Category Archives: Typography

Universal Penman variations

“…hmmm. First edition, second issue…Second edition, first issue…”

George Bickham the Elder (1684-1758), The Universal Penman, or, The Art of Writing Made Useful to the Gentleman and Scholar, As Well As the Man of Business (London: Printed by and sold for the Author, 1741). Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2020- in process



A classic text in the history of writing and printing, the engraved copybook The Universal Penman by George Bickham the Elder is a must for any serious rare book collection. According to most sources, Bickham began collecting samples of English penmanship in 1733 from 25 London writing masters. A master engraver by trade, he then transferred the ink calligraphy to engraved copper plates and issued them in 52 parts between 1733 and 1741. The popular collection was reprinted and reissued continually, most recently by Gale in 2018.

Is there a definitive first edition?

Princeton University Library now holds three early collections of Bickham’s parts. Our most recent is complete with an engraved frontispiece by Hubert-François Bourguignon, commonly known as Gravelot (1699–1773), two engraved title pages, and 212 engraved plates of calligraphy. The table of contents matches one other volume but not the front matter, while the pages match a second volume but not the index. This post is not a solution but only the question, whether one set of parts is more correct than another.

Kim Sloan writes for the Dictionary of National Biography:

Bickham, George (1683/4–1758), engraver and writing-master, was born in London; he was said to have been seventy-four when he died in 1758. …Bickham was apprenticed to the writing-master and engraver John Sturt and quickly gained a good reputation among writing-masters as an engraver of calligraphy. Joseph Champion claimed Bickham surpassed his master by being the first to cut through wax on copper without tracing the design first, thus transmitting the master’s original more faithfully. …In his first surviving trade card, of 1705, Bickham advertised himself as a copperplate-engraver and teacher of drawing at Hoop Alley in Old Street, London.

…In 1723, while living in the parish of St Leonard, Shoreditch, in London, he was declared insolvent and imprisoned. Three years later he designed and engraved several plates in Thomas Weston’s Writing, drawing and ancient arithmetick for the use of the young gentlemen at the academy at Greenwich, a school at which his son George later taught drawing. Several combination drawing and writing copybooks were published by George Bickham in the 1720s and early 1730s, and it is impossible to say for certain whether father, son, or both were responsible for them, since by this date both taught drawing and both were skilled engravers.

Often—as in the case of The Drawing and Writing Tutor—the first edition is undated and later editions contain additional plates clearly engraved by the son. However, the invention of plates which cleverly combined simple drawing examples with calligraphic text can undoubtedly be attributed to the father.

In the 1730s the elder Bickham seems to have settled fairly permanently in the Clerkenwell district of London, where his Penmanship in its Utmost Beauty and Extent (1731) was sold from his premises in Warner Street. Two years later he embarked on his most important contribution to British engraving, The Universal Penman, a joint work with his son and John Bickham (fl. 1730–1750), his son or brother, which was sold from his house in James Street, Bunhill Fields. Issued in fifty-two parts from 1733 to 1741, it was the culmination of his work as an engraver of calligraphy: it contained examples by twenty-five contemporary writing-masters on 212 folio copperplates, many embellished with decorations engraved by his son, as the elder Bickham firmly believed that drawing was a necessary qualification for the man of business.

Or woman of business


“By the Arts of Reading and Writing we can sit at Home and acquaint our selves with what is done in all the distant Parts of the World, & find what our Fathers did long ago in the first Ages of Mankind.”



Tupigrafia. The history of typography in Brazil and elsewhere.

Tupigrafia (SP [i.e. São Paulo]: Editora Bookmakers, 2000- ). Graphic Arts Collection 2020- in process


Tupigrafia é uma revista editada desde 2000 que funciona como catalisadora do processo de recuperação da história da tipografia no Brasil, e também como estimulante na perda de pudor tipográfico, por desconhecimento de causa. A riqueza da cultura visual brasileira que gerou e continua gerando projetos tipográficos é enorme, deixando claro que existe muita coisa para ser vista e lida abaixo do Equador. Estamos vivendo a história e, portanto, fazendo História..!

