PUERTO RICO – The International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico supported La Casa del Libro museum in its efforts to restore the oldest manual press on record on the island. With the institute’s support, the museum located in Old San Juan, was able to bring to the island Paul Moxon and Robert Oldham. Both men are mechanics and historians who traveled across the U.S. fixing these types of manual presses from the 19th century.
La Casa del Libro, founded in 1955, is a museum and nonprofit institution dedicated to guard the cultural heritage of Puerto Rico. Its mission is to preserve, develop, study, interpret and display, through educational and cultural activities, its world-renowned collection consisting of manuscripts, rare books, historical documents, works of art and other objects related to the publishing history.
Moxon and Oldham's visit was possible thanks to a collaboration between both institutions. Dr. Grizelle González, project leader from the institute’s research and development unit, mentioned that they are "[...] very pleased with the opportunity provided by the museum to join forces for the restoration of the Coisné Mecanicien manual press; an extraordinary and important piece of cultural development. On the occasion of the 80th Anniversary of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, we proudly celebrate 8 decades of forest history in Puerto Rico, and we decided to focus on this collaboration between the graphic arts and the sciences, in a desire to rescue an illustrious past, and intertwine the conservation and forest management sciences with the rich and multidisciplinary landscape of Puerto Rico's printing history- which includes graphic, literary and artistic aspects. It is our greatest desire to be able to return to Puerto Rico the enjoyment of the graphic products of this press to serve as a sample of an illustrious past and as a multifaceted inspiration for future generations".
The museum had in its collection three manual presses in need of restoration. The oldest press in the collection is a manual press, the Coisné Mecanicien, a Stanhope press made in France in the mid-1850s, according to Oldham. This manual press is one of the few still found in the world, and it's not only important as a historic machine, but because it is also a key part in the history of printing and cultural history of the island. According to artist Lorenzo Homar (1913-2004), who rescued this press in Aguadilla around 1967, the Coisné Mecanicien arrived in the municipality of San Germán in 1858. While there, it was used to print works done by poet Lola Rodríguez de Tió. After that, the press moved to Aguadilla where poet José de Diego's works were also printed.
All three presses restored by Moxon and Oldham are now integrated into the United States manual press register. With the presses properly working, the museum will be able to resume the manual printing workshops that were once offered several years ago. As Oldham mentioned, once the presses are restored they will be functioning for several years to come, as long as they receive proper maintenance and care. During the 2017 hurricanes the museum flooded, and the three presses, made mostly out of iron, were severely impacted. Besides coming specifically to restore these machines, these experts’ visit was also an opportunity for students at the School of Plastic Arts, the University of Puerto Rico and volunteer artists to collaborate in the process, learning how to maintain and use these presses.
The museum’s Director, Karen Cana-Cruz, mentioned being very grateful for the support IITF has given to bring together two disciples for a common good. Restoring the Coisné Mecanicien press (the Stanhope press) and the Chandler and Price (also known as Minerva and a Vandercook) presses at La Casa del Libro’s collection, is an invaluable project that will contribute to the collective history of Puerto Rico, and the future generation of artists and historians.