"Born to Please":

The Art of Handwriting Instruction

Introduction | Early Modern Handwriting Manuals | The Eighteenth Century | The Spencerian and Palmer Methods | The Early Twentieth Century | Variants and Unique Examples | New Office Skills, or, Post-Handwriting

Early Modern Handwriting Manuals

A handwriting master at work

A Handwriting Master at Work.
– From a print in a 1549 Italian handwriting copybook by Urban Wyss. Note the arrangement of writing tools on the tables in his studio.

Vespasiano Amphiareo, de Ferrara, frate, 1500 or 1501-1563.
Des Schreibbuch des Vespasiano Amphiareo.
Venegia: 1554.
Reprint: Jan Tschichold, ed. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Dr. Cantz’sche Druckerei, 1975. 
1 of 250 copies.
– More than 19 editions of this work by a Venetian writing master were issued between 1548 and 1620. The work, his only printed book, is a masterful exploration of Cancellaresca, or Chancery hand, used in Early Modern Italy, and first perfected by Ludovico Arrighi earlier in the century. The widespread adoption of copperplate engraving in the sixteenth century allowed elaborate depictions of writing hands and the reproduction of early manuscript examples in printed books.


Pierre le Bé, fl. 1601.
Béle Prérie où chacun peut voir les lettres Tant Romaine que de Forme En leur fleur et perfection. Avec leur vraye proporçion. Reduites au pied du Compas.
Paris: 1601.
Reprint: Jan Tschichold, ed. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Dr. Cantz’sche Druckerei, 1974. 
1 of 250 copies.
– le Bé was a writing master from a well-known family involved in cutting letters for the burgeoning printing industry. He published this manual of letterforms in 1601; its title is an anagram of his own name. The book contains four complete alphabets, all superimposed upon a background grid to properly illustrate their correct proportions. le Bé himself made all the engravings for this work, including the ornaments and borders. 


Andrés Brun, b. 1552?
Andres Brun, Calligrapher of Saragossa: Some Account of His Life and Work, by Henry Thomas and Stanley Morison, With A Facsimile in Collotype of the Surviving Text and Plates of his Two Writings Books, 1583 & 1612.
Paris: Pegasus Press, 1929. 
Copy 136 of 175.
–  Like many Early Modern writing masters, Andrés Brun, in Spain, had some level of involvement in the printing and engraving trades. Because they were engraved on copper, the print runs of books of letterforms that masters such as Brun produced (known as copybooks) were very small. First printed in an edition of likely no more than 300 copies, the 1616 text reproduced here in an early twentieth century facsimile is taken from the only known surviving copy.

Next Page: The Eighteenth Century



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