Typography

A Short History of Copperplate Calligraphy

Discover the origins of one of the most elegant and elaborate styles of calligraphy still used today in many prestigious projects

Copperplate calligraphy is well known for its decorative use. Its style, with ornaments and intricate forms, is widely imitated, but many ignore the origins of this lettering type. As the name suggests, Copperplate derives from a time in which the engraver would transfer the scribe’s writing of a book or manual onto a plate made of copper.

A Short History of Copperplate Calligraphy 2

A short history of English calligraphy

The 18th century was a time of significant commercial expansion and naval hegemony for England. It was also a time in which the need for accounting and registering revenue and expenditure arose. Copperplate calligraphy started spreading and gaining popularity in new academies created to teach the professions needed to meet the country’s economy.
Of all the study manuals used in the academies, the most popular was probably ‘The Universal Penman,' by George Bickham, a book that continues to be of reference today.
In the manual, we can see all the classic flourishes of this type of calligraphy and find examples of the commercial use of this type of writing.

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Decline of Copperplate

With the arrival of new writing tools, such as the ballpoint pen, English calligraphy became less useful: the nib pressure to create differences between thick and fine lines became less necessary, and contrast in the letters themselves was no longer easily achieved.

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