All posts by nicholasyeager

Making books, their history and use have moved me for almost all my life. I also ride motorcycles and they move me in a different way, but both books and bikes have transported me to places I couldn't imagine before the journey began.

Discovery at the Library of Congress

Early Fall on Capitol Hill
Early Fall on Capitol Hill

The Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress is one of the finest collections of illustrated books in the US. Calligraphy, both in the form of manuscript as well as printed writing manuals, is well represented in the collection. The Rare Book & Special Collections department has other collections that fill in gaps in the printed writing manual subject area. Acquisitions are made to expand their holdings, and I was allowed to review a number of books that have come into the collection but haven’t been cataloged yet.

I was eager to find hidden books in the uncatalogued book truck. Looking at material that hasn’t been pored over is a thrill because I might find an item that hasn’t been researched yet, or has some other importance that awaits discovery. This time, I was rewarded with discovering a new-found friend, Joseph Seavy.  I pulled a little blue pamphlet off of the truck, placing a flag to mark its location and knew immediately that I was the first to see this as a related item to the Newberry copy.

The Writer's Assistant, Joseph Seavy Library of Congress
The Writer’s Assistant, Joseph Seavy
Library of Congress

The fact that I was looking at another copy, knowing that there may be only one other place that it existed was exciting. The Massachusetts Historical Society’s copy had been microfilmed, but the only images they took were of the cover and inside wrappers. No images of the text pages were available.

I anticipated seeing the watermarked letters, and hoped there would be writing over them to show how people used these instruction books.

Front cover/first page The Writer's Assistant Joseph Seavy Library of Congress
Front cover/first page
The Writer’s Assistant
Joseph Seavy
Library of Congress

You can see the letters in this copy are well-written. And they are of the same style as the letters in the Newberry copy. I turned the page and subsequent pages, and all were filled with a fairly accomplished hand written on both sides of the laid paper.

The Writer's Assistant Joseph Seavy Library of Congress
The Writer’s Assistant
Joseph Seavy
Library of Congress

This is what the Newberry copy looks like:

The Writer's Assistant Volume 4 Joseph Seavy The Newberry Library
The Writer’s Assistant
Volume 4
Joseph Seavy
The Newberry Library

In both books, the letterforms are the same, the scribal version shows the influence of the pressure of the pointed pen. I’ve asked for a light sheet (a paper thin light source) and lay it behind the one of the manuscript pages but cannot detect a watermark. And the book is laid paper, not wove as is the Newberry copy.  So, there’s at least one copy of the book without watermark and LC’s copy doesn’t have a volume number either.

Now I want to know more because this mystery is intriguing. I know of no other copybook where the instruction is produced by watermark. The title and instructions are printed in Boston, 1814 and the price is somewhat inexpensive with a current value around $2.25. That would not be outrageous for a parent  to buy a copy of an instruction manual for a child. If all four volumes were purchased it would be around $9.00 today.

How many copies of this series survive? I go back to Worldcat and fight the digital/book blindspot and try to narrow down where an actual book is rather than the mircorform or its digital equivalent. The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA has Vol. 2 & 4. And I’ll be headed there in a few weeks, so I’ve gotten lucky because I’ll be seeing 2 more examples from this series.

I am convinced that there is no watermark letterform present in this pamphlet  owned by George W. Fenns. He may have been the scribe that filled this book front to back with competent practice lettering. A quick search fails to find him.

The hunt is on. I want to know more about this book. And I want to know where/how one unnumbered volume has laid paper instead of the watermarked paper. I’ve got more questions than answers – and that is exhilarating.

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Palatino’s: Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere… 1545

Library of Congress Jefferson Bldg.
Library of Congress Jefferson Bldg.

I found my way to the Library of Congress from Chicago after a few adventures on the road, but I’m going to leave those stories for another post.

The Rare Books & Manuscripts division is in the Jefferson Bldg. They have a few nice books there & I got to see more than just two.

