Tag Archives: copybooks

The varieties of a Palatino edition

I made a few discoveries about Palatino editions at the Folger Shakespeare Library. I had taken a look at 3 copies of Libro di M. Giouanbattista Palatino at the Newberry printed by Blado. My interest was piqued enough to take a look at the Folger’s copies of Compendio del gran volume. I wrote about the 1566 printing of that title in the last post.

IMG_0445
1588 Compendio del gran volume, Palatino, G. The verso is written out in manuscript to look like type. It is the correct text for this edition of the book and pasted over another edition’s text. The recto of this page is type from the correct edition.

The 1588 copy of this book would appear to be the same, except the typesetting would be different. But as I looked at the 1588 book, I discovered an anomaly that took a minute to figure out. Near the end of the book text was handwritten in the style of the typeface and pasted over a printed text. But only on a couple of pages. It isn’t uncommon to find that a scribe had been employed to make a facsimile of a missing text. However, it is a feat to accomplish copying the type closely because the pen and the graver make two distinctly different kinds of letters. The scribe’s skill is apparent here.

The second thing that is striking is that this book was “made up” meaning it was constructed from various editions of the title sometime after publication in 1588. Taking the time in the late 16th or 17th C. to make up a copy tells of the importance of a Palatino to collectors dating to that era. It also suggests that making up a book from non-historic sources wasn’t looked on too poorly during the previous 3 to 4 centuries.

IMG_0443
1588 Compendio del gran volume, Palatino, G. The recto is written out in manuscript to look like type. It is the correct text for this edition of the book.

Making sense of these variations kept me occupied for a few hours and honed my skill at looking for and detecting variations in production, assembly, binding and repair. Early printed books are very much individual objects. Sometimes the variations in production are easy to spot when viewed side by side. The institution may have a second, third or fourth copy of the same title and edition and the books will look almost unrecognizable as the same title because of changes, use and storage in the intervening years.

IMG_0444
1588 Compendio del gran volume, Palatino, G. The verso is written out in manuscript to look like type.

 

Breaching the walls of the Folger Shakespeare Library

After a 2 month hiatus, I am back to recording progress on my trip. Coming back and re-establishing myself was more challenging than I imagined – in fact the trip itself was more challenging than I thought it would be. My apologies for leaving you hanging!

IMG_0376
Motorcycling to the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC

Getting into a special collection library can be daunting. University libraries have their system, public libraries have somewhat easier methods and private libraries can be the most restrictive. But things are changing in the library world and the vetting process has become a little less stringent.

The Folger Shakespeare Library requires letters from two individuals with .edu or .org email addresses. Generally that means an academic institution or non-profit research library. I was fortunate to acquire letters from one of each and the librarians said some nice things about me and my project.

I was excited that I was granted entry as a reader. I’ve visited the Folger’s conservation lab a number of times, but going in as a researcher is different than visiting a colleague.

It was raining lightly on Saturday, September 11, 2015 when I rode to the library. My hosts live in Silver Spring, MD about 9 miles from the library, a 45 minute commute during the week. On a Saturday, it’s faster as there is less traffic on the roads.

If I was going to be a riding reader, I should ride to the library at least once while in the nation’s capital. I arrived somewhat damp in my riding gear. The guard didn’t believe that I had permission to enter. After requesting my identification, she told me to stand in the lobby while she checked the reader services desk. I dripped water on the stone floor as I awaited my fate. Would I be allowed into this august library or be thrown out as motorcycle trash? The guard didn’t appear to like a damp biker being allowed into the library. I guess not everybody in the library world has come to embrace motorcyclists?

Requests for items are made prior to arrival so the staff has time to page them, I’d made my request on Friday. Saturday, the hours are curtailed, so it makes sense to do this. Requesting vault or restricted items, they are pulled only during the week.

At the desk, I asked for my books and a young woman in jeans (librarians don’t wear jeans, do they?) brought them to me. She asked why I had requested the particular books I had. Briefly (yeah, right!) I told her about Motoscribendi and my research. She listened attentively and then introduced herself as Heather Wolfe, the curator of manuscripts at the Folger. We stood there for half an hour talking about writing manuals, different calligraphic hands, quill cutting and the world of rare books and the chance to look at old books and manuscripts. It was like meeting an old friend and catching up. Heather’s knowledge and enthusiasm are what makes this kind of work exciting. Meeting with an inquisitive, engaged paleographer happy to talk with me about these things gave me an even greater sense of being a part of something worth pursuing.

