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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I visited the University of Iowa’s Special Collections library on Tuesday and Wednesday for a couple of hours. While I didn’t know what I would find, I was hoping there’d be something.
The director, Greg Prickman took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to speak with me and talk about how the collection was amassed. There are quite a few incunabula (books printed before 1501) which were acquired from Classics professors donating their collections to permanent loans to purchases to fill out the history of printing subject area.
I discovered that they have 4 writing manuals. Three copies of G. Bickham’s Universal Penman from 1733 and two later dates as well as a 1585 copy of Scalzini’s Il secretario.
Scalzini is known for his flourishes or “command of hand.” He argued that a light touch and quick execution was necessary for a successful commercial scribe. Attacking his senior, Giovanni Francesco Cresci as spending too much time on careful execution and too-sharp a pen nib, Scalzini’s scathing remarks became standard fare for writing-master wars.
In visiting Iowa’s Special Collections reading room, I was impressed by how inviting and comfortable it was as a first time reader to get acclimated. Each library has its own style, rules and etiquette. Iowa welcomes its scholars with a directness and warmth that made me feel welcome instantly. The system for searching and discovering material is straightforward as is the requesting of items for research.
I look forward to going back when I have more than a couple of hours to delve into their collection further.
After my time in Austin, I visited my sister in Houston and headed up Hwy 59 on my way to the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book. I wanted to speak with Tim Barrett about renaissance papers and what, if any, differences there might be in the paper used for printing on wood as opposed to metal.
I traveled up a state road that feeds the eastern part of Texas north to south. About 90 miles outside of Houston, my motorcycle quit. I’d fueled up 45 miles before, so I didn’t think it could be fuel. It had been running fine, so it couldn’t have become starved for air and that left fire – or spark. I checked battery connections, fuel pump operation, fuel filter. All were in order. I had spoken to a friend on the phone a few times and was somewhat warm as it was noon and in the 90s.
As I started to take the tank off, a pickup truck pulled up behind me and the guy asked what the problem was. I explained briefly and he offered to help. He said that he had a dual sport (off-road and on-road) and I asked what kind.
His early 2000s BMW GS 1150 had served him well and he liked it. Then he asked if I rode much and I mentioned my previous cross country trips on an old 80s BMW RS100. He seemed to relax and commented that I wasn’t a new rider. We chatted as I pulled the gas tank off and continued to troubleshoot. Discovering nothing out of sorts such as a disconnected coil wire or spark plug wired unconnected, I was stumped.
My new friend Dave offered to drive me and my tank, body panels and gear up the road 90 miles to my friend, Lisa Steed’s house. I had intended to visit her on my way north to Iowa. Dave suggested leaving the bike there as he couldn’t haul it in his covered truck. I could rent a trailer and come back for the bike with Lisa and he would travel only a few miles out of his way.
As we talked, he developed a further plan to find a trailer nearby, renting it and then Lisa and I could return it. As it happened, Baskin’s Hadware in Corrigan came into view and we stopped. They sold larger items and I thought I saw a trailer in the back as we passed. We went into the old country hardware store and were greeted warmly by four men ranging in age. Dave asked the owner if they rented trailers. The man said “No, we don’t.”
“But you can borrow one.
“We close at 6:30.”
Dave took this in and the owner said: “We’re country, that’s how we do it here.” To which Dave replied: “I’m country too – and that’s what we do up in Toledo Bend.”
We loaded the bike and stowed my gear and headed north to Nacogdoches. After unloading, Dave said he’d take the trailer back himself, wouldn’t take anything, just said he was making a deposit in his karma bank.
My friends, Lisa and Rodney fed me, put me up for the night and then helped me work on the bike on Sunday. At some point I suggested Lisa give the bike a wave of her healing hands as a joke, and the bike started after that.
After a twenty mile ride up the Loonieville Road, I packed up and headed out. I made it to Texarkana that night, 150 miles away and stopped at sundown.
Having lost a day, I was back on the road with a mysterious electrical problem but feeling quite fortunate to have made a new friend.