Tupigrafia is a magazine published since 2000 that acts as a catalyst for the process of recovering the history of typography in Brazil, and also as a stimulant in the loss of typographic modesty, due to the lack of cause. The richness of the Brazilian visual culture that has generated and continues to generate typographic projects is enormous, making it clear that there is much to be seen and read below Ecuador. We are living history and, therefore, making History ..!


A produção tipográfica e caligráfica brasileira – e suas manifestações no design gráfico – são temas centrais da publicação, complementados por artigos ligados ao cenário tipográfico internacional.

Brazilian typographic and calligraphic production—and its manifestations in graphic design—are central themes of the publication, complemented by articles related to the international typographic scene.

Tupigrafia é referência em design editorial no Brasil e no exterior, por seu projeto inovador. Seus editores tem participado de eventos internacionais de tipografia desde 2005, como ATypI, Typecon, TypoBerlin e Biblioteca St. Bride. A revista foi exposta na Brazil Contemporary, do Museu de Fotografia de Roterdã, Holanda; na Magazine Library, em Tóquio e na exposição Design Brasileiro Hoje – Fronteiras no MAM, em São Paulo. Apareceu também nas páginas da revista alemã Novum, edição 08/2012.

Tupigrafia is a reference in editorial design in Brazil and abroad, for its innovative project. Its editors have participated in international typography events since 2005, such as ATypI, Typecon, TypoBerlin and St. Bride Library. The magazine was exhibited at Brazil Contemporary, of the Photography Museum of Rotterdam, Holland; at the Magazine Library, in Tokyo and at the exhibition Design Brasileiro Hoje – Fronteiras at MAM, in São Paulo. It also appeared on the pages of the German magazine Novum, issue 08/2012.


Tupigrafia is edited by Claudio Rocha and Tony de Marco. Both act as editors, diagrammers, art directors, type designers, graphic producers and distributors. Tupigrafia is published by OTSP – Oficina Tipográfica São Paulo, an NGO created to preserve graphic culture in Brazil, directed by Claudio Rocha and Marcos Mello.


The First Alphabet

Premiering this Wednesday is a documentary on the history of writing that experts have been working on for sixteen years; twelve years to puzzle out a story and four to film and edit. The first of three episodes will be airing on NOVA/PBS Wednesday, 23 September 2020, 9:00 pm EST.

“Where would we be without the world’s alphabets? Writing has played a vital role in the expansion and domination of cultures throughout history. But researchers are only now uncovering the origin story to our own alphabet, which may have gotten its beginnings in a turquoise mine 4,000 years ago. From the shape of the letter A to the role of writing in trade and storytelling, discover how the written word shaped civilization itself.”

The second episode will air Wednesday, 30 September 2020, 9:00pm EST and the third will go online afterwards.

“Just as writing changed the course of human history, the evolution of paper and printing revolutionized the spread of information. The printing press kicked off the Industrial Revolution that fast-tracked us to the current digital age. But as the 4,000-year-old tradition of penmanship falls out of favor, should we consider what might be lost in this pursuit of ever more efficient communication?”

“NOVA brings you stories from the frontlines of science and engineering, answering the big questions of today and tomorrow, from how our ancestors lived, to whether parallel universes exist, to how technology will transform our lives. Visit the official website to watch full-length documentaries, or explore our world through short-form video, on our digital publication NOVA Next.”

The Case of Lewis H. Douglass

The National Typographical Union was founded in 1852 and renamed the International Typographical Union (ITU) in 1869, the same year the first female printers were accepted as members.

Also in 1869, Lewis Henry Douglass (1840-1908), the oldest son of Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), joined the Government Printing Office in Washington D.C., as the government’s first African American typesetter. In keeping with current standards for professional workers, he sent in his application to join the local branch of the ITU. This was the beginning of a protracted battle with union members arguing about whether a “colored printer” should be allowed to join their union.