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Practicing the Secretary Hand

Heather teaches paleography classes on the Secretary hand at the library. Even though many manuscripts at the library are in English, they are all but indecipherable without some training. The library has around 60,000 manuscripts many of which are written in a Secretary hand. Heather and her colleagues have been working on a project to teach paleography and get people involved in transcribing documents from the collection. Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) has just launched Shakespeare’s World to use crowdsourcing technology to allow interested individuals to be a part of reading and transcribing these manuscripts.

We talked about quill-cutting, parchment-making and other scribal traditions and how exciting it is to look at these materials and discover things about production and use.

When I went to sit down to look at the books, she apologized for taking me from my work, but the truth was that speaking with her is my work. Getting to look at books and learning more about these writing manuals is important, but I wanted to meet the scholars, librarians and staff that are charged with caring for these books.

 

 

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Manuscript note about writing masters in the Folger Shakespeare’s 1588 copy 2 of Palatino’s Compendio del Gran Volume

After lunch, I came back and continued looking at the books I’d called up. Palatino’s writing manuals have been well researched by Stanley Morison and others, but I think there’s more to learn by looking at these books. A digital copy will only represent one iteration.  Each time I open a writing manual, I am excited to see how it has lived and been used.

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Palatino’s Compendio del Gran Volume. 1566, with an owner’s practice flourishes on the title page

This interplay of book and reader shows the challenge of learning to master a particular hand. Sometimes the student is not very skilled, and sometimes they are better. And often, the progression is obvious through the book’s progression.

IMG_0416
1667 manuscript copying of exemplars in the Folger Shakespeare’s 1566 reprint of Palatino’s Compendio del Gran Volume

You see in the above image a woodblock that was cut in 1565 being used in the 1566 edition of the Compendio del Gran Volume. This block was cut a year before the printing of this book. It was the norm for woodblocks to be stored and reused in subsequent books. Typesetting for the later editions was newly done yet the woodblock is older. This copy then, has three distinct time element in this one page:

1565: Woodblock

1566: Typeset signature mark at lower right “Ciij”

1667: Manuscript practice, dated to a century later

IMG_0418
1667 manuscript copying of exemplars in the Folger Shakespeare’s 1588 reprint of Palatino’s Compendio del Gran Volume

And on the verso of the leaf marked “Ciij” is another block cut a year later in 1566 with the same 17th century scribe’s annotation of Palatino’s full name.

There’s more to discuss about the Folger’s Palatino collection, and I’ll continue that in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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.

