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The Roman Alphabet 

Stan Knight 

There is a popular notion that the evolution of the Roman script can be plotted out like 
a family tree, showing a single line of development from Roman times to the present 
day. Its history, however, is far too ancient, too complex, and too widespread for that. 
A multitude of influences — apolitical, religious, esthetic, economic, or pragmatic — 
have been brought to bear on the way that the Roman script has been formed through- 
out the ages. 

The original manner in which the Latin language was written down was devised 
over 2000 years ago (section 23). Since then, Roman scripts have been used not 
only for Latin but also for the majority of the world's languages (section 59). 

The scope of this survey allows only an indication of the historical highlights in 
the development of the Roman script, and a hint of the more obvious causes and in- 
fluences that created change. 

Ancient Roman scripts 

The earliest examples we have of Latin letters are of those carved in stone, some dat- 
ing from the sixth or even seventh century b.c.e. Early Roman letters were monoline 
capitals of distinct form (figure 43A), derived from earlier Greek models. Some- 
times the text was retrograde, i.e. read from right to left. 

By the first century c.e. the carved capitals had developed a level of sophistica- 
tion and legibility which has ensured their survival to modem times in both typogra- 
phy and calligraphy. The detailing of these incised letters (figure 43B), in the 
balance of their thin and thick strokes and the subtle serifing, was clearly due to pre- 
liminary planning with an edged pen or brush (see Catich 1968). 

The scripts of ancient Rome can be grouped according to their use and their char- 
acter: Cursive scripts, the informal styles used for minor documents and the everyday 
handwriting of the intelligentsia, most usually written with a blunt, pointed pen or 
stylus; and Calligraphic or Book scripts, those more formal scripts written by profes- 
sional scribes for large-scale literary manuscripts, using a specially cut edged pen 
which produces the characteristic thick and thin strokes. 




A. Vatican. Dedication to Hercules, ca. 144 b.c.e. 

B. Rome, Appian Way. ist or 2nd century c.e. 

c. British Library, Papyrus 229. 166 c.e. (nomine abban quern eutychon sive quo alio nomine). 


D. Vatican Library, Ms. Pal.Lat.163 [. 4th or 5th century. 

E. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. Auct.T.2.26. Mid 5th century. 

F. Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Ms.Patr.87. 6th century. 


G. Vatican Library, Vat.Lat.3256. 4th or 5th century. 


H. British Library, Papyrus 447. ca. 345 c.e. {crum comitatum vestrum tirones ex provincia). 

FIGURE 43. Ancient Roman scripts, a. Monoline capitals, b. Inscriptional capitals, c. Old Roman 
Cursive, d. Rustic capitals, e. Uncials, f. Half Uncials. G. Square capitals. H. New Roman Cursive. 


Old Roman Cursive 

The earliest known handwritten Latin document can be traced to the first century 
B.c.E. Old Roman Cursive dates from some time before that and lasts into the third 
century c.e. (figure 43c). The script bears some features of the earliest Latin in- 
scriptions; but since it is written quickly (cursive means 'running') and inconsistently, 
there is a loss of legibility. Some letters were remodeled, others became linked togeth- 
er (in ligatures), and abbreviations are common. Following the epigraphic pattern, lit- 
tle or no word space is allowed. This script was ideally suited for the stylus and wax 
tablet, and can even be seen in the graffiti of Pompeii (see Aris 1990: 1.4). 

Rustic Capitals 

The earliest fully developed Latin book script was Rustic Capitals, and we know of 
examples from the first century c.e. The Gallus Fragment may even date from as early 
as 22 B.c.E. (see Knight 1984, Introduction). Despite its unsophisticated name, this is 
a mature, calHgraphic script used for many deluxe manuscripts (figure 43D). It has 
narrow letterforms and a very steep pen angle (the edge of the pen held at almost 90° 
to the writing line). Following Old Roman Cursive, the A often lacks a crossbar, the 
M is widely spread, and the bowl of R overlaps the vertical stem. The words are di- 
vided with a centered point in the epigraphic manner. 

Uncial scripts 

Uncial was a popular script in common use from the fourth to eighth centuries for the 
text of books (figure 43E). Most of the earliest surviving Uncial manuscripts have 
their origins in northern Africa. The oldest datable Uncial script is from Hippo and 
was written some time between 396 and 426 (see Lowe 1934-72 SuppL: vii-x, also 
Knight 1984: B4). Later, Uncials were used in Italy (particularly in Rome) mostly for 
bibUcal texts; and through missionary activity the script spread to other parts of the 
Empire, including Britain, where it reached a very high level of accomplishment. 
However, the notion that Uncials were deliberately devised as a Christian book hand, 
to replace Rustic and Square Capitals used for "pagan" classics, cannot be maintained 
(see Woodcock and Knight 1992: 38). 

