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History Gets Good Press at Museum in Buena Park

November 24, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to The Times Orange County Edition

The International Printing Museum in Buena Park is a font of information. And some of the books on display there--with almost microscopic fonts--would fit right in at Mott's Miniatures.

10 to 11:30 a.m.: The International Printing Museum is the largest printing museum in the world. It celebrates technological ingenuity as well as books and reading, so it's no surprise that docents are full of stories that jump right off the pages of history.

The tour starts with Gutenberg and the invention of movable type. Before you know it, you're learning about how the printer's case is organized, how capital letters were stored on the top shelf and small letters on the bottom--thus upper and lower case.

Benjamin Franklin began as an apprentice printer at age 12; using the same kind of wooden press Franklin learned on, docent Bradley Miller printed an eight-page book of Franklin's writings and gave it to my 7-year-old son, Ryan, as a memento.

When Linotype arrived, printers no longer had to work a letter or a word at a time, prompting an Irish printer who saw one of the first machines to observe, "Oh, look, it's a line o' type!" Miller insists the story is true.

In another room is the actual press used by John Boy on "The Waltons," and others used in "Cimarron," the first Western to win an Oscar for best picture, and Disney's "Newsies." The Queen Mary's press is still set to print the breakfast menu from its final voyage.

Admission is $6.50, or $4 for students and seniors. Several tours are offered for groups of 10 or more ($5, students and seniors, $3), including "Pages of Invention," which is capped by a character performance by either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain; "Pages of Freedom: The Constitution Tour," and "Pages of Adventure: The Reading Tour." The Composing Room Cafe is available for brown-bag lunches or catered affairs.

We ended our tour at the glass display cases, where we learned that quoins are "wedges used to lock up a form of type in a chase ready for printing." By locking in type, they allow you to use groups of words over and over. Hence was quoined the phrase "coining a phrase."

We learned about the origins of other expressions too.

The letter p , for instance, looks like q backward, and vice versa, so when apprentices put type back in the case, those letters often ended up in the wrong place. Hence, "Mind your P s and Q s." When printers run out of a particular letter, instead of buying an entire alphabet, they buy a group of the one letter, called "a sort"; if they forget to buy more, they're out of sorts.

Also on display were the bellows used for blowing out "type lice" (printers once thought dust was bugs), a volume the size of a child's fingernail containing the Lord's Prayer in seven languages--the museum describes it as the smallest book in the world--and "Gulliver's Travels," which of course makes another wonderful miniature.

11:30 to noon: Nearby Mott Miniatures, once a museum located at Knott's Berry Farm, is now a retail shop featuring 1:12 scale merchandise and everything you need to complete the dollhouse of your dreams.

And what dollhouse would be complete without a double-barreled shotgun? A 12-pack of beer, a box of cigars and a terrarium complete with a 1:12 snake also send a new message to boys about playing with dolls.

"Large" waste bags are almost a half inch. There are no miniature poodles, but miniature milk bones come in large, and for those who like to leave money casually lying about, little dollars come in big denominations.

Turkish rugs run $14.99, a grand piano is $12, an Imari plate $3.50. "People come in and they want to buy the furniture for their real house--take it home and just add water," said Chris Mott.

Some things were very little. A beehive comes with two bees ($13.79), and take it from me, one-inch-scale bees are hard to see. And of course there's the dollhouse that goes in the dollhouse, and the furniture for the dollhouse dollhouse; the scale for those pieces is 1:144.

My favorite item was the antique miniature iron maiden, a medieval torture device featuring a chamber with inward facing spikes; just put your doll in and close ($250). Mott likes the gelatin mold platter with jiggling Jell-O. Playing with the Jell-O and seeing tiny chicken drumettes frying in a pan nearby made me a wee bit hungry.

Noon to 1: We headed for PoFolks. Ryan ordered Chicken Little ($2.29)--a fried chicken drumstick, french fries and a biscuit. I ordered chicken livers, which came fried, with side orders of okra, which came fried, and turnip greens, which didn't ($4.29). Tabasco peppers in vinegar were set out on each table; those and "Firey" (the letters came flaming) Louisiana hot sauce cut right through the batter. It all hit the spot.

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