Tuesday, October 15, 2019

J. M. Bergling and The Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 1

My first freelance work was as a calligrapher when I was in junior high school. I found clients by riding my bicycle to print shops and showing them my samples. I lettered a lot of wedding invitations and menus. My go-to source for alphabets and styles was an old book called Art Alphabets and Lettering that my Mom owned when she was young.

Recently, when I realized how rare that book was, and how it was out of print, I asked Dover Publications if they would consider republishing it. They agreed, on the condition that I would write the introduction. So here's the first installment of that introduction....

From the perspective of our own era of computer-generated typography, it is difficult to appreciate the ubiquity of handmade lettering a century ago. Writing made by hand appeared not only in personal letters and postcards, but also in business correspondence, architects’ plans, store windows, roadside billboards, theater lobbies, newspaper advertisements, college diplomas, engraved silverware, and even embroidered handkerchiefs.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, the art of hand lettering reached flamboyant, exuberant heights. The period known as the “Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship” was still in full flower when John Mauritz Bergling (1866-1933) first published Art Alphabets and Lettering in 1914. He expanded his so-called “Encyclopedia of Lettering” through three subsequent editions, culminating in this enlarged fourth edition of 1923.

Art Alphabets and Lettering has been one of the most sought-after of the many treasuries of designs and alphabets from that period, not only because of the high standards of Bergling’s examples, but because of the wide range of practical applications that he addressed. In Bergling’s day, the field of artistic writing spanned the work of many specialists: engravers, engrossers, architects, showcard writers, and commercial artists. He took care to consider the appropriate spirit for each kind of communication, ranging all the way from a sober commemoration of a retirement from an insurance company  to a playful poster for a college dance.
Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Get a signed copy of Bergling from my website store (with your name nicely lettered if you want. Send me an email after you order it explaining how you'd like the dedication.)
Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.

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