Uncials did not evolve direcdy from Rustic Capitals; Rustics are constructed dif- 
ferently, using a much steeper pen angle — compare the forms of A, D, E, and R. The 
particular characteristics of Uncial scripts include A with a bowl, round forms of D, 
E, H, M, ascenders for D, H, K, L, and descenders for F, G, P, Q. 


Half Uncial scripts 

These scripts were first called Half Uncials in the mistaken idea that they were a de- 
generate form of Uncials. However, early Uncials used a slanted, natural pen angle 
evolving from scripts like that of the De Bellis Macedonis fragment (written perhaps 
as early as lOO c.e.). This shows a mixed script with discernible Uncial characteris- 
tics (see M. Brown 1990: 22-23; Knight 1984: Intro, fig. 5). 

Early Half Uncials, which appeared in the fourth century, derived from scripts 
like that of the fragment of Livy's Epitome written early in the third century (Aris 
1990: 11,2; Knight 1984: Intro, fig. i). Both use a flattened pen angle (the edge of the 
pen held parallel to the writing line). 

The characteristics of Half Uncials (figure 43F) are long ascenders b, d, f, h, 1 
and descenders f, g, p, q; long s; round forms of a and t; "figure 5" g; m with a straight 
first stroke and curving end stroke; and "capital" form of N. 

Square Capitals 

Written versions of Imperial carved letters were employed for the text of prestigious 
manuscripts of Virgil in the fourth and fifth centuries (figure 43 g). They follow the 
inscriptional capitals in letterform and generous spacing, but their detailed character 
was extremely difficult for the scribe and slowed down the writing. T. J. Brown (pers. 
comm.) rightly regarded the use of such capitals for manuscript texts as "a late idea 
and a bad one"! 

Only two ancient Square Capital manuscripts survive, both in fragments: Codex 
Sangallensis (St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Ms.Cod. 1394, pp. 7-49) and Codex Au- 
gusteus (four folios in the Vatican, Ms.Lat. 3256, and three folios in Berlin, Deutsche 
Staatsbibliothek, Ms.Lat. F416). 

New Roman Cursive 

This rapid script, the result of a reform of Old Roman Cursive (completed by the 4th 
century), was the administration and correspondence script of Late Antiquity 
(figure 43 h). The speed of writing, together with the greater use of ligatures and 
cursive loops (a minimal a, and diagonal headstrokes on certain letters like c and e), 
make this a difficult script to read. 

New Roman Cursive, however, was widely used and would play an important 
part in the development of the later Regional scripts. 

Regional hands 

These are the various scripts which arose in local centers as, in the fifth century, the 
control of the Roman Empire declined. New Roman Cursive mixed with Half Uncial 


A. British Library, Add. Ms.11878. Mid 8th century (aYr" quia unus quisque praedicator arro). 

B. British Library, Harley Ms. 3063. End 8th century {thesalonicensib(us), pietatis doctrma(m) adversarii). 

c. British Library, Add. Ms.30844. loth century {regnieis nonestia finis. Dixit au(te)m maria). 

D. Briish Library, Add. Ms. 16413. Early 9th century {dixit caelo esse qui nos creavit et dicimus). 

FIGURE 44. Regional scripts, a. Luxeuil Minuscule, b. Corbie ab. c. Visigothic Minuscule. 
D. Beneventan Minuscule. 

formed the main ingredients of these diverse minuscule scripts, which generally 
flourished from the fifth through the eighth centuries (see M. Brown 1990: 32-47). 
We can survey here only the most important. 

Luxeuil Minuscule 

This script was developed at the end of the seventh and early eighth centuries at the 
French abbey founded by the Irish missionary Columbanus. It was E. A. Lowe (1972: 
2.389-98) who identified the original source of this very distinctive script. 

Luxeuil Minuscule (figure 44A) is a rather angular script with many unusual 
letterforms — a like double c, tall, ampersand-like e, g with a looped top, and a high- 
shouldered r. The use of looping ligatures, e.g. er, ro, rs, te, and tr, adds to the diffi- 
culty in deciphering this script. It derives from New Roman Cursive (by way of the 
Merovingian chancery) with some Half Uncial features. By this time, word separa- 
tion was fairly consistently used. 

