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The Best Calligraphy Books

Aug 17, 2007
Before the beginning of the 20th Century little had been written about calligraphy except The Story of the Alphabet by Edward Clodd and Maude Thompson's fine work on Greek and Latin Paleography together with his volume on English Illuminated Manuscripts, published in 1895 and out of print before 1906. But since the time that Edward Johnston published his book on Writing, Lettering and Illuminating a steady stream of works upon all aspects of the subject have been written; probably it was because of the interest aroused by the pioneers in the practical side of the craft that this flow of literature occurred, both here and in the United States.

The following are among the most important. The British Museum published a guide to the collection of manuscripts they had in 1906. About the same time John W. Bradley was publishing illustrated books on illuminating, its history and development. During 1907 the British Museum published Reproductions of Illuminated MSS., a series of fifty collotype plates. In 1920 W. A. Mason published in New York a work of considerable scholarship dealing with the subject of picture writing in the Americas together with the growth of letter-form in Egypt, Phoenicia, Babylon, Assyria, Crete, Greece and Rome, a book of great interest to all who wish to study the formation of alphabets.

With the development of photography and process reproduction the range of examples showing epigraphy and paleography has increased to a degree unthought of during the early days of the century. During 1932 B. L. Ullnan of the University of Chicago published Ancient Writing and Its Influence, which brings the history of the alphabet more up to date and includes some observations on the Sinai stones, which may eventually help to solve the riddle of the alphabet. Professor E. A. Lowe of Oxford wrote in The Legacy of the Middle Ages a chapter on "Handwriting" which deals with its growth before the time of Charlemagne. This is an excellent essay, which should be known by all serious students of calligraphy. James Wardrop of the Victoria and Albert Museum has also written on "Palatino and His Circle" in Signature, No. 14, 1952.

World origins and development of alphabets are also dealt with in great profusion by D. Diringer, a scholar in these matters. The French just before the war of 1939-1945 issued some newly discovered material in plates dealing with early specimens of the written small letter under the title of L' Eicriture Latine by J. Mallon, which takes history back earlier than Maude Thompson's great work.

Finally among the smaller and more recent publications comes the "King Penguin" on the subject of writing by Alfred Fairbank, which makes a rapid survey from the fourth to the twentieth centuries; and some beautiful photographic reproductions of the detailed work of twelfth-century artists taken from the Winchester Bible by Walter Oakshott.

From about the year 1930 writing and lettering had made such progress that it had become a subject in the training of Art Teachers and was taught by the immediate followers of the two who had given their lives to its cause. Lettering of Today, first volume, published in 1937, showed the work of some of these who had taken up the craft and were in their turn passing it on to the new generation.

As the art itself has progressed, so has the literature representing calligraphy. The aforementioned books are great historical references, but technical books that will walk you through the art of calligraphy are also available.
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