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Fedrigoni X People Powered Press: the world's mightiest letterpress printing press conquers the North

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o celebrate Clerkenwell Design Week, Fedrigoni UK is hosting the People Powered Press, officially the world's largest letterpress printing press per Guinness World Record, in London.

Created by northern design studio Split, the People Powered Press was made last year as part of their project and book These Northern Types. Before each workshop at Fedrigoni's Imaginative Papers Studio during 21st—23rd May where the public is invited to see this unique press and print one's own B1 letterpress poster using its hefty steel letters, founder Oli Bentley will tell the story of the press and the wider project which is more than interesting, if not epic.

The People Powered Press, was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest letterpress printing press, with a print area of 1.363 meters squared on 15 April 2019 and it was part of an exploration of identity through type aka Split's These Northern Types project -an exploration of contemporary northern identity through an exhibition and book of 16 works, the project asks what it means to be from the north, or indeed any place, in today’s globalized world.

"From making possibly the world’s largest letterpress printing press, the People Powered Press (with a giant new typeface cut from steel to match), and printing on life jackets used by migrants making the journey to Europe; to making inks from chip shop gravy powder and curry sauce and submitting an audacious application to trademark ‘The North’, These Northern Types is a thought-provoking and ambitious collection of works that simultaneously celebrates northern identity whilst asking probing questions about our relationship to place" notes Split.

The People Powered Press is recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest letterpress printing press, with a print area of 1.363 meters squared 

Considered a "modern mechanical marvel powered entirely by people", the People Powered Press has taken its place amid the technological giants of the past at Leeds Industrial Museum. Used to print large scale, eye-catching posters with local groups and arts organizations which are then displayed across the city, the press has been designed to give a distinctive voice to Leeds’s communities and a chance to manually operate the press to produce their own words on a large scale for public display.

Introducing the People Powered Press from Split Design on Vimeo.

"Leeds and the north has an incredible history of making, and that’s been influential in shaping both the region and the people in it. But the world has changed and continues to change rapidly around us- not least the nature of our work, and we wanted to ask what that means for our sense of ourselves and for our communities. Whilst I’m only a designer and know there’s a limit to what we can do, I wanted to make something using type that could amplify voices in a community- which is why we wanted to make such big posters, to be displayed and seen outdoors. This machine allows us to make the community part of the printing and making of the pieces themselves. The whole aim of These Northern Types has been to explore Northern identity and culture and push past stereotypes and heritage by acknowledging and exploring current issues rather than sticking to the safe flat hats and whippets and pretending the rest doesn’t exist" said Oli Bentley, creative director of Split Design, who put These Northern Types, a two-year long project together.

"Whilst I’m only a designer and know there’s a limit to what we can do, I wanted to make something using type that could amplify voices in a community"

These Northern Types, looked at everything from class, making, stereotypes, dialect and immigration to the changing nature of work, English identity and what the North puts in its chips and the project was one of the key elements of Leeds’s bid to be European Capital of Culture and continues to be supported by the Leeds 2023 team.

"What does it mean to be from the north – or any place – in a globalized world? Where the’s muck, is the’ still brass? Do we tolerate less bullsh*t than others? Has the St George’s Cross become a symbol of racism? Is making do and mending consigned to the history books? Where’s the line between being proud of where we’re from and making others feel excluded? What are we forgetting? Who’s using our fondness for the north to their own ends? Do you want gravy on your chips? Or curry sauce? Reflecting the history of a place where ‘stuff gets made’, the project celebrates both traditional and experimental production methods."

In These Northern Types, the final works are each accompanied by a piece of writing from a local poet, writer, journalist, academic or musician – including multi-award winning poet/author Ben Myers and musician Boff Whalley – alongside contributions from members of the public. The book features a wide range of foils, finishes, paper stocks, and printing techniques, brought together in a 16-part box set, housed in a beautiful die cut and black box with black foil.  

The People Powered Press was built entirely by Leed's local firms, led by JKN Oiltools, Batley, and supported by Accurate Laser (Leeds) and J W Laycocks.

"We create high-specification metal parts for complex machines all over the world, but the lads never get to see the final things working. But to build something like this that’s a one-off in the world from start to finish and to know it’s going to be used with young people in our communities means a lot" said Ian Plant, managing director of JKN Oiltools. One of the most attractive elements in the project is that this stunning machine which can literally amplify any message, the People Powered Press, runs on a not-for-profit basis, to amplify local voices and words worth spreading. 

"To build something like this that’s a one-off in the world from start to finish and to know it’s going to be used with young people in our communities means a lot"

"We work with community groups through writing and printing workshops, to create prints that are then displayed in the heart of the groups’ communities – outdoors and in" notes the studio and if you are want to express an interest in working with The People Powered Press you can contact them here.

Graft, the typeface for the press was designed obviously by Split in honor of the team at JKN OilTools. Graft is cut from solid steel at 60em (720pt) and is accompanied by a set of giant feature numerals that come in at 3480pt. The font has been expanded to four weights for digital release which is available to download from Split's shop. One of the many projects that feature the PPP's beauty and the first series of prints from the world's largest letterpress printing press was We Are The Makers of the World, written by Helen Shay and Bee Smith for These Northern Types which you can buy here.

More on the upcoming event of Fedrigoni UK here. All images via Split and Fedrigoni.