My stay in Austin was productive, if a bit confusing. Finding books in the catalog and discovering the full extent of the collection took most of my time. I did get to view a few books and learn about writing manual acquisition at the Ransom Center. I thought I’d be looking at works in the Marzoli and Beaufoy collections of up to 120 + books.
Calligraphy: 1535 – 1885, published in 1962 as a sale catalog of 72 writing manuals was considered the standard for describing this type of book. The Ransom Center acquired the collection in 1962. In 1967, they acquired a collection of scrapbooks called the Beaufoy Collection.
In 1850 this collection of 48 writing manuals was created by Henry B. H. Beaufoy and acquired by the Humanities Research Center (now the Harry Ransom Center). The cataloging for this set is very simple:
48 v. in 11. illus. 53 cm.
All manuals have been disbound, and either inlaid or mounted, and then rebound.
Each vol. has ms. title: “Calligraphy being a collection of the most celebrated writing masters, English and foreign, 1539 to 1840 … London, 1845[-1850]”
Binder’s numbering of vols. is inconsecutive (probably to allow for growth in the collection) from I Sup to XII.
Armorial bookplate of Henry B.H. Beaufoy.
As you can see from this, there’s no indication of what these 48 titles are. There are some additional materials that can help. The Ransom Center keeps some records and correspondence associated with the collection and this file can be requested. I knew about the collections file, and asked for it. Within the subject heading of calligraphy, the Hamill & Barker sale list is included. A much photocopied list of the books. Listed by England/date and then Continent/date.
Included in the collections file was a listing of books offered to the Ransom Center by Harvey W. Brewer. The typewritten catalog states: An important collection of 56 58 (penciled in) WRITING BOOKS of the 16th thru the 19th century, rich in the masters of ENGLAND, ITALY, FRANCE, SPAIN, the NETHERLANDS & GERMANY.
There were a number of titles that were similar to the Marzoli titles. But in viewing the Marzoli printed catalog, then going to the UT online catalog, I was confused as similar titles might have two or more listings. The Marzoli Palatino Compendio del gran volvme de l’arte … has no date in the call number: Z 43 A3 P343. I called up the two titles the online catalog offered. One copy had the Marzoli bookseller’s tag in it, the other had handwritten notes on the pastedown and it’s call number varied by date: Z 43 A3 P3 1566. I had similar things happen when I called up two other titles with similar call numbers.
Had the Ransom Center enlarged its collection of writing manuals beyond Marzoli and Beaufoy? If so, when? I sent a query out to ExLibris to see if someone knew what became of Brewer. I couldn’t find an active website, phone or address for the firm, and some additional searching led me to the Grolier Club’s collecting a number of their catalogs. Folks on the ExLibris list were helpful and sent me information.
I asked the staff for help and learned that there is an archive of the HRHRC which has correspondence and other information pertinent to the collection. This lead to a file on the Brewer collection and correspondence with the Brewer firm about the purchase of these books.
My confusion when studying the online catalog was that there were two copies of a title, but they differed by date or publisher. And they were clearly from two “collections” as the Marzoli items were often rebound in vellum and the Brewer items had penciled in notes on the flyleaf by the same hand.
The Ransom Center has over 180 writing manuals in its collection and they are some of the finest books to have been published.
Thanks to the diligent staff, I was able to make my way through the labyrinth of acquisitions records, uploaded records from paper to online (where the records aren’t always complete!) and other bibliographic hitches that keep things hidden in plain view.
I’ve stopped overnight in Santa Fe, NM at my brother Jamie’s house. The 1,300 mile ride has been enjoyable, and I’m only a day or two behind in getting to my first library destination, the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, TX.
Writing manuals not only taught stroke sequence, or ductus, they also taught how to cut and hold the quill pen. Various feathers have been used but goose and turkey quills are commonly used today. The primary flight feather is considered the best quill to use for writing.
One of the things I like about calligraphy is that the tools are simple, fairly small and light-weight and can be handled easily. I prepared for my trip by cutting the feathers off a number of turkey quills. I’ve packed two different quill knives, some ink and gouache so that I can demonstrate along the way. I hope to demonstrate quill cutting and talk about these books as I ride to institutions with writing manuals.