A Long Distance Ride To Writing Manuals

Sometimes a motorcycle ride is just a ride. And at other times, it’s a dramatic escape from the shackles of entropy. This particular ride started with an escape and developed into a dream.
Once I closed my business after 12 years in operation, my time became my own again. I could take a trip and get on with things that I’d set aside for years. Like long distance motorcycle trips and studying writing manuals. My niece was getting married in Llano, TX and I planned to ride there and visit the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at the University of Texas in Austin after the wedding.
The motorcycle for this little excursion is a 1987 Honda Hurricane 1000F, commonly known as a sport touring bike. My knees may disagree with its suitability for long hours in the saddle, but it was a good mount as regards power.
IMG_6485
Packed and ready to go
I spent somewhat longer in replacing the alternator damper than I planned to. It is an arcanely designed part that spins the starter and also spins the alternator to keep the battery charged. It was buried deep within the engine cases and is known to be a difficult installation. Some things bring their own challenges and this one offered me a growth opportunity.
The wedding was on Saturday, April 11, and I’d hoped to get on the road early in the week. The mechanical challenge ate up my time but I persevered until Wednesday, April 8, 2015 when at 5:00 p.m. the bike started and ran. Rob, one of my riding buddies,  talked me out of trying to shove some items in my new saddle bags and get going that night.
I messed around until 1:00 a.m. and got up at 4:30 to leave. I was on the road a little after 5:00 a.m. heading east out of Oakland and into the morning dawn. Still dark as I rode along 580 towards I5. Traffic was backed up in the other direction but my side was pretty empty and I began to feel the excitement of the start of a trip. While I5 isn’t the most inspiring road, it was fairly empty and the cloud cover kept the temperature ideal. East of Bakersfield, Dave, my imaginary internet buddy, guided me to Barstow and south on 247 towards I10. This little road has twists, turns, elevation and climate change. Lucerne Valley is pleasant and the Morongo Valley is a little gem.
Headed towards Lucern Valley. The twisty road up the mountain is Hwy 18 which takes you to Big Bear Lake
Headed towards Lucern Valley. The twisty road up the mountain is Hwy 18 which takes you to Big Bear Lake
Old gas station and pump
Old gas station and pump
Back when cigarettes were cool
Back when cigarettes were cool
Sixteen hours after starting, I stopped in Gila Bend, AZ to stealth camp in an RV park behind a truck stop. Setting up this tent in the dark with my stiff back, knees and fingers was a bit of a comedy as I couldn’t really see what I was doing and had only used this tent twice before. Adventure!
Friday, April 10th before the workday traffic began I was back on the road and on I10 headed towards Texas. Arizona and New Mexico flew by as I meditated on my life and this trip. I was looking forward to making it by Saturday afternoon for my niece’s wedding. I had 960 miles to go and I might have made it but bailed out after the heat, hail and rain I rode through in West Texas. I got a hotel in Ozona, roughly 850 miles from the day’s starting point.
Saturday morning’s ride into Llano through the Hill Country was very pleasant with clouds and dramatic light playing across the bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush. It was one of those atmospheric tricks that happened for much of this 3 day trip that suggested that all was well in the world. The wind and sun caressed my skin in a way that felt like i was in a movie.
Hmm. I knew I was on I 10 for a long time, but I didn’t remember crossing the Atlantic

But I knew better, weather will turn on ya in a mile and make you wish you’d stayed home.

Family, old friends, new acquaintances, this is what weddings are for – and this one didn’t disappoint. I felt renewed and connected as I hadn’t in quite a while. Yes, it was worth the somewhat uncomfortable ride. And even the discomfort enriched the experience.
At The Hideaway in Llano, TX
At The Hideaway in Llano, TX
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Bluebonnets, bulletholes and dirtbikes – a typical Texas scene
On Tuesday I headed to the HRC on the UT campus. This was the scene of phase two of my calligraphic and history of the book education. In 1982, I worked in the conservation lab and then moved to the rare book reading room as a page. I wanted to look at a few of the writing manuals that I studied back then. I forgot that the HRC has one of the stellar collections of writing manuals in the United States. In conversation with the rare books librarian, Rich Oram, I was reminded of the breadth and scope of this collection that was sold to UT in 1962 by the Italian book dealer Carla Marzoli.
Horfei Copybook @ Harry Ransom Center
Horfei Copybook @ Harry Ransom Center
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Horfei Copybook @ Harry Ransom Center. This book was trimmed and the pages were mounted in a larger textblock – much like a scrapbook
Call slip record
Call slip record
Unfortunately, the cataloger of that time chose not to note in a field which books came from the Marzoli purchase. It is not too difficult to read the printed catalog that was used to sell the collection. However, in this day of digital research, having a data field to cross reference all the information available would have been useful. The presumption that finding things online will be faster and easier than the old analog method of checking a card catalog isn’t always the case. We’re a long way from the utopian world of comprehensive digital access to rare books and special collections material.
Cresci
Cresci @ Harry Ransom Center
There’s some difficulty in discovering where writing manuals are collected when using WorldCat. It will give you a fair description of known copies in libraries, if they were cataloged individually. Cataloging standards have changed over time and the entries in WorldCat are limited to libraries. When searching for Il Perfetto by Giovanni Fracesco Cresci printed in 1570, the Metropolitan Museum’s copy housed in their Drawings and Prints collection doesn’t appear in WorldCat since this copy was cataloged as a work of art on paper, not as a library item. I was able to look at the two copies of Il Perfetto while at the HRC. But only the 1579 edition is cataloged in their records. The second copy is bound in a 19th C. compendium of writing manuals that were cut apart and pasted into one of seven volumes of writing manuals compiled by Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy, a wealthy vinegar magnate. That catalog entry states that the collection focuses on English, Dutch and German writing books. Cresci’s books were published in Milan.
Cresci - mounted into Beaufoy @ Harry Ransom Center
Cresci – mounted into Beaufoy @ Harry Ransom Center
My trip back to California was fairly uneventful and quite pleasant. Weather was mostly perfect and I traveled off I10 up through New Mexico from Deming to Holbrook, AZ on NM180. They’ve had rain and it was green and truly spring-like in the mountains.
New Mexico sky
New Mexico sky
Modified Cherokee for hauling dogs
Modified Cherokee for hauling dogs
New Mexico post office
New Mexico post office
As I rode without a deadline, enjoying the scenery and wind and speed, my mind drifted to the writing manuals. One of the big attractions to riding a motorcycle long-distance is that it is a moving meditation. I can free-associate and let a part of my mind wander while still attending to the road and scenery. When I ride for more than five hours in a go, the continuos attention to the road settles me into a reflective mood that I don’t get very often. The prolonged continuance of this state becomes a laboratory for my mind. I shift into this creative zone where ideas that don’t come freely begin to emerge.  I can reflect on them, review them and revise them like sketches on a pad.
This is what I was doing for the five days I took to travel 2150 miles back to Oakland. In the middle of the ride, I spent a day in Flagstaff doing nothing more than walking around and resting and writing. My body didn’t need the rest as much as my mind needed to calm down from the excitement of my thoughts.
The idea that captured my imagination was a clarification of something I’ve been playing with the past few months after closing my business. I’ve wanted to combine the two passions of my life. Riding, studying writing manuals, visiting libraries and book arts friends and telling stories.
This was the genesis of the ride I’m about to take.

