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Penny Smasher: Phase One

October 8, 2014


This fall, I’ve been working with long time cohort Stuart O. Anderson to develop a customized souvenir penny smashing machine (also known as a penny crusher, penny press, or “elongator”). It’s invigorating to finally see this project develop into something tangible, as we’ve had many fits and starts since originally developing the concept back in 2008. Back then, Josh encouraged me that we should really make this penny press soon, “before someone else does it and theirs sucks”…

Stuart has done most of the physical work since early September, handling the intricate machining and mathematics to get a prototype penny smasher up and running. This first iteration cranks out one single-sided penny design at a time, from a die which can easily be switched out for a new design. We’re currently finishing up illustrations for a few initial dies which will test the possibilities/limitations on detail at such small size.

(here’s a series of pennies smashed while calibrating the machine – the bootleg Steelers die came from Bill Ball, a retired engineer who was gracious enough to show us his home-made machines and dies a few years back)
From there, we’ll start working with a crew of selected artists to generate final designs within our overall theme this winter. The machine, when finished, will incorporate over a dozen double-sided designs which users will be able to shuttle through at will. Thematically, we are focusing on human perceptions of the changing animal world, addressing use-value, extinction, urban adapters, alpha- and mesopredators, and even (probably) cryptids. Our hope is to tour the machine around the country, both in a subterranean way (re: in the back of a van) and also more formally through institutions willing to temporarily house the project (museums large and small).

For now, once these first test dies get heat-treated (and we fabricate a nicer crank arm for the machine) we plan to do a series of informal events next month, rolling out this first prototype penny crusher and clamping it to the tailgate of my truck, and parking at various arts happenings in Pittsburgh or whatever else we dream up. The final machine, full of original illustrations by amazing printmakers, will debut late spring 2015. Stay tuned!
We’re keeping a Tumblr of process photos, ideas, related imagery, and everything else we’re doing in relation to this still-unnamed project, which you can see (and follow) here!

(pages from Stuart’s notebook)


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