However, it was a treat to look at two different copies of the 1545 Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere that they hold. One is the Rosenwald copy and the other is the Fabyan copy.

Palatino's Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan in a Carolingian vellum leaf Rosenwald in an early binding
Palatino’s Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan in a Carolingian vellum leaf
Rosenwald in an early binding

The 1545 copy is a reprint from the 1540 publication. I haven’t looked at two copies of the same title of any writing manual from the same issue date. At Iowa I’d taken a look at 3 Bickhams from different years and the production variations were evident. I thought it might be fun to see what kind of variations there would be in two books from the same publication date and presumed that they were from different printings of the same year.

Palatino's Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino’s Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

The Rosenwald copy isn’t trimmed as tight as the Fabyan. There are more generous margins on the Rosenwald book.

The paper looked the same as I started to go through it and the printing was comparable in terms of coverage. Inking on the reverse blocks varies but that’s to be expected.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

I kept looking for a variation in block formatting or change in something as I went through the books.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

The imposition of blocks was the same throughout the books. As I was going through them, I noticed a variation in the signature marks at Cii – not surprising if they were printed at different times.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan
Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Rosenwald
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Rosenwald

When I went through the books a second time, I got a little excited because I hadn’t seen any other variation i the printing order or blocks. The rest of the letterpress was all the same.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

Then I went through them again and looked at how the blocks lined up and looked for obvious variations in the show-through and found so much similarity in impression and inking and paper that I suspect they were printed in the same press run.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)

The Fabyan copy has an owner’s practice on the verso of the last page.

Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan (top) Rosenwald (bottom)
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan (top)
Rosenwald (bottom)
Practice lettering Palatino Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Z43.A3 P3 1545 Fabyan
Practice lettering
Palatino
Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere
Z43.A3
P3
1545
Fabyan

I mentioned this possibility to Mark Dimunation and he seemed interested. When I return, I’ll gather more information and see if my theory holds up to greater scrutiny.

Mercator’s projection and tutelage

Mercator's Literarum latinarũ, quas italicas, cursorias- que vocãt, scribendarũ ratio 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ, quas italicas, cursorias- que vocãt, scribendarũ ratio
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537

Italian 16th century writing manuals are numerous, however the rest of the Continent took about half a century to catch up with the innovators. Neudorffer in Germany, Iciar in Spain published prior to the middle of the century, but there was one guy over in Flanders that stood out. When Palatino was making a splash with his Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivere Gerhard Mercator produced Literarum latinarũ, quas italicas, cursorias- que vocãt, scribendarũ ratio.

As you can see, Mercator went in for flourishes in a big way, even moreso than his Southern contemporaries.

Mercator's Literarum latinarũ, quas italicas, cursorias- que vocãt, scribendarũ ratio 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ …
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537

Gerhard Mercator had skill, energy and intelligence and was schooled in writing out texts in all the current hands. He particularly favored the Italic hand for maps and his skill as scribe and engraver led to work in making globes and soon after, maps. He could cut woodblocks as he does in this manual or engrave in copper as he often did for maps. This level of versatility in dexterity, aesthetic and mathematical skills produced an impressive oeuvre.

Mercator's Literarum latinarũ ... 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ …
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537

Whether describing how to hold the pen properly or cut a quill, Mercator’s text is quite clear on how to do it.

Mercator's Literarum latinarũ ... 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ …
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator's Literarum latinarũ ... 1549 Newborn Library Wing ZW 5465 .M537
Mercator’s Literarum latinarũ …
1549
Newborn Library
Wing ZW 5465 .M537

Since Mercator wrote on maps, not in books (though he surely did that as well) his graphic design and purpose for flourishing were for a different kind of reading. Maps were important tools for marine navigators to get around. The Mercator projection wasn’t his invention, nor was it much used in his day. But let’s not get hung up on gnarly navigation details and get to his engraved maps. That’s where the fun in lettering and fantastical creatures of the sea are.

Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584 Mercator's map detail. Newberry Library VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584
Mercator’s map detail.
Newberry Library
VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584

Mercator decided to show the Ptolemaic concept of the world in the 1580s and engraved maps based on this earlier world view.

Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584 Mercator's map detail. Newberry Library VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584
Mercator’s map detail.
Newberry Library
VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584 Mercator's map detail. Newberry Library VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584
Mercator’s map detail.
Newberry Library
VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584 Mercator's map detail. Newberry Library VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584
Cl. Ptolemaei Alexandrini Geographiae libri octo / 1584
Mercator’s map detail.
Newberry Library
VAULT Ayer 6 .P9 1584

Those flourishes may not be necessary, but they do look nice splashing around that sea creature.

When Publishing Is Not Printing

The Writer's Assistant by Joseph Seavy. Boston 1814 Newberry Library Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814
The Writer’s Assistant by Joseph Seavy. Boston 1814
Newberry Library
Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814

Early writing manuals are important for their innovations in education as well as advancing publishing by making instructional illustrations available to readers at a distance from the instructor. First with woodblock illustration, then copperplate engraving, the illustration techniques required were high tech at the time of their invention. But a few hundred years of engraving and the innovators were eager to try something new.

Inside cover of The Writer's Assistant by Joseph Seavy. Boston, 1814 Newberry Library Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814
Inside cover of The Writer’s Assistant by Joseph Seavy. Boston, 1814
Newberry Library
Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814

Joseph Seavy had a bold plan for teaching students how to improve their handwriting by “printing” pages where the lesson was made as a watermark. A watermarked text allowed the student to trace the watermarked letter as a guide.

There is no text printed within the book itself, only on the cover wrappers.

Back cover of the Writer's Assistance by Joseph Seavy. Newberry Library. Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814
Back cover of the Writer’s Assistance by Joseph Seavy.
Newberry Library.
Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814

The Newberry copy is No.4 of the series in the title and was never written in because it was reused to dry flowers.

The Writer's Assistant by Joseph Seavy. Boston 1814. Newberry Library. Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814
The Writer’s Assistant by Joseph Seavy. Boston 1814.
Newberry Library.
Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814
The Writer's Assistant by Joseph Seavy. Boston, 1814. Newberry Library Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814
The Writer’s Assistant by Joseph Seavy. Boston, 1814. Newberry Library
Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814

The advertisement suggests that the letters are impressed into the paper as the sheet is formed, but that would be different than what is clearly watermarked letterform.

When I looked online I found that the American Antiquarian Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society have copies. It was an oddity that fascinated but at present was just one more curious 19th century innovation than never went anywhere.

Clearly the pages were designed to maximize the paper mould with four different texts sewn onto the mould. But the work involved would be substantial. Did the printer/publisher have the paper made or did Joseph Seavy? He doesn’t appear in Ray Nash’s American Penmanship 1800 – 1850 and he didn’t publish writing manuals that I could find.

The Writer's Assistant. Joseph Seavy, Boston 1814. Newberry Library. Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814
The Writer’s Assistant. Joseph Seavy, Boston 1814.
Newberry Library.
Case Wing Z43 .S43 1814

Verini Vindicated

Paul Gehl is the George Amos Poole III Curator of Rare Books, and
Custodian of the John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing at The Newberry Library, a scholar and author.

Paul directed my attention to Giovambaptista Verini a Florentine writing master who has been denigrated by 20th scholars as being a hack. His books fall well within the range of writing manuals in the first third of the 16th century.

Verini teaches a woman to write. Newberry Library.
Verini teaches a woman to write. La Vtilissima Opera @ The Newberry Library.

Writing manuals showed how to make letters for embroidery, heraldry and musical manuscripts. Verini wrote about how to make “Maiuschule Moderne” a gothic letterform used for liturgical music books that were still being written by hand 60 years after the advent of printing. These manuscripts continued to be written with gothic letterforms into the 19th century. Verini showed how to construct these knotwork initial letterforms.

