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