Back in 1967, John Lennon and the Beatles released Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite - it was a track on their definitive album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song was inspired by an 1843 poster John Lennon had purchased in an antiques shop. The poster was a wonderful Victorian curiosity with boasts such as 'Mr Henderson will undertake the arduous task of THROWING TWENTY-ONE SOMERSETS, ON THE SOLID GROUND' and 'Over Men & Horses, through Hoops, over Garters and lastly through a Hogshead of REAL FIRE!'
With its mixture of typefaces, complex typographic structure and woodcut images, it's also a fascinating example of letterpress printing from the period. This, and the Beatles connection, has inspired designer Peter Dean to replicate the poster as closely as possible and create a limited edition of 1,967 new letterpress prints of it. Below, you can watch a short film about the poster which was made by Nick Esdaile and Joe Fellows, and shown on boingboing...
"I was interested in the poster simply because it was a letterpress print that related to the Beatles," Peter Dean told Computer Arts. "I studied printing history as part of my degree and developed a real affection for ephemeral Victorian letterpress prints. So this project for me was the marriage of two things I love. The ornate language on the poster is probably even more fascinating and amusing in 2012 than it was in 1967."
Of course, the original type blocks used in 1843 weren't available to Dean. Working from a photograph of the original poster they straightened it and sized it as close to full size as possible. Engraver Andy English researched the wood cuts of the era and looked into the types of clothes circus performers would have worn back in the day in order to get the images right. Meanwhile Peter Dean made the type choices.
"In my own research, I found a poster printed by the same printer as the original and that helped inform some of the decisions we made. So we're very happy with our version of the poster. We know that what we have created is the best reproduction we could have made," he says.
With desktop publishing the norm these days, using a technique from 200 years back was an eye-opener. "One of the things I learned was not to underestimate how long it takes to reproduce a Victorian poster! We're so used to software like InDesign that makes it effortless to change fonts, sizes, leading and kerning, but once you start doing it with physical type it's obviously a completely different experience – not only does it take a hundred times longer, but you have to use standard increments and sizes. Making adjustments to the poster took an incredibly long time," concludes Dean.
You can purchase the poster for £294 from the Kite website.