Finding Libraries with Writing Manuals

What is a Writing Manual?

Writing manuals teach a student how to form letters and write a particular style of writing or hand. Often, a writing manual discussed ink recipes, paper selection, how to cut a quill into a pen and how to hold it. They came into widespread use in the first quarter of the 16th century as a way to teach students how to be scribes. The first writing book to be published was written by Ludovico degli Arrighi’s La Operina and was printed from a text cut in wood.

Books with text cut in wood had been available prior to the invention of moveable type, but those books were meant to be read for the text only. With metal type, there was no way to illustrate how to form letters, and Arrighi had his text engraved in wood and printed from these blocks of text. Writing manuals quickly became Renaissance best sellers. Writing manuals were popular books because they showed how to write specific styles and they were designed to be beautiful books.

Because the text was cut in wood (later engraved in copper), the blocks were saved for later printing and often printed by different printers. Their useful life could extend beyond a century. This gave rise to a dizzying number of variants and titles.

Giovanni Batista Palatino composed and published Libro nuovo d’imparare a scrivener  in 1540. As you can see from the title, the advertiser’s favorite “New and Improved” marketing technique was born. Julie L. Melby at Princeton’s Graphic Arts collection does a fine job of writing about these books in Palatino’s Tools of Writing.

The Bancroft Library’s copy Compendio del gran volvme dell’art del bene & leggiadramente scriuere tutte le forti di lettere e caratteri… from 1588, shows a previous owner’s attempt at writing out the text in the margin.

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1588 Palatino @Bancroft Library. Student has copied part of the text in the lower margin.

Where are these books located & how do I find them?

The heavyweights in the history of writing have written about these books for a century. People like Stanley Morison, Alfred Fairbank, James Wardrop and Nicholas Barker dove deep into this subject. These guys were interested in how handwriting influenced type design and how these books were made and printed because they were primarily illustrated books about letterforms. Illustrated in wood or metal, the text might be all cut (therefore illustrated, not typeset) or an admixture of typographic and xylographic (woodcut) or copperplate. If you’re really interested in this, you can get lost in the subject and never even see one of the actual books. There is so much literature in both books and journals that you could spend a year reading and know only a little.

Because I have spent a lot of time looking at these books all over the US, I’m familiar with their location and know where the major collections are. Making a census of books by location will assist scholars in their research. Without this type of finding aid, it is difficult to know what is in an institution since items are not cataloged in a way that they can be found online.

I invite readers to suggest institutions with writing manuals and copybooks that I may have missed.

Map it!

I am drawing a map that will give you a view of where I’ll be headed – and loosely, when. Then you can follow along, and if I discover more institutions along the way I can visit them. The trip will begin in the Bay Area and head in a counter-clockwise direction around the US and into Canada.

