Wednesday, October 16, 2019

J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)
J. M. Bergling was an authority in many different disciplines of lettering. As a boy he emigrated with his father from Sweden, working in California and Chicago, where he built his early reputation as an engraver for watch cases and jewelry. 

He became one of the foremost practitioners of the art of the monogram, a popular graphic form where an individual’s three initials are woven together into a clever artistic design. He produced three other design collections: Art Monograms and Lettering, Ornamental Designs and Illustrations, and Heraldic Designs and Engravings.

Art Alphabets and Lettering is his crowning achievement, culling the best specimens from his many years as a leading engraver and pen artist. To make room for more samples, Bergling eliminated the introductory text typically found in comparable books, such as the Ames’ Compendium of Practical and Ornamental Penmanship by Daniel T. Ames (1883) or Studies in Pen Art by William E. Dennis (1914). In such guidebooks, the text would have explained the theory and practice behind the alphabets. The modern reader might want to know at least the basics of the practical knowledge that Bergling took for granted.

For everyday penmanship, the steel dip pen had largely replaced the quill pen, which was made from a prepared primary flight feather of a goose or a turkey. However, the quill pen was—and still is—the preferred tool for certain kinds of elegant writing, and was the primary tool for letterers before the nineteenth century. Steel pen nibs in Bergling’s day were available in a range of degrees of flexibility, and many of them are still available today. The nibs fit into a pen holder, and were dipped into an inkwell of India ink, which was waterproof, or a water-soluble ink such as Higgins Eternal.

The collection begins with script alphabets, notable for their flowing, connected letters, such as “American Roundhand” and “Spencerian.” These models provide excellent guides for handwriting applications where a graceful elegance is required. The Spencerian alphabet was invented by Platt Rogers Spencer (1800-1864). It became standard in the United States between 1850 and 1925, after which it was replaced by the simpler Palmer method that still is taught in schools today. 

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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