Corbie ab 

Another French minuscule is linked with the Abbey of Corbie, founded from Luxeuil 
ca. 661 c.E. The Corbie connection, however, has been questioned (see Ganz 1990). 
Corbie ab has many of the features of Luxeuil Minuscule, but a and b are partic- 
ularly distinctive (figure 44B). The a looks more like u, b like a tall t. In addition, e 


is tall, the strokes of o often cross at the top (especially when ligatured), it has a long 
r, tall s, and a looped entrance to t. Word separation is inconsistent. 

Visigothic Minuscule 

This Spanish local script depends more on Half Uncial than New Roman Cursive and 
this, together with the use of some Uncial letters (e.g. D and G), makes it an altogeth- 
er more legible script (figure 44c). 

A few simple hgatures persist. The letter a is open like a double c, t has a large 
looped entrance stroke which could be confused with a round a. Other features in- 
clude the distinctive abbreviation marks, heavy triangular serifs on the ascenders, and 
ornate versions of x and z. 

Because of its comparative isolation, Visigothic Minuscule had a long life, sur- 
viving until the twelfth century. 

Beneventan Minuscule 

Developed in southern Italy from the middle of the eighth century, this script survived 
locally until early in the fourteenth century, even in some places until the fifteenth 
century. It derives some features from New Roman Cursive, but most from Half Un- 
cial. E. A. Lowe (1980) made a special study of this script. 

Beneventan Minuscule is a self-consciously stylish script (figure 44D). The let- 
ter a has a closed double c form, d is "uncial," e looks more like an ampersand, and t 
has a large, looped entrance. Some simple ligatures are retained. Overall there is a 
wavy aspect to the script, particularly in i, m, n, and u, most prominent in eleventh- 
century examples due to the steeper pen angle used then. 

Insular scripts 

Following the departure of the Romans from Britain, there developed an extensive 
and coherent pattern of scripts, originating in Christian Ireland. Vigorous Irish mis- 
sionary activity took the scripts to northern England and eventually many parts of Eu- 
rope. Later, fine versions of Roman Uncials were incorporated into the system (but 
never in Ireland). 

The term Insular refers to scripts of the British Isles up to the mid ninth century 
and is often used when Anglo-Saxon or Irish origin is uncertain. 

Insular Minuscule 

A system of minuscule scripts deriving from such everyday cursive hands as that of 
St. Boniface (see Lowe 1934-72, vol. 2, p. 237) reached (by the 8th century) a mature 
enough form to be used for fine manuscript books (figure 45 a). Word division and 


A. Oxford, Ms.B0dl.819. 2nd half 8th century {etur conlinuo disdplina divinae legis). 

scrubservuTrc-tucxcs euoui^itiitxx: 

B. British Library, Cotton Ms.Nero.D.iv. ca. 698 c.e {scribserunt awritton lucas evangelista 9e godspellere). 

c. British Library, Add. Ms. 37517. Ca. 1000 c.e. {Dixit inimicus perssequens comprehenda(m) partibo). 

FIGURE 45. Insular scripts, a. Insular Minuscule, b. Insular Half Uncial; Anglo-Saxon Cursive (in 
the glosses to the Latin text), c. Anglo-Saxon Square Minuscule. 

punctuation are quite consistent. Numerous ligatures and abbreviations occur, a and 
d are open; c and e are tall (especially in ligature); p, r, and s all have descenders and 
are very similar in appearance. Overall, the aspect is of a compressed letterform writ- 
ten with a steeply slanted pen. 

Insular Half Uncial 

These more formal book scripts, so characteristic of Insular manuscripts, probably 
originated in Ireland as a modification of the Roman Half Uncial. One of the earhest 
known Irish manuscripts, ca. 600 c.e., reveals a script somewhere between the two 
(see Lowe 1934-72, vol. 2, p. 271). 

The majestic script of the Gospels written at Lindisfame, ca. 698 c.e., shows In- 
sular Half Uncial at its most developed stage (figure 45B). These are heavy, rounded 
letters written with a flattened pen angle. The characteristic forms are a, b, g, 1, and 
n. Alternative "uncial" forms of A, D, N, R, and S occur, perhaps due to the influence 
of the nearby Wearmouth-Jarrow scriptoria and their magnificent Uncial scripts. The 
interlinear gloss, added in the mid tenth century in Anglo-Saxon Cursive, is the ear- 
liest surviving EngUsh translation of the Gospels. 

