Ernest A. Lindner

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The Independent Online

Ernest Arthur Lindner, engineer and collector: born San Mateo, California 8 June 1922; married (one daughter, and one son deceased); died Glendale, California 3 October 2001.

Most of us are quite content to watch the relics of our own time or the immediate past disappear down the plug-hole of oblivion without feeling any urge to rescue them; it is hard work, anyway, because the force of suction is strong. Only a few brave eccentrics are prepared to resist. Ernest A. Lindner's battle to preserve the physical relics of printing in California, where he was born and spent most of his life, was heroic.

California, the land of instant obsolescence, was an unlikely base from which to start, but it was there, in San Mateo, that Ernest Arthur Lindner was born, in 1922. His father, August, was a salesman for the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, which made the composition machines used by all newspapers and many other printers for setting, not separate types, but solid lines of type. His mother, Beatrice Kinsey, was a Linotype operator who met August when she was sent by the press that employed her to learn how to use a new model. So Ernest grew up accustomed to the rattle of fingers on the keyboard, the tinkle as the matrices released fell into line and the clunk as the casting jet pumped metal into them to make a line of type.

When he was 10, August Lindner and his brother, Ernest G. Lindner, joined together to found the E.G. Lindner Company, which sold and repaired printing machinery, specialising in reconditioning Linotype machines. Ernest A. Lindner joined them in the business, which he eventually came to manage and own. It was still operating 15 years ago in the premises in down-town Los Angeles that it had long occupied, although the printing trade had long since migrated elsewhere. But, long before again, another passion had overtaken Lindner, one that grew out of the business, without supplanting it in his life.

He was ideally placed to know when printers came, regretfully, to decide that this or that piece of equipment was no longer necessary, or (more often) had been disused and was occupying space better put to other purposes. Moreover, he had the equipment to pick it up and remove it, and the means to pay better than scrap value. So it was not only in southern California but far and wide that Lindner was able to find and preserve these relics, and give them a good home. The figure that emerged from van or pick-up, a burly, genial figure with the finest moustache in the south-west, was hard to resist.

So he came to build up a collection of historic printing equipment unequalled in the United States outside the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. His oldest and most prized piece was an 1810 Stanhope Press, a specimen of the very first iron printing press, patented by Earl Stanhope in 1798.

But he also had an Imperial hand-press, found in the basement of a tobacconist's shop in Long Sutton in Lincolnshire, one of the Potter presses first used to print The Los Angeles Times in 1888, and a hand-powered Grasshopper newspaper press made in 1875 that he picked up at a run-down plant in a remote part of Arkansas. He had every known make and model of the Linotype, and only recently retrieved from India an 1824 Columbia press, with a cast-iron eagle and two dolphins among its working parts.

"I couldn't bear to throw away some of these wonderful machines, so I began shoving them into corners, even after there were no more corners," he said. So eventually the collection outgrew his premises, and he set it up as a museum, first in Buena Park, California, and then in Carson City. But the International Printing Museum, as such, never quite materialised, largely because he could not really bear to part with his treasures and make them over to a public who, he felt sure, would one day come to appreciate the huge effort of preservation that he had invested in it over the years. One day, it surely will.

But he had many other consolations in life. He had an active life as a pilot, both in the Second World War and the Korean War, and he even flew a Mig fighter over Moscow in 1970. He also bought and restored old cars, and regularly took part in the London-Brighton rally. He had a dress-code all his own, favouring an elegant version of the siren-suit. For 10 years, he was a member of a gas-balloon-racing team that flew all over the world, and he was one of the early members and a national vice-president of the Family Motor Coach Association, beginning with a motor home that he converted from Gene Autry's touring bus.

Three days before he died, Lindner returned home from a 1,700-mile trip through Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria in a 1929 Model A touring car. En route, he picked up something for the museum, an antique brass spittoon – "Atmosphere is important," he once said.

Nicolas Barker