When it looked as though the Columbia chapter (Washington, D.C.) was going to accept Douglass’s application, a special national committee was appointed to study the “Negro question.” Only a few years after the Civil War, the topic was deemed too sensitive to resolve immediately and they left admittance of colored printers “to the discretion of Subordinate Unions.”

May 16, 1869, the question was finally raised at a meeting of the Washington D.C. chapter, the largest meeting ever convened, and there was massive confusion, both local and national disagreement voiced, proposals and then, counter proposals. Finally, the Union proceeded to vote on all the other candidates proposed for admission, leaving Douglass for last but just before that last name was proposed, a motion to adjourn was made and the meeting was over.

“It is said that Lewis H. Douglass, colored printer, was yesterday transferred from the case to a position as copy holder in the Government Printing Office. This action would seem to take the question of the admission of colored members to the Typographical union out of the control of such organizations, as copy holders are not required to be members of such Unions. But the issue having been raised, it will probably be pressed to a decision.”—Philadelphia Inquirer June 2, 1869

“The Negro Question and the Printers–The Case of Lewis H. Douglass” The Baltimore Sun, May 17 1869


Many letters were written to the President of the International Typographical Union, Douglass was called a ‘rat,’ someone who works outside the union, especially for lower wages. While still a teenager, he had apprenticed in Rochester, New York, as a typesetter for his father’s newspaper The North Star and after the Civil War, Lewis and his brother, Frederick Douglass, Jr. went to Denver where Henry O. Wagoner taught them all aspect of printing. Douglass never applied for union membership at either location and this was used against him, claiming he was trying to subvert the newly formed union.

“…acting in the interest of the minority, without any instructions from the Union—without the knowledge, advice, or consent of its membership—[someone] introduced a resolution, which was adopted by that body, censuring the Congressional Printer for employing L. H. Douglass, ‘an avowed rat’ calling upon Columbia Union to reject his application, and pledging the support of the National Union in such action.”

The Washington chapter wrote to leadership, calling this action “unjust, absurd, and unparalleled,”

The minority group that was against Black members threatened to eradicate the Columbia chapter and in response, the majority group that supported Douglass threatened to withdraw entirely, writing “If [the Union votes against Douglass] we shall … withdraw from the National Union and to organize a new National Typographical Society, which shall be founded on the principles of justice to all men, regardless of race or color.”

“That there are deep-seated prejudices against the colored race no one will deny; and these prejudices are so strong in many local unions that any attempt to disregard or override them will almost inevitably lead to anarchy and disintegration . . . and surely no one who has the welfare of the craft at heart will seriously contend that the union to thousands of white printers should be destroyed for the purpose of granting a barren honor of membership to a few Negroes.”–Printers’ Circular reprinted in Proceedings of the International Typographical Union of 1870 (Philadelphia, 1870), p. 140.

Two years went by and Douglass was still neither admitted to membership nor rejected. By this time, several other Black compositors had applied for union membership along with Douglass, including his brother Frederick Douglass Jr., William A. LaVelette, and Keith Smith. Eventually LaVelette withdrew his application. Keith Smith was admitted to the union in 1872(?), and Lewis Douglass is said to have been satisfied with another situation. No record of a vote on either Douglass men can be found. Lewis Douglass went on to help establish and publish The New National Era, a weekly newspaper aimed at Washington’s African American community.


Read more: Philip S. Foner and Ronald L. Lewis, editors. The Black Worker, Volume 1: The Black Worker to 1896. Temple University Press, 1978. JSTOR, Accessed 17 July 2020.

See also:

In the Library Frederick Douglass Family Materials from the Walter O. Evans Collection April 22 – June 14, 2019 (National Gallery of Art, 2019)

African American Faces of the Civil War: An Album edited by Ronald S. Coddington (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).

