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.

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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.

Hidden Books @ University of Iowa’s Special Collections Department

Columbian Hand Press adorns the entrance to the University of Iowa Special Collections Reading Room
Columbian Hand Press adorns the entrance to the University of Iowa Special Collections Reading Room

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.

The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa Special Collections
The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa Special Collections
The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa's Special Collections Reading Room
The Universal Penman by George Bickham at the University of Iowa’s Special Collections Reading Room
The Universal Penman by George Bickham X 3 @ UI Special Collections
The Universal Penman by George Bickham X 3 @ UI Special Collections

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.

EDIT:

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.

Marcello Scalzini portrait @ 24. In the front of Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Marcello Scalzini portrait @ 25. In the front of Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini's Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini’s Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini's Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
Scalzini’s Il Secretario 1585 at the University of Iowa Special Collections
An inverted manicule in the letterpress section of Il Secretario by Scalzini at the University of Iowa Special Collections
An inverted manicule in the letterpress section of Il Secretario by Scalzini at the University of Iowa Special Collections

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.

Breakdown on the Highway

A Columbian Press at the Houston Printing History Museum
A Columbian Press at the Houston Printing History Museum
After breakfast at Hotel ZaZa, Houston, TX
After breakfast at Hotel ZaZa, Houston, TX

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.

Breakdown on Hwy 59, Texas
Breakdown on Hwy 59, Texas

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.

Deconstructed bike on the highway
Deconstructed bike on the highway

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.

At the Nacogdoches motorcycle recovery center
At the Nacogdoches motorcycle recovery center

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.

Thanks, Dave – travel safe on that GS.

Libraries, Calligraphy Manuals and Motorcycles