Leaving the locals till last, I’ll give you a quick highlight: Huntington Library, Harry Ransom Center, UTAustin, Library of Congress, Folger Shakespreare Library, Scranton, Philadelphia, Princeton, New York Public Library, Columbia University, Yale, American Antiquarian Society, Harvard, Toronto, Chicago, Iowa City, and home to the target-rich environment of the Bay Area.

Amphiareo, 1580. Letterform Archive. First horizontal writing book.
Amphiareo, 1580. Letterform Archive.
First horizontal writing book.

Locally, the Bancroft Library at UCBerkeley has a number of items, San Francisco Public Library, Stanford and the Letterform Archive. You’ll be hearing about this new institution as my friend Rob Saunders has turned his private collection of material about letterforms into a nonprofit organization that offers digital images of the collection as well as on-site study for type designers, calligraphers, lettering artists and historians.

I’ve got a few things to prepare for my Indiegogo launch on June 19, and will be back in a day or two with more.

Here’s a few woodblock items I’ve done and printed letterpress.

Woodblock, on press with print pulled away from block.
Woodblock, on press with print pulled away from block.
Woodblock alphabet, cut in reverse. Printed letterpress.
Woodblock alphabet, cut in reverse. Printed letterpress.
Woodblock printed letterpress
Woodblock printed letterpress

Motoscribendi: Libraries, Historic Calligraphy Manuals, Book People and Motorcycles

Palatino 1588 Bancroft Library
Palatino 1588 Bancroft Library

Motoscribendi

My name is Nicholas Yeager, I’m a scholar, librarian, motorcyclist and scribe.

You know what the first three are, but what’s a scribe? Every time you write something with a pen, you are inscribing the paper (or other substrate) with your handwriting. A scribe may be called lettering artist or calligrapher these days but there was a time when the only way to record information was by writing it down. And the people that did that were called scribes.

Motoscribendi will chronicle my travels – yes, by motorcycle – to major collections of old writing manuals, copybooks and lettering instruction manuals at libraries across North America. These visits will enable me to develop a catalog of representative writing manuals that will help people locate these scattered resources. (Despite a resurgence in type design and lettering art, there’s still no centralized way to find them.)  The trip will also help me produce a modern writing manual that pays homage to this type of book.

A Little History

If Gutenberg were trying to destroy the scribal industry by inventing printing back in the 15th century, he blew it. Because one of the unintended consequences of printing was to establish a permanent place for calligraphers and scribes. Printing didn’t eliminate scribes, it created even more need for scribes to record legal, commercial, theological and medical correspondence. And printing allowed writing masters a method of recording their exact lettering instructions to teach students far from their writing schools.

How to hold the quill pen
How to hold the quill pen

My Story

Thirty-nine years ago I began to study calligraphy and the history of the book. With Patti Downing, I began a manuscript study group at the Newberry Library in Chicago. We studied various hands and book design, early printing and the large collection of writing manuals that are housed at the Newberry.

My interest in these books stayed with me and I continued to study them at the Harry Ransom Center, Columbia University’s Rare Book Room and as a librarian at New York Public Library.

Horfei's Roman Capital A
Horfei’s Roman Capital A at the Harry Ransom Center

Along with this I practiced calligraphy and graphic design, wrote about and edited calligraphic and book art publications and studied descriptive bibliography and the history of printing. I teach calligraphy and lettering and make pieces for shows and for sale.

Palatino 1588 Bancroft Library
Juan Yciar 1564 Bancroft Library

While I moved around the country, I rode motorcycles for most of that  time, having begun riding when I was 13. My love of long-distance motorcycling didn’t have an opportunity to develop until I was in my 40s and has since been a major component of my life. I have traveled to library trade shows, exhibitions and workshops on my motorcycle. Riding lets me discover what lies between the major cities I travel to – and to be fully present in all those places. It gives me the same feeling of immersion and discovery I get from studying a writing manual. In both cases, a lot of the most interesting stuff is hidden in the finest details. It needs to be experienced up close and in person.

Stroke sequence

My trip will start in mid July. I hope you’ll come along  especially if you’re new to these books and their history. I’ll discuss their design, printing and collecting history as well as my talks with historians, librarians, printers and other book arts practitioners across North America.