How to make Gothic
How to make Gothic “Maiuschule Moderne” letters by Verini @ The Newberry Library

In Writing Relations American Scholars in Italian Archives, Paul wrote about Verini’s woodblock illustrations and instructions on this non-book form of lettering. The ‘Maiuschule Moderne’ of Giovambaptista Verini Fiorentino: From Music Texts to Calligraphic Musicality helped me understand and appreciate the larger role of writing manuals in popular instruction.

Verini's 'Maiuschule Moderne' cut in wood @ The Newberry Library
Verini’s ‘Maiuschule Moderne’ cut in wood @ The Newberry Library

The Newberry’s collection has unique Verini material as well as duplicate copies of some items. Not all books survive intact or unharmed, but they can still be useful in a damaged state.

A Verini book that survives in spite of damage @ The Newberry Library
A Verini book that survives in spite of damage @ The Newberry Library

Writing manuals had to show more than current Chancery or mercantile hands because their audience was engaged in making letters for a variety of uses. Learning about one aspect of those scribal clients aids in understanding the larger picture of how writing manuals become an integral part of instruction and recording artistic and cultural influences in the early modern period.

And the letters are pretty cool as well.

Verini Dragon E @ The Newberry Library
Verini Dragon E @ The Newberry Library

The Newberry Library

The Newberry Librar
The Newberry Library

I spent the last few days of August at the Newberry Library. They have over 600 printed writing manuals and a few manuscript writing manuals as well. I knew this visit would be all too short.

Because it is the biggest collection of early modern writing manuals, it made sense to visit there early in my travels as I would have a better sense of the scope of material and reference points to things I discovered along the way.

Desk #1 with old and new technology side by side.
Desk #1 with old and new technology side by side.

My first research experiences were here at the Newberry Library as a beginning student of calligraphy. Returning to look at books I’ve seen before is a pleasure. Often, I’ll see the same book in a completely new light and feel that it’s the first time I’ve viewed it. And then there are the books I’ve never seen before. I called up 45 items, mostly books, a few wood blocks and one collection of 75 writing book fragments.

Alphabet book of form letters in a chancery hand from Flanders 1520s Newberry Library Call Number:VAULT folio Wing MS 118
Alphabet book of form letters in a chancery hand from Flanders 1520s Newberry Library
Call Number: VAULT folio Wing MS 118

An alphabet book and a writing manual are both used for more than one purpose. Straight craft instruction as well as proper correspondence techniques were just two things being taught. Pleasing aesthetics were important as well. Writing had to be legible and it helped if it looked nice. However, these ideals presented in a writing manual were just that, ideal letterforms.

Queen Elizabeth 1660 letter to the Earl of Manchester at the Newberry Library
Queen Elizabeth 1660 letter to the Earl of Manchester at the Newberry Library

Writing manuals codified the letter shapes then in fashion locally. They were very much a record of their time in showing what hands were current and often indicating which hands were beginning to be out of date but still necessary to know how to write.

1549 Mercator shows how to hold the pen correctly.  Newberry Library
1549 Mercator shows how to hold the pen correctly.
Newberry Library

The shapes of letters are built on the skeletal form of the letter, the pen and how it is cut, how it is held and how much or little pressure is applied to the nib.  All this might be imparted in a writing manual. A hand was designed to have identifiable shapes that scribes could duplicate with enough similarity that someone else could read them. These conventions changed over time, but grew out of older traditions. There was a continuous evolution of the forms.