Anglo-Saxon Minuscules 

From the middle of the tenth century, Carolingian Minuscule was used in England for 
Latin texts. Old EngUsh texts continued to be written in Anglo-Saxon Pointed Minus- 
cule, a script which survived until the mid twelfth century. Anglo-Saxon Square Mi- 
nuscules of the tenth and early eleventh centuries were perhaps an attempt to 
incorporate some Carolingian influence into the local script (figure 45c). 

Carolingian Minuscule 

The reforms of Charlemagne, in the late eighth and early ninth centuries, encouraged 
the use of a legible and beautiful book script which emerged in the calligraphic cen- 
ters under his influence in France. Carolingian Minuscule evolved from the ancient 
Roman Half Uncial script and incorporated certain features from local minuscule 
scripts. Early manuscripts from the Abbey at Corbie show how Half Uncial could be 
modified to a more minuscule form (figure 46A). 

Compared to the many barely readable cursive and over-elaborate regional 
scripts, the mature Carolingian Minuscule was a disciplined and formal script, capa- 
ble of maintaining legibihty even at extremely small sizes (figure 46B). 

The general aspect is of a flowing, rounded script with long ascenders and de- 
scenders, creating a very even texture. It employs a slightly slanted pen angle (rather 
than the flattened angle of the Half Uncial) and maintains a more defined body height. 
Certain letterforms were improved— Uncial a soon replaced the Half Uncial form, 
and the distinctive looped g (like the one used in Luxeuil Minuscule) replaced the 
"figure 5" form. Very few ligatures are used; in some Carolingian manuscripts there 
are none. 

The emergence of the Carolingian Minuscule is one of the most important devel- 
opments in the history of Western calligraphy. It became an international script and 
was copied and adapted in succeeding centuries by scribes in all areas under Carolin- 
gian rule. 

O Uivt^^e jrauafii lugmnxuarrj 

A. Amiens, Bibliotheque Municipale, Ms. 11. ca. 772-781 c.e. 

B. British Library, Add. Ms. 10546. ca. 834-843 c.e. 

a^rhac. cum cam lanirxDrrcrd^. 

c. British Library, Add. Ms.49598. Ca. 963-984 c.e. 

ccaoncm dcbcrccfic Afvbotcks tnbu 

D. Private collection, Life of St. Ursula. Mid 12th century. 

FIGURE 46. Carolingian Minuscule, a. Modified Half Uncial, b. Carolingian Minuscule, c. English 
Carolingian Minuscule, d. Italian Carolingian Minuscule. 


English Carolingian Minuscule 

Following ecclesiastical reforms in the mid tenth century, Enghsh scribes wrote a 
very distinctive version of Carolingian Minuscule (figure 46c). Larger in scale and 
more formal in structure, it maintains many of the features of the earlier French Car- 
olingian Minuscule— "uncial" a and h, looped g, long s, and "half uncial" t. The use 
of & to represent -et- within a word seems peculiar to Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. A 
number of cursive ligatures occur and abbreviation is common. 

English Carolingian Minuscule at its best is a supremely legible and calligraphic 
script. It was generally reserved for Latin texts and lasted to the end of the eleventh 

Italian Carolingian Minuscule 

Carolingian Minuscule reached Italy at an early stage. (Charlemagne was crowned 
Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800.) It was used for books and documents from the 
ninth through the thirteenth centuries, alongside Beneventan Minuscule and other 
more cursive scripts, such as the Papal Documentary (see M. Brown 1990: 1 16-21). 

Italian Carolingian Minuscule (figure 460) reached its peak in the twelfth cen- 
tury and rivals the achievements of English tenth-century scribes. The round, upright 
letters are quite heavy, but they are well constructed and confidently written. Discreet 
serifs were added to the base of the first stems of m and n. 

This is the script which, later, was revived by Humanist scholars and printers. 

Gothic scripts 

The rise of the secular universities and the expansion of the monastic system in the 
twelfth century prompted the need for many more books. Different grades of scripts 
were employed during this period to cope with the demand (see M. Brown 1990: So- 

Transitional Gothic 

Gothic scripts developed directly from Carolingian Minuscule, and the period of tran- 
sition from the mid eleventh century through the end of the twelfth produced scripts 
of increasing compression and angularity, sometimes referred to as Protogothic 
(figure 47A). 

