This month’s interview is about a historical printing workshop, the Antica Tipografia Biagini in Lucca, taken over by Matteo Valesi, who is now continuing the activity and reviving the knowledge of an ancient tradition with expertise and great passion.
What is the story of the Antica Tipografia Biagini? How did you start your business?
The Antica Tipografia Biagini was founded in the 1950s by Gino Biagini, a well-known and beloved master-printer from Lucca. The workshop, which was, and still is, located in Via Santa Giustina, a few steps from San Michele, is one of the last remaining craftsmen’s printing shops which are surviving in spite of the economic decline of Italy’s quality craftsmanship, and is reviving the fascination of elegance and expertise, a legacy from an ancient past. The city of Lucca was one of the earliest centres promoting the circulation of printed books: back in 1477, Matteo Civitali secured a printing monopoly in Lucca and established the first printing shop thus contributing to the town’s cultural identity.
What is your educational background and why did you decide to take up this trade?
I graduated in philosophy, and I have always worked as a copywriter in advertising agencies: words have always been my greatest passion. While I was spending my holidays in Lucca, I came across this workshop full of books and period prints, as well as of old machinery, whose workings I could not wholly understand, but whose unquestionable charm got a grip on me. Master Biagini had decided to close down his business, but had no professional successors. We immediately developed a strangely compelling empathy, and I realised this printing shop was the place where I wanted to be. With his blessing, my family and I left Spain, where we were living, and I took over the printing shop. I still have a daily interaction with words, not for research and creation only - though they are still an important part of my job - but for their graphic realisation.
What productions do you specialise in?
We could say we actually specialise in customising any product: business cards, writing paper, wedding invitations, book and CD covers, but also precious, limited edition volumes. We also print special customised greeting cards for festivities and significant events.
Ex libris and Ex musicis are a true “Biagini tradition” that we are also continuing: finding an image or a motto embodying the client’s values and passions in a gentle, intense synthesis is extremely gratifying. Then we have the “Scritti per nozze” (Wedding Writings), small traditional books for the bride and groom to commit memories, images and feelings to paper, and share them with their families and guests: these stories, sometimes very personal ones, turn one of life’s most significant events into an even more intimate experience. It is a time-sanctioned, deeply-rooted tradition: Lucca’s State Library is still guarding one of the most relevant collections of such “Scritti per nozze”.
In the end we made an actual qualitative leap when we managed to combine the past of typographic printing with web-based communication; though relying very much on word-of-mouth advertising, our work comes mostly from orders worldwide, especially for Ex Libris and Christmas cards.
What kind of clientele do you cater for?
People who aim at confirming their uniqueness on any occasion, even in seemingly negligible objects. They are mostly people from Lucca, but also from all over Italy and even more so from abroad, which proves Italian style has strengths still to be exploited.
How can you combine an activity like yours with new market requirements and trends?
We care about tradition: we use zinc engraving plates, hand-made inks, precious paper, and movable types. Our printing machines date back to the early 20th century, some even to the late 19th century. And yet we never underestimate the importance of innovation when it comes to the choice of ink colours, or a creative approach to cards, crisp graphics, dry embossing, original paperback covers. But we always work in a team with our clients and never push innovation beyond a client’s request.
Do you think young people could feel drawn to this activity and be interested in pursuing it?
Yes, yes, yes! It has the appeal of tradition, along with the knowledge and wisdom of uncompromising manual labour, and there’s also room for boundless creativity. And, then, each piece of work is only similar to itself: it’s a job for people who don’t like to repeat themselves.
What are the critical issues in this area? And what about its prospects?
The critical issues are always the same for all small craft enterprises: bureaucracy, taxation, no support from the government. We need to do everything on our own, while we would love to focus on development and contents. At this moment, history prospects are good. There is a reaction against globalisation and an increasing desire for objects which are “made just for me”. And that is what we are here for.