Typography playing cards

Back in 2018, the Canadian designer Ben Barrett-Forrest ran a successful kickstarter campaign to produce The Font Deck, playing cards packed with information about typography so you can practice identifying fonts while playing solitaire. 720 backers pledged $ 26,626 to help bring this project to life. Can’t go to rare book school? Get out the cards and start shuffling.

Thanks to a recent donor, the Graphic Arts Collection has a Font Deck ready, whenever the students return. Each of the 52 faces contains a mini-lesson, complete with a beautiful visual example. Old-timers will also enjoy the history, quotations, and other type minutia among the diamonds and clubs.


Barrett-Forrest is also the author of this history of typography video:




When we were offered a copy of Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz’s 1663 book on metametrica, with a series of engraved plates that could be described as visual poetry, it was a happy surprise to find it already in our vault. Historians have labeled the plates anagrams, pattern poems, echo poems, and rebuses while Caramuel called his work “labyrinths, hexagonus, and retrogrades”. No matter the tag, he was obviously having fun with Latin and letters (although our colleagues fluent in Chinese are unimpressed with his attempt at Eastern metametrics).


Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz (1606-1682) was a Cistercian priest and a prominent figure in the Spanish Golden Age. One biographer notes:

He was a precocious child, early delving into serious problems in mathematics and even publishing astronomical tables in his tenth year. After receiving a superficial education at college, where his unusual ability brought rapid advancement, this prodigy turned his attention to the Asiatic languages, especially Chinese. …His books are even more numerous than his titles and his varied achievements; for, according to Paquot, he published no less than 262 works on grammar, poetry, oratory, mathematics, astronomy, physics, politics, canon law, logic, metaphysics, theology and asceticism. –L. O’Neil, L. (1908). Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 30, 2020 from New Advent:

The complete volume can be downloaded here:

Juan Caramuel Lobkowitz (1606-1682), Ioannis Caramuelis Primus calamus ob oculos ponens metametricam : quae varijs currentium, recurrentium, adscendentium, descendentium, nec-non circumvolantium versuum ductibus, aut aeri incisos, aut buxo insculptos, aut plumbo infusos, multiformes labyrinthos exornat (Romae: Fabius Falconius excudebat, anno 1663). Rare Books Oversize PA8485.C374 P74 1663q.

Read: Dick Higgins Pattern poetry: guide to an unknown literature / Dick Higgins; with appendices by Herbert Francke … on Chinese pattern poetry, and a comparative study by Kalānāth Jhā … on the Citrakāvyas of Sanskrit and the Prākrits (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987. PN1455 .H54 1987

Jed Rasula, Steve McCaffery, Imagining Language: an Anthology (MIT Press, 2001). P120.I53 I46 1998



See also Library of Congress post by Nathan Dorn



Madeline Gins, speculative fiction

Madeline Gins (1941-2014) was an American poet, writer and philosopher. She grew up in Island Park, NY, and graduated from Barnard College in 1962 where she studied physics and philosophy. While studying painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School in 1962, Gins met Arakawa and she would become one of the primary interpreters of Arakawa’s work.

Gins published three books: the experimental novel Word Rain (or a Discursive Introduction to the Intimate Philosophical Investigations of G,R,E,T,A, G,A,R,B,O, It Says) (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1969); What The President Will Say and Do!! (New York: Station Hill, 1984), an excursion into identity, language and free speech using the devices of political rhetoric; and Helen Keller or Arakawa (Santa Fe: Burning Books with East/West Cultural Studies, 1994), an art-historical novel that took on a form of speculative fiction.