The letterforms of Transitional Gothic are narrow, with a hint of angularity. The 
"waistline" serifs are heavy, and the base terminations are more elaborate than before. 


%otnopMocuplesin fidocutnttgt 

A. British Library, Cotton Ms.Tib. B.viii. Late 12th century. 


B. British Library, Royal Ms.2. B.vii. Ca. 1310-20. 

pmcmoium ; ttt iJifDtmiieltegi^ 

c. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Ms. 298. Ca. 1300. 

liiimtdttm d>itftii5 rog^iiiue 

D. Private collection, Carvajal Missal. Ca. 1520. 

E. British Library, Harley Ms. 13 19, Early 15th c. (pao le tumbel de sonpere qui est assezpres sudit autel). 

,4wv»»/tVtH»Qf!S9fel^ *Ktt viuv^ ^4Sk y* 

F. British Library, Royal Ms. i9.C.viii. Ca. 1496. (Roes de son fait La premiere). 

FIGURE 47. Gothic scripts, a. Transitional Gothic, b. Gothic Prescissus. c. Gothic Quadrata. d. 
Gothic Rotunda, e. Secretary script, f. Gothic Batarde. 

Gothic Prescissus 

The features of fully developed Gothic book scripts from the end of the twelfth cen- 
tury are lateral compression, heavy weight, and sharp angularity. Additional details 
include the usual use of the "figure 2" r (when following o and other curved letters), 
and the sharing of stems (biting) of certain letters (e.g, b, d, and p before e or o). 

Prescissus scripts are high-grade, sophisticated scripts whose letter stems (e.g. m 
and n) are cut off square at the baseline (figure 47B). Numerous alternative forms 
are used — d in both round and upright forms, r in branching and "figure 2" shapes, 
and s both round and long. 


Gothic Quadrata 

Another sophisticated series of scripts, which have consistently angled baseline ter- 
minations (figure 47c). The letter i, for example, is made in three movements. That 
i shape is repeated as part of so many letters that it results in the "picket fence" effect 
so characteristic of Gothic scripts. 

Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century versions of this script became extremely diffi- 
cult to read because they are even more compressed, and the baseline terminations are 
invariably made with elaborate, overlapping lozenge-shaped strokes. 

Gothic Rotunda 

In Spain and Italy, rigidly angular Gothic scripts were largely avoided. Instead, a book 
script evolved in the thirteenth century (continuing in places until the i8th century) 
which was truly Gothic, but was more rounded. Gothic Rotunda (figure 470) was 
widely used for liturgical texts, ranging from tiny, personal Books of Hours to enor- 
mous ceremonial manuscripts (often with musical notation). 

This script has the texture and heavy appearance of the northern Gothics, but it 
maintains the roundness of the Carolingian minuscule. The letters D and h take Un- 
cial form. Both forms of r and s are used (round s is reserved for word endings). The 
unusual form of g is unique to Gothic Rotunda. Like all Gothic scripts, Rotunda is 
written with a slanted pen angle, the square baseline terminations being completed 
with a comer of the pen. 

Gothic Batarde 

The Gothic period saw a revival of true cursive scripts, introduced first in England at 
the end of the twelfth century. Many of these scripts incorporate impressive calli- 
graphic flourishes and other decorative features. The Secretary script, as its name im- 
plies, was primarily used for correspondence and other informal documents 
(figure 47e). This script has an angular, pointed look with mannered pen flourishes 
and a swelling applied to certain ascending letters (especially f and long s). From the 
end of the thirteenth century, cursives were accepted for use as book scripts, especial- 
ly those intended for universities. 

Later in the Gothic period, a number of mixed scripts appeared, combining ele- 
ments of cursive and book scripts, e.g. Bastard Secretary (see M. Brown 1990: io8f.). 

The formalized book script evolving from Secretary, Gothic Batarde, is particu- 
larly associated with the Court at Burgundy in northern France (figure 47f). It re- 
tains many of the vanities and peculiar letterforms of the Secretary Script (e.g. r and 
short s), while having the formality and texture of other Gothic book scripts. 


Humanist scripts 

Humanist scholars at the beginning of the fifteenth century began a reformation of 
scripts, in a conscious effort to improve legibihty and elegance in book design. That 
Humanist approach was deliberately opposed to the prevailing Gothic style of north- 
ern Europe. 

