Unprecedented Printing

There was a story told in the composing room of the Peterborough Examiner that, during the days the type was cast from hot metal, a typecasting machine got stuck–perhaps while its operator was distracted, perhaps distracted by the drink–and started spewing freshly-cast type out the window onto Water Street. I suspect that the story was apocryphal, but that newspapering was well-lubricated by alcohol, and typecasting machines among the most complex ever created by 19th century humans, led some credence to it.

A few weeks ago, after hearing the word “unprecedented” used dozens of times in a single day on the news and in advertising, I started to imagine a letterpress print that would capture the word and its role in the COVID zeitgeist, I thought back to that story, and imagined type waterfalling out of the composing room and onto the sidewalk below.

Setting type in straight lines is, relatively speaking, easy. Setting type meant to be falling out a window, hmmm. Outfitted with confidence from this summer’s daredevil printing workshop, I set out to find a way to translate what was in my mind’s eye into the chase.

What resulted, as described here, was a 3D printed piece of letterpress furniture to hold the cascading letters; it took some jimmying, but I got the type slotted into the furniture and locked into the chase with the typically-set type, and the result, once inked, looked like this:

Type packed into my 3D printed piece of letterpress furniture

Getting to the point where the printing of UNPRECED and ENTED matched took some makeready (I had to increase the packing under UNPRECED); the resulting print, which matches what was in my imagination to a very satisfying degree, looks like this:

Letterpress print of Unprecedented

I find myself getting a little destabilized every time I look at it. Which, of course, is kind of the point.


Ton Zijlstra's picture
Ton Zijlstra on October 13, 2020 - 16:06 Permalink

Very cool!

VBJ's picture
VBJ on October 13, 2020 - 16:22 Permalink

It's concrete poetry in the printshop. Nicely done!

Thelma's picture
Thelma on October 13, 2020 - 19:14 Permalink

That last E looks like it is saying "eeeee!!!" as it prepares to land on D!

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 13, 2020 - 19:18 Permalink

That’s a very helpful comment, as it’s only now, after having my head inside the engine room of this print for so long, that I’m able to step back and appreciate it as being kinetic. 

Paul Capewell's picture
Paul Capewell on October 14, 2020 - 03:41 Permalink

This is so great, Peter - clever process, and the result is so original. I love how the final D is just flat (on the tarmac, or wherever!).

In my mind's eye, I also see the word being 'poured' as if from a glass. Love it.

Also: you just taught me the word makeready, which is a truly lovely word.

elmine's picture
elmine on October 14, 2020 - 15:36 Permalink

Unprecedented piece of craftsmanship and creative thinking. Love it!