The Harry Ransom Center acquired the Marzoli collection of written manuals in 1962. Her catalog of seventy-two writing books will aid in my research. I will also spend time with the Beaufoy collection of writing manuals that have been disbound and mounted scrapbook-style in large 19th century tooled bindings. There promise to be many discoveries in these 7 volumes which house about 50 books.
Both the Beaufoy and Marzoli collections illustrate how traveling to an institution and talking with librarians aid an online census for these books. Neither of these two collections are cataloged with full information. Rich Orem was instructive in pointing out things about each that weren’t in the catalog.
Reviewing the books I’ve seen, the Marzoli catalog as well as the scholarly papers held with these materials will give me my first chance to develop a dialog and working procedure that I can take to other institutions.
The Motoscribendi tour rolls out in a few hours. I packed all my clothes and camping gear, now the hard part comes: Getting the traveling writing kit together – pens, inks, paper, etc.
The t-shirts are done as you can see and have already been shipped out, so that’s been a relief to have accomplished. Thanks to Meg Smith, other fulfillment will be done while I’m gone. And she and her boyfriend are taking their bikes to escort me to Sacramento on Delta roads and twisties just to get things going.
Where am I going?
I’ve come to the conclusion that an itinerary will help – even if I change things up along the way. The list below is my first attempt at routing.
August 6th – Saturday 8th: Oakland/Santa Fe, NM
August 10th – Tuesday 11th: Santa Fe/Austin
August 12 – 18 Austin, TX
August 18 – 21 Houston
August 22 – 23 Houston/Iowa City
August 24 – 25 Iowa City, IA
August 26 Iowa City/Chicago
August 27 – September 2 Chicago, IL
Sept. 2 Chicago/Ann Arbor, MI
Sept. 3 – 4 Ann Arbor & Detroit, MI
Sept. 5 – 6 Detroit/Charlottesville
Sept. 6 – 7 Charlottesville, VA
Sept. 8 – 9 Richmond, VA
Sept. 10 Richmond/Washington, D.C.
Sept 11 – 15 Washington, DC
Sept. 16 Washington, DC/Princeton
Sept. 17 -18 Princeton, NJ
Sept. 19 Princeton/NYC
Sept. 20 – 26 NYC
Sept 27 NYC/New Haven
Sept 28 – 29 New Haven, CT
Sept. 30 New Haven/Worcester
Oct. 1 – 3 Worcester, MA
Oct. 4 Worcester/Cambridge
Oct. 5 – 8 Cambridge, MA
Oct. 9 -10 Hanover, NH
Oct 11 Hanover/Scranton, PA
Oct. 12 Scranton/Philadelphia
Oct 13 – 14 Philadelphia, PA
Oct. 14 Philadelphia/Cleveland
Oct. 15 – 17 GBW, Cleveland, OH
Oct. 23 – 24 APHA Rochester, NY
Oct. 25 – 31 Return to CA, no fixed itinerary
Remember, this is a motorcycle tour of libraries that have writing manuals and copybooks, and to keep that in mind, here’s a few more items to look at.
The final count was $6,579 and this will allow me to print and make all the Perks (they will begin going out next week) and then allow me at least 45 days on the road. While 45 days isn’t a long time to travel 12,000 miles and visit almost 20 libraries (yes, the number has increased since I started this!) I will still spend a few days at each institution and gather information, look at the books and work with librarians to develop the Census.
Below are some shots Jennie Hinchcliff took at a presentation I made at the Letterform Archive.
I owe a ton of thanks to a number of people who encouraged me as well as helped organize the project. Next week I’ll get things organized enough to do a proper thank you as I have been scrambling to get all the artwork completed, sent to printers: T-shirt, sticker and offset printers.
I will be on the road by Wednesday night, August 5th. And I’ll probably leave at 8:00 pm and make all of 100 miles before I stop! I’ll continue the blog from the road.