museum parking lot and nearby streets.

This wheelchair-accessible museum is currently open Thursday–Saturday from 10 A.M to 4 P.M. Other days are available by appointment. The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Since Covid-19, protocols have been put in place to protect everyone visiting the museum. For the latest information on pricing, tours, etc., click on the source link at the bottom of this page.

Mural on the Side of The Printing Museum


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Peggy Woods

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