Mercator's take on the ampersand. Newberry Library
Mercator’s take on the ampersand. Newberry Library

Legibility is essential to reading. Reading is accomplished by understanding agreed-upon shapes and reconciling those shapes into words, sentences, paragraphs. Before the printing press, books were written by hand. Correspondence, legislation, legal documents and business records were written by hand as well. The invention of moveable type allowed books to be duplicated in large quantities with (mostly) identical texts. But it could not address the large body of information that was for one-off or limited production. A letter to three recipients would have been handwritten three times rather than set in type and three copies printed.

Manuscript Alphabet Book @ The Newberry Library.
Manuscript Alphabet Book @ The Newberry Library
Reverse lettering by Cresci @ The Newberry Library.
Reverse lettering by Cresci @ The Newberry Library

University of Iowa Center for the Book

At the Paper Lab of the University of Iowa's Center for the Book
At the Paper Lab of the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book

Last week I rode into Iowa City on Tuesday morning. The ride up from Texas had been really hot and I was in light pants and a t-shirt under my riding suit. I’d left the back vent open and was chilled to the bone an hour after starting at 6:30 that morning. I had to stop, drink coffee and eat to thaw. The temperature was in the 60s but I’d been riding in the 90s and 100s previously and I wasn’t prepared for such cool weather.

After that, it was a pleasant 200 mile ride to the Paper Lab in Coralville, just a few miles from the main campus. Tim Barrett, director of the Center for the Book, paper scholar and master papermaker was expecting me. I stowed my motorcycle gear, donned my tennis shoes and headed into Iowa City to have lunch with Cheryl Jacobsen, a very talented calligrapher and instructor at the Center for the Book. I was invited to speak at the start of Cheryl’s beginning calligraphy class that evening and we had a pleasant talk about what I’m trying to do. Cheryl’s classes are well attended and it’s gratifying to see that calligraphy and lettering are getting the attention of students today.

The Conservation lab at the University of Iowa Library is tucked away in the Government Docs section on the 5th floor
The Conservation lab at the University of Iowa Library

After lunch, I visited the conservation lab at the library. My good friend, Giselle Simon has been at the library for 3 years after working at the Newberry Library in Chicago. This is a small world and people I’ve known at one place often end up somewhere else. This phenomenon will repeat itself as I continue to travel East. Giselle’s a talented conservator and book artist and runs a pretty happy department at Iowa. I was fortunate to meet a few of the technicians and learn of their own skills and interests. A conservation lab often has talented technicians that work every day at the bench to conserve and preserve the library’s material. I enjoy seeing how people use their work skills in their own efforts.

Papermaking classroom at the University of Iowa Center for the Book
Papermaking classroom at the University of Iowa Center for the Book
Paper and mould
Paper and mould at UICB
Standing Press in the paper classroom at the UICB
Standing Press in the paper classroom at the UICB

Tim Barrett is a thoughtful and meticulous craftsman with a strong interest in the aesthetics of historic paper. He has spent quite a few years making papers that emulate Renaissance era paper. Two videos from 2013 and 2014, document the UICB paper lab’s attempts at making 2,000 sheets in a day. One of the things they learned that old rags are more porous and allow for better drainage than fresh material. And a paper mill had support staff beyond the three people at the vat. It took a team of 11 or more people to produce 2,000 sheets in a day.

Writing about historic craft processes is often done without the experience of doing that craft and approaching duplication of materials, techniques and conditions present in the period being studied. Tim and his team took the time and effort to investigate the question by doing. This kind of research is useful as it tests theories with experience.

Portrait of Scalzini. Note the surface of the paper
Portrait of Scalzini. Note the surface of the paper

As you may have guessed from this long post, I’m interested in paper. Was the paper used in writing manuals different than printed books of the same period and locale? What qualities are needed to get a good impression from a woodblock or a copperplate? Did the printmaking process require a different tooth or surface? More sizing or none?

I asked Tim these questions as a means of developing some sensibility to the substrate that writing manuals were recorded. I’ve been photographing paper surfaces and looking at smooth/rough and thin/thick papers to gather information. I’ll report back later after I’ve seen quite a few more books.