With Arakawa, Gins developed the philosophy of ‘procedural architecture’ to further its impact on human lives. These ideas were explored through three books that she co-authored with Arakawa: Pour ne Pas Mourir/To Not to Die (Éditions de la Différence, Paris 1987); Architectural Body (University of Alabama Press, 2002); and Making Dying Illegal – Architecture Against Death: Original to the 21st Century (Roof Books, New York, 2006). …Gins also completed the manuscript for Alive Forever and the illustrated version of her poem Krebs Cycle.–

Word rain; or, A discursive introduction to the intimate philosophical investigations of G,r,e,t,a, G,a,r,b,o, it says. New York, Grossman Publishers, 1969. Firestone Library » PS3557.I5 W6 1969; Rare Books Off-Site Storage » RECAP-94763388

For example (a critique of never) = Par esempio (una critica del mai): a melodrama / by Madeline Gins and Arakawa (from The mechanism of meaning). [Place of publication not identified]: A. Castelli, [1974?]. Rare Books Off-Site Storage » RECAP-94765342

The mechanism of meaning: work in progress (1963-1971, 1978) based on the method of Arakawa / Arakawa and Madeline H. Gins; [editor, Ellen Schwartz]. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1979. N7359.A7 G56; Rare Books Off-Site Storage » RECAP-97151300

What the president will say and do!! / Madeline Gins. Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill, c1984. Rare Books Off-Site Storage » RECAP-33922780

To not to die / Arakawa, Madeline Gins = Shinanai tame ni / Arakawa Shūsaku, Madorin Ginzu; Miura Masashi yaku. Tōkyō: Riburo Pōto, 1988. PS3557.I5 T66 1988

Helen Keller or Arakawa / Madeline Gins. Santa Fe, N.M.: Burning Books; New York: East-West Cultural Studies: D.A.P., distributor, c1994. PS3557.I5 H44 1994; Rare Books Off-Site Storage » RECAP-94763370

Reversible destiny: Arakawa/Gins / [organized by Michael Govan]. New York: Guggenheim Museum: Distributed by H.N. Abrams, c1997. Marquand Library » Oversize N7359.A7 G562 1997q

Architectural body / Madeline Gins and Arakawa. Tuscaloosa, Ala.; London: University of Alabama Press, c2002. Architecture Library » NA2500 .G455 2002. Marquand Library » NA2500 .G455 2002

Making dying illegal: architecture against death: original to the 21st century / Arakawa and Madeline Gins; introduction by Jean-Jacques Lecercle. New York: Roof Books, 2006. HQ1073 .A73 2006g

Touarick alphabet and drawings

James Richardson, Touarick Alphabet, with the Corresponding Arabic and English Letters. First edition (London: T.R. Harrison, 1847). Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2019- in process

Dealer’s note: “This rare pamphlet is prefaced with a note from Richardson to John Bidwell at the Foreign Office. “I think I may say without hesitation, that the enclosed Alphabet is the most remarkable, as well as the most interesting contribution to the Science of Philology which has been brought into Europe during the present year.”

It commences with the Toureg alphabet in column form alongside that of English and Arabic. Richardson states that this alphabet, and how it corresponds to the other two languages, was dictated to him by a Toureg. This is accompanied by Richardson’s observations on the pronunciation of the language and some of its irregularities, and completed with lithographed “Specimens of Touarick Character.”

Richardson was born in Lincolnshire. He trained as a missionary and set out for North Africa in 1845. He travelled “openly as a European and a Christian, and headed southwest to Ghadames, where he remained for three months. He then went on to Ghat, where he concentrated on establishing friendly relations with the inhabitants.

He styled himself ‘Consul for the English’, met Sheikh Hatita who had helped Lyon, Clapperton and Laing, and was given presents to take back to Queen Victoria. He also collected much valuable information about Timbuktu, but was warned against undertaking the journey himself. Richardson returned to Tripoli with a caravan of slaves, having spent nearly nine months in the interior, then took a ship for London, arriving in 1846. (Howgego).

