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New exhibit opens at Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum

More than 250 people gathered early on an unseasonably cool and blustery autumn Saturday morning to celebrate the grand opening of the new T.A. Lamb & Son, Printers exhibit at Lamar University’s Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum.

Joining in the dedication and celebration were Thomas K. Lamb, Jr., the last president of the family business, LU President James Simmons and Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames. After the ribbon was cut officially opening the new exhibit, participants were treated to exhibit tours were pressmen had three presses in operation.

Crowd at Gladys City

The Lamb family arrived on the shores of Texas in 1875 and two decades later opened a printing shop in downtown Beaumont. The Lambs helped start and print the Beaumont Enterprise. Through five generations, Lamb's helped businesses and individuals with their printing and office furniture and supply needs.

“Lamb’s Printing was in business in Beaumont for more than 70 years,” Lamb said. “In the ’70s, we stopped printing to concentrate on office supply and furniture.”

Lamb and Mayor AmesHe preserved a full set of printing and typeset machines in hopes of finding a place to display and educate future generations about a dying trade. The equipment has been in storage in various places for 40 years, Lamb said.

Four years ago, he received support from the Lamar University Foundation to open a “print shop” in the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum, and immediately began working toward that goal. The project received broad support with contributions from individuals, members of the Lamb family, businesses and local foundations, including the Mamie McFadden-Ward Heritage Foundation, the Foundation for Southeast Texas and Capital One.

The museum is operated by the university to educate the public about the oil discoveries of the early 20th century that put Beaumont on the map and ushered in the age of petroleum. “The museum also does a lot to preserve Beaumont’s history,” said museum director Mark Osborne. “This new addition will help us tell more of the Spindletop story as well as expand our discussions about technological advances of the late nineteenth century.”

“It's a great historical exhibit and it presents the heritage of our family in Southeast Texas,” Lamb said. “The history is important because of the evolution of printing. It’s important to describe how printing happened in the 1880s and all the way through.”

H.B. Neild & Sons began construction of the 1,200 square foot building in December 2011 and was completed in the spring. “The museum had this vacant spot like it was waiting for us,” Lamb said. “They did a great job of blending it in.”

Since completion of the building, work has continued on the installation and restoration of the antique printing equipment and educational presentation.

“Moving in has been a big chore,” Lamb said. “Every piece is heavy and awkward, so it was hard to move and handle. But we had a professional company move it for us and they did a marvelous job.”

“We have been working on the equipment for months, mostly cleaning and some repair,” Lamb said. “It is all as our company used it. Some of it easily goes back to the early 1900s.”

President Simmons“Having opened six years before the Spindletop discovery, Lamb’s printing would have done a lot of work related to the oil boom,” Osborne said.

“The many trays of engravings were a surprise to me,” Osborne said of the hundreds of company logos and engravings that are part of the collection. “All of these have to be cataloged.” A summer volunteer got a good start, but two or more years of work lay ahead, he said.

The exhibit features two hand-fed Chandler and Price platen jobbing presses, which Lamb hopes to demonstrate on opening day, a functional Linotype, two stone composition tables, the extensive engravings collection, as well as a binder, punch, perforator and other machines used in the print shop.

The largest, and most technologically advanced machine is the Linotype, a machine that would create a casting of a full line of type in lead in a process known as “hot metal” typesetting.

Demonstration“It is an absolutely amazing machine,” Lamb said. “Ottmar Mergenthaler invented it in the 1880s and the newspapers were quick to snap up Linotype machines because it was so much faster. Prior to the Linotype, the biggest papers were just eight pages because it took so long to lay up type by hand. Thomas Edison is credited with calling the Linotype the 8th wonder of the world.”

“In the ’50s, printing was quickly moving to offset which was such a big improvement,” Lamb said. “You no longer needed all these cases of type and the great time it took to put together a printed piece.

“For future generations it will be important to understand how the evolution of printing occurred,” Lamb said. “I heard on the news just this week that the state of Texas was talking about going to e-books and doing away with textbooks.

“I don’t know how many generations it will be before they won’t ever hold a book to read.”

Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown is on Hwy. 69 at University Drive in Beaumont. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for Seniors over 60, and $2 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under six are free. Plenty of free parking is available. For more information, call (409) 880-1750 or contact the museum at info@gladyscity.org.