Tipografia Portoghese – in Altamura, in the province of Bari – is located in part of the former convent of Sant’Antonio of the Conventual Franciscans. It now represents an interesting example of industrial archaeology because it has remained unchanged since it was founded, by Francesco Portoghese and his brother Gaetano, in 1891. After being passed on to son Filippo and grandson Nicola, the business closed in 2001 – yet Tipografia Portoghese is still alive, thanks to the owners’ will to preserve the heritage of a unique location and to pass great expertise on to the next generation, despite digitalization.
Indeed, this printing works bears extraordinary witness to Italy’s cultural history: it still has all of its original machines, including a full mobile type set, equipment dating as far back as the turn of the 18th century, and all kinds of stereotypes, scattered in various rooms and echoing with a now-gone craftsmanship. On the walls you’ll see advertising and political posters, periodicals, fliers and a variety of notices – part of the countless materials developed here over the years, which can help understand the cultural and political climate in which Tipografia Portoghese operated. It is interesting to notice, for example, that City Hall and Banca Mutua Popolare Cooperativa were its most important clients. The printing works shared the building with an elementary school for artists and craftsmen and the Simone-Viti Maino Orphanage, whose children could gain their first work experience at Tipografia Portoghese.
The Portoghese family always focused on future generations. Recently, they have created Associazione Culturale Museo d’Arte Tipografica Portoghese (the Portoghese Typographic Art Museum Cultural Association), which aims to develop programs where young adults can learn traditional printing techniques – which are so different from current digital methods – and discover how sometimes a slight smudge can make printed material even more interesting, like a detail that makes it more precious, in a time of forced aesthetic perfection.