Homer’s “Odyssey” and Owen’s “Sing to Me”

We hosted a visit this week from Professor Reeves’s class “The Classical Roots of Western Literature,” which focuses on the classics of the Western literary tradition from Antiquity through the medieval period, including Apollonius of Rhodes’s Jason and the Argonauts, Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, Dante’s Inferno and others.  This week they read The Odyssey and so, we focused on the calligraphic work of Jan Owen’s “Sing to Me” with text by Homer.

The group had so many questions about the work, donated to the Graphic Arts Collection by Lynne Fagles, that an email was sent directly to the artist. The wonderful Ms. Owen replied immediately with an explanation of how the work came about and the inspiration for her interest in calligraphy. Here are a few of her words.

In 1997, I was invited to participate in Perspectives, the Art of the Book at the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, ME. That fall, I got a call from Lynne Fagles who said her husband had seen and liked my work and would I do a piece with words from his new translation as a Christmas present. I had read excerpts of The Odyssey in high school so began to read. I asked her to help me select text and she sent some of his favorite passages, which I marked and posted in my copy of the book. She had also asked that Greek text be included and this was before everything could be found on the web. Fortunately a local theological school had a copy of The Odyssey in Greek.

Several years before the Portland show, I’d wanted to work large on paper but not have to frame under glass. I experimented with hanging accordion fold books and liked the relief of the form. After doing several, they seemed to look ‘old’ and I began weaving in strips of gold painted paper, now Tyvek, to give texture to the surface and to be like a new communication code. The little basketmaker’s twist gives the strips dimension but can still fold flat. The weaving was also a fitting reference for The Odyssey. The ink changes color to give more variety—and to try to keep doing something a computer can’t do. Robert Fagles gave me permission to use the translation and I’ve included passages in several pieces [in addition to Sing to Me].

Corrado Govoni, with and without teeth

Carrado Govoni’s “Diver” (La Palombaro) first appeared in the February 11, 1915 issue of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Parole consonanti vocali numeri in libertà. Then on March 27, 1915, the Futurist journal Lacerba published Govoni’s self-portrait, drawn with visual poetry.

Not long after this, Govoni’s book Rarefazioni e parole in libertà was published by the Marinetti’s Milan imprint Edizioni futuriste di “Poesia.” (SAX PQ4817.O8 Z4852 1915q), which included both Govoni’s Driver and his Self-portrait but this time, with slight variations in each. Why are they different? Did he decide not to have teeth for a reason? Which versions are the final, definitive work?

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) began the entrepreneurship [Parole] as “a disinterested love of art which was combined with his wish to address the need for an alternative space that could sustain the talents he wished to launch into the marketplace of art and literature: the painters Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Gino Severini, Ardengo Soffici, Fortunato Depero, Enrico Prampolini, as well as the writers Aldo Palazzeschi, Corrado Govoni, Paolo Buzzi, Luciano Folgore, Francesco Cangiullo, and many others.

The “Futurist Editions of Poesia” were perhaps the most important embodiment of Marinetti’s desire to create an alternative cultural space, becoming an experimental laboratory in the true sense of the term, where the canons of a new writing, the “words-in-freedom,” were successively elaborated and consecrated for the first time …’We reserve the ‘Futurist Editions of Poesia’ for those works that are absolutely Futurist in their violence and intellectual extremism and that cannot be published by others because of their typographical difficulties.—Claudia Salaris, “Marketing Modernism: Marinetti as Publisher,”.Modernism/Modernity 1.3 (1994): 109-27.

Corrado Govoni’s book, Rarefazioni e parole in libertà (Rarefactions and Words in Freedom) is divided into two parts:

“The first presented a series of experiments in visual poetry, while the second featured applications of the poetical techniques suggested by F.M. Marinetti in the “Manifesto della letteratura futurista” (Manifesto of Futurist Literature, 1912). In both instances, however, the Futurist method provided Govoni a pretext for his eclectic analogical imagery. These works were often illustrated by the poet’s own sketches or drawings, which constituted in integral part of his verse.” —Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies (2006)