A Pocket Full of Change is the story of a boy who puts all the coins in his pocket on railroad tracks to be crushed by trains. It’s also a new letterpress book, illustrated with original, hand-pulled color woodcuts. I made 100 of them. I’ve been at this project for about three years. Naturally, I had to conduct some research.
If you put a penny on the railroad track and leave it to be crushed by a passing train, it will flatten to an odd shape that might reach the diameter of a quarter, depending on how many wheels roll over it before the coin flips off into the gravel.
If the penny was minted before 1982, it was solid copper. If your penny was minted after that, it is only coated in a thin film of copper, and the pounding of the wheels on the rail might split the covering to reveal the cheap zinc beneath.
I didn’t start putting pennies on railroad tracks until I was an adult. There were no tracks near my childhood home in North Olmsted, Ohio, so the opportunity didn’t come up.
But Lakewood and Cleveland are crossed over and over by Norfolk and Southern, CSX, and other freight lines, as well as the Rapid Transit. As an adult, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to explore the behavior of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and all the coins under the intense pressure of passing trains.
Each coin denomination behaves differently. The weight of the train always smears them into useless forms, flat and elongated, never quite symmetrical. But when crushing a dime, for example, the copper layer between the faces always spreads out to make a ring around the silver center, like a bull’s eye. Crushing half dollars and silver dollars makes something resembling a shiny potato chip.
In A Pocket Full of Change, our hero Jake goes coin by coin through all the money in his pocket, weighing dollars and cents against experience. The book is full of imagery from Northeast Ohio: specific buildings, streets, and skyline perspectives, vernacular housing styles, and even examples of the region’s street art. Some of the images will look familiar to people who are connected to me via Facebook, including the one that serves as my profile picture.
The twenty, multicolor wood block pictures in A Pocket Full of Change are made with a total of more than 150 blocks of oak and shina. Each book in the edition of 100 is hand bound. A Parent / Teacher / Nanny sub-edition includes footnotes and helpful discussion points set in hot metal Linotype at Madison Press.
You can check it out at Tregoning and Company from October 16 – December 19, 2015. I’ll be there for an opening reception from 6 – 9 pm October 16.
Here’s the event as it appears on Facebook.
Michael Gill: A Pocket Full of Change
Wood block artist book and prints
October 16 – December 18
Also on view: Andrea Hahn: Collage
Tregoning and Company
1300 W 78th St
Cleveland, OH 44102