The world of design is too often restricted to the virtual art boards of illustrator and indesign. So in an attempt to broaden our horizons and experience a bit of the history and heritage behind what we do every day, AT PACE’s creatives headed to Woodstock to get their hands dirty on a decidedly old school letterpress machine.
For those of you that don’t know Letterpress is the oldest form of printing, going all the way back to the mid-15th century and the Gutenberg Bible, the first book ever printed. It was commonly used in printing right up until the early 1900’s when it was replaced by larger, faster and more economical machinery. Right, that’s the history lesson out of the way.
We started the day by sifting through boxes of wooden blocks, looking for the perfect letters to make up our alphabet. The boxes were not divided according to typeface, and there was much debate over which letters to use or whether we were looking at an “N” or a “Z”. For the typophiles amongst us it was an immersion in the history of their craft. For someone like me, whose idea of cool typography is changing the standard font in Microsoft Word from Times New Roman to Arial, it was a completely different, but no less fascinating experience. It’s difficult to picture how so much love can go into picking and laying out the 26 letters we all know so well.
Once we’d bolted the letters together it was time for the machine, and what a machine it was. The Original Heidelberg Cylinder looked more like a partially assembled diesel truck than a printing machine. It dates back to 1935 which means it’s a little over 70 years old; the only thing older was the German machine minder. You don’t really find that type (pun definitely intended) of person in the industry anymore, with decades of ink beneath his fingernails and deep understanding of his equipment and process. We were flirting with Letterpress for the day; he’s lived it for the past 40 years.
Since Letterpress isn’t the lucrative field it used to be the machine had been adapted for die cutting, so we had to ink the letters ourselves. There was a palpable excitement as it kicked into motion, the old rollers coming to life and pages being fed into the machine. It looked like a scene out of the industrial revolution and as quickly as it began it was over.
So with our first agency Letterpress print in our hands we headed back to the studio, with a new understanding and appreciation of the beauty of type, and some of our very own ink under our fingernails.