Humanist Minuscule 

Poggio Bracciolini of Florence has been credited with the revival, in 1402-1403, of 
Carolingian Minuscule based on twelfth-century Italian models. Undoubtedly he 
worked in collaboration with other scholars (see Ullman 1932: 140-43, Aris 1990: 
21, Knight 1984: F3). 

Humanist Minuscule is usually written small, with lengthened ascenders and de- 
scenders (figure 48A). Carolingian characteristics are retained — Uncial h, long s, 
and ct and st ligatures. Later Humanist Minuscule includes short s at word endings. 

Humanist Cursive 

A quickly written form of Humanist Minuscule was devised by Niccolo Niccoli, ca. 
1420. This new book script, which we now refer to as Italic, has a more cursive aspect 
than the minuscule — a forward slant, and some letter joins (figure 48B). 

Humanist Italic 

Formal versions of this Cursive script were developed by Papal Chancery scribes, Hke 
Ludovico degli Arrighi (figure 48c). The names they gave to these scripts varied 

fpirttxialcm cr cot:txn*alciT> mibt 4r 

A. British Library, Yates Thompson Ms.7. Ca. 1515. 

B. British Library, Add. Ms.21 1 15. Late 15th century. 

nmm tU(ftct0 cfi((cre^uijumefi, ort^tvjt 

c. British Library, Royal Ms. i2.C.viii. Ca. 1517. 
FIGURE 48. Humanist scripts, a. Humanist Minuscule. B. Humanist Cursive, c. Humanist Italic. 


from scribe to scribe. The writing master Bernardino Cantaneo distinguished two ma- 
jor types: Cancellaresca Formata, with rounded arches on m and n and serifed as- 
cenders; and Cancellaresca Corsiva, with narrower, pointed arches and hooked 

Cursive writing from the sixteenth century 

Humanist Cursive, following the cancellaresca style of the writing masters such as 
Arrighi, was the handwriting of choice for Europe's intelligentsia and nobihty in the 
sixteenth century. CeUini, Raphael, the left-handed Michelangelo, even Queen Eliza- 
beth I (figure 49a) all wrote in the "Italian" manner. 

The Secretary Hand, a cursive Hghtweight Gothic script, evolved in England dur- 
ing the first half of the sixteenth century and endured for business use for more than 
a century. A variety of Gothic cursive first seen in the sixteenth century, Kurrent- 
schrift, was taught in Germany and Austria as everyday handwriting until the end of 
World War II (section 63). In France the Ronde style was introduced ca. 1650, re- 
taining a few Gothic letterforms, and it survived in certain places in France to the late 
twentieth century. 

G. F. Cresci, in his manual of 1570, introduced a rather mannered version of can- 
cellaresca. It was rounder, with greater slope, looser texture, and "blobbed" ascend- 
ers. Varieties of this "Italian Round Hand" were popular in the seventeenth century in 
the American Colonies and many European countries. 

The pointed pen 

The evolution of copperplate printing for book illustrations led to the use of a flexible, 
pointed pen (rather than the edged pen) to produce strongly contrasted thick and thin 
strokes (figure 49B). John Ayres' Writing Book, pubHshed in England in 1680, il- 
lustrated the new Copperplate style with its looping flourishes and ligatures, and its 
rather over-ornate capitals. 

Early American manuals, like that of Benjamin Franklin (1748), relied heavily on 
imported European models. It was not until one hundred years later that the uniquely 
American Spencerian style emerged. R R. Spencer developed, as a "Commercial Cur- 
sive," a monoline copperplate hand with occasional, almost random, use of thick 
strokes. Numerous attempts to simplify the Spencerian approach followed 
(figure 49c). The two most pubUcized, by C. R Zaner (1895) and Austin Palmer 
(1901), retained their influence and popularity in USA school systems throughout the 
twentieth century. Their only competitor was Manuscript, recommended in 1924 by 
Marjorie Wise, a skeletal Roman form taught to young children as unjoined letters 
(figure 49d). 


mflrmk tfic notjufpllmt ofyourpromn ttfteje 

A. Letter written by Queen Elizabeth I of England when a young girl. 1548. 

£mt'9i'e//A/eajd/vyo'j^m)r?fia^ice MiJrlUl^ 

B. George Shelley, from Penmanship in Its Utmost Beauty. London, 173 1. 

c. H. W. Ellsworth, from The Penman's Art Journal. New York, 1907. 

\N\f\\ouf QsVm^, Hither hurried when 

D. Marjorie Wise, from On the Technique of Manuscript Writing. New York, 1924. 

FIGURE 49. Cursive writing from the sixteenth century, a. Cancellaresca. b. Copperplate, 
c. Commercial cursive, d. Manuscript. 

