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About Calligraphy

he history and tradition of western calligraphy and its offspring, calligraphic art, dates to the Roman Empire. The letterforms created then are the ancestors of present day letters, whether they're calligraphic hands, typefaces or computer fonts.

Although dozens of alphabets have arisen since the fall of Rome, only a handful has survived. They have endured because of their inherent beauty, visual strength and utility. The art of calligraphy, and the foundation upon which much of Don's work is based, are these classic hands.

Edward Johnston (1872-1944) became fascinated by mediaeval writings he saw in the libraries of London. Concluding that they were lettered using a pen with a broad edge, the Englishman set out to reinvent the tools, techniques and materials - quill and reed pens, animal skin vellums and parchments, gall and carbon inks - used to create the documents. His teachings, passed on by his students, was pivotal in the resurrection of the art of calligraphy. Calligraphy, from the Greek meaning "beautiful writing", is once again a valid and challenging art form practiced by numerous amateurs and professionals around the world who seek to master the beauty of those first classical hands.


Capitalis Monumentalis (Roman Capitals) come from those capital letters found on monuments of the Roman Empire. After the influence of the Romans had waned, in what is now western Europe, came uncials an all-capital alphabet dating to the period 300-600 AD. Half-uncials evolved from the uncials and were the first with lower-case characteristics. Carolingian developed during the rule of Charlemagne (790-814 AD), king of the Franks. As part of the king's efforts to unify the factions of his far-flung empire, he attempted to institute a common alphabet named for him.


The humanist hands, also referred to as "bookhands" or "roman minuscule" and various forms of "batarde", evolved in different ways from the carolingian. They became more compressed horizontally between the time of Charlemagne's death and the 13th century. It is speculated that this was due to a desire to economize on paper by getting the maximum amount of writing in a given space.

Then Black-letter was born. Popularly known as "Old English", Black-letter is so-called because the black stems of the letters occupy as much or more volume than the white spaces between them. This creates a very dark, heavy appearance. The Black-letter of northern Europe became known as GOTHIC. Its most familiar early use was in the Bibles Johann Gutenberg printed in northern Germany in 1453, using his revolutionary moveable type. Much later, the Pennsylvania Dutch in America would popularize fraktur, a descendant of Black-letter. In fact, the first line of our Declaration of Independence - "We the People..." - was written in a kind of Fraktur.

In the Mediterranean region, Italy particularly, the trend toward heavy, dark writing manifested itself in rotunda. While it has the black versus white characteristics of Gothic, Rotunda avoids the rigid, upright structure and instead is much rounder in form.


In the early 16th century, the scribes' need to write faster brought about the italic hand. Italic is the best known and most versatile of all the classic hands.

As more books were created using the printing press the scribal arts became less important in the post-Renaissance period. Thus, the scribe's primary function became that of a transcriber of documents, a clerk. And the clerk's preferred tool was a pointed pen that could rapidly record words and figures. Not much thought was given to the beauty of the writing.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, however, there rose a form of decorative writing using the pointed pen. It was practiced by a number of "penmen" who created wonderfully flourished writing generally known as copperplate. Some Copperplate forms, Spencerian and Zanerian for example, carry the names of their creators. During the 250-year "pointed pen period", the craft of broad-edge pen writing was largely forgotten (although there is evidence that some very competent work, using broad edged Instruments, was accomplished during this period). It wasn't until the early years of the 20th century that it was brought back into public view.

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