In England in the early twentieth century, simplified Copperplate models, like 
that of Vere Foster, were the most common in educational use, though a type of Manu- 
script or Printscript superseded them. 

Italic revival 

A return to cancellaresca was pioneered by Alfred Fairbank with his Handwriting 
Manual (1932). This italic revival has gained ground in many British schools and has 
spread to certain parts of Europe, the British Commonwealth, and the USA. Along 
with an EngHsh Carolingian Minuscule favored by the British pioneer, Edward 
Johnston ( 1 872-1 944), cancellaresca underlies the craft of calligraphy that has won 
increasing popularity through the twentieth century. 

The printed word 

The invention of printing by movable metal type in the fifteenth century was, eventu- 
ally, to bring to an end the very long tradition of copying books by hand. Significantly, 
the early printers relied heavily on the methods, mise-en-page, and letterforms of cal- 
ligraphy they knew. Some scribes became involved in the new technology by hand- 
lettering initials in printed books, and even by designing typefaces. 



Johann Gutenberg's experiments with movable type in Mainz, as early as 1436, led 
the way in the development of a practical method for making books by means of 
printing. His first printed work, the so-called 42-line Bible (ca. 1456), uses the format, 
style, and late Gothic Quadrata script of contemporary German manuscripts 
(figure 50A). He followed the caUigraphic practice of abbreviations, hgatures, and 
even biting. Marginal initials and other letters were written in by hand (usually in red, 
hence rubricated). 

Johann Fust and his son-in-law Peter Schoffer, a French caUigrapher, using 
Gutenberg's machinery (and perhaps his types), produced one of the most beautifully 
printed books of all time, the Mainz Psalter of 1457 (figure 50B). It incorporates a 
magnificent Gothic Quadrata typeface, large two-color initials, and small capitals ru- 
bricated by hand. Some of the copies were actually printed on vellum. 

The invasion of the city of Mainz in 1462, causing the dispersion of printers, 
among others, hastened the spread of printing to other cities in Europe, most signifi- 
cantly to Venice. 

The typeface used in the first printing in England, by WiUiam Caxton (dated 13 
December 1476), was based on the popular Gothic Batarde script. 


As in Germany, the first printers in Venice looked to contemporary scribal manu- 
scripts for their models. Thus Humanist Minuscule (ultimately derived from the an- 
cient CaroHngian Minuscule) provided the inspiration for the first Italian typefaces, 
and the mise-en-page reflected the airiness and elegance of Humanist manuscripts. 
Capitals were based on calligraphic examples of classical Roman Square Capital 

Nicolas Jenson, a Frenchman who moved to Venice (probably via Mainz), pro- 
duced the first Roman type for his Eusebius of 1470 (figure 50c). 

Three years later, Aldus Manutius established himself as a printer in Venice. He 
refined Jenson's approach and improved the presswork, using lighter inking. He col- 
laborated with Francesco Griffo, a scribe and punchcutter, who designed type with 
capitals slightly shorter than the ascenders (as in calligraphy) to produce a better bal- 
anced page of text. This Venetian "white page" typography set the pattern which is 
followed to this day. 

Griffo also designed a Chancery Italic type, based on his own writing. It was first 
used in an edition of Virgil's Opera, printed by Aldus in 150 1 (figure 50D). The ital- 
ic was not used just for emphasis, as today. It was designed to condense the text and 
make books a more convenient size to handle. Other scribes, most notably Ludovico 
degli Arrighi, also designed italic typefaces. 


tmdt m^aixx^Jhi t^atof (xmEtatE 

A. Gutenberg, 42-line Bible. Ca. 1456. 


B. Schoffer & Fust, Mainz Psalter. 1457. 

Quare multarum quoqj gentium p 

c. Jenson, Eusebius. 1470. 

D. Manutius and Griffo, Virgil. 1 50 1 . 

FIGURE 50. Historical type specimens, a, b. Early types from Mainz, c. The first Roman type. 

D. The first Italic type. 


During the second quarter of the sixteenth century, the leadership in typography 
passed to France. The new Roman type was primarily the work of the typefounder 
Claude Garamond. It was still Venetian in character, but more refined and less man- 
nered. The fitting of the letters was much smoother. The typeface was conceived as a 
harmonious family of capitals, lowercase, and italics. The italics were intended not as 
a separate book face, but to be used within the text for emphasis and contrast. 

Modem versions of the Garamond style often mistakenly follow the later types 
of Jean Jannon. The most "authentic" modem revival is the Adobe Garamond of 1989 
(figure 5 1 a), based on an original Garamond specimen sheet of 1492. The Adobe 
italics, also derived from the 1492 sheet, were originally designed by Robert Granjon, 
a colleague of Garamond. 


An Englishman, William Caslon, much improved on the imported Dutch types of the 
time. His first specimen sheet of 1734 showed Roman letters with more personality 
than previously (figure 51B). His italic, supplied with many Baroque flourishes and 
swash capitals, was more dependent on pointed than edged pen calligraphy. It has an 
especially flamboyant &. It is noteworthy that the first printings of the American Dec- 
laration of Independence and the United States Constitution used Caslon' s type. 



John Baskerville, another energetic Englishman, designed a lighter, more elegant Ro- 
man typeface, used first for the printing of Virgil's Georgicon in 1757 (figure 51c). 
His background as a writing teacher shows especially in his italics. To be able to print 
it properly he had to devise machinei^, new ink, and even a smoother paper. 

Baskerville typefaces are usually "idescribed as Transitional — moving away from 
the sixteenth-century Old Style of Garamond (with diagonal accent, heavy thin 
strokes, and angled serifs), toward the late eighteenth century Modem of Didot and 
Bodoni (with vertical accent, hairline thin strokes, and horizontal serifs). 


Radically different Roman typestyles emerged in France in the mid eighteenth cen- 
tury from the typefoundries of Fournier and Didot. These were copid^d and refined by 
Giambattista Bodoni of Parma, Italy (figure 5 id). His typefaces were dark in color 
yet razor- sharp, requiring very smooth paper like that of Baskerville. They were char- 
acterized by a strong thick-and-thin contrast, flat hairline serifs, and a horizontal ac- 
cent (i.e. the thickest parts of the O occur at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock). 

The nineteenth century 

Typography was greatly influenced in the nineteenth century by commercial advertis- 
ing's demand for large, bold letters. (The first sans serif letters in type were produced 
by the William Caslon Company in 18 16.) Three typical styles emerged: Egyptians, 
with slab or slab-bracketed serifs (e.g. Clarendon, Rockwell, and Playbill; 
figure 5 IE); Omates and Fat Faces (e.g. Thorowgood Italic, Ultra Bodoni, and nu- 
merous decorative capitals); and "Gothics," heavy sans serif letters (e.g. Franklin 
Gothic and Grotesque 216). 

The twentieth century 

Roman type in the twentieth century has evolved in two ways: First, in the search for 
"authentic" versions of classic typefaces like Bruce Rogers's Centaur (Monotype, 
1929), a Jenson revival (figure 5 if); Slimbach's Garamond (Adobe, 1989); Louis 
Hoell's Bodoni (Bauer, 1924); and Adrian Frutiger's Univers (Debemy and Peignot, 
i957)» a harmonized family of "Gothic" sans serif typefaces. Second, in innovation, 
for example like Paul Renner's Futura (Bauer, 1928), a sans serif based on geometric 
shapes; and Eric Gill's Gill Sans (Monotype, 1928), a sans serif following the propor- 
tions of Roman capitals. There are also unusual serif faces like Gill's epigraphic Per- 
petua (Monotype, 1929); Hermann Zapf's Melior (Stempel, 1952), with its 


abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz & 


A. Adobe Garamond, Robert Slimbach. 1989. 


abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz ^ 

B. Adobe Caslon, Carol Twombly. 1990. 


abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz & 

c. Monotype Baskerville. 1923. 


abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz & 


D. Bauer Bodoni, Louis Hoell. 1924. 


E. Stephenson Blake Playbill. 1938. 


abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz & 

F. Monotype Centaur, Bruce Rogers. 1929. 


G. Linotype Optima, Hermann Zapf. 1958. 

FIGURE 5 1 . Contemporary versions of traditional and modern typefaces. 


extraordinary elliptical shape; and Zapf s Optima (Stempel, 1958), a serifless Roman 
(FIGURE 5 1 g). 

Fundamentally, little has changed. The capital letters we use still follow the Clas- 
sical Roman forms of 2000 years ago, and our lowercase letters depend heavily on the 
ninth-century Carolingian Minuscule from France. 



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WRITING SYSTEMS ^^^^^^„r'^>^ 

William Bright