Capital, capital!*

Detail of "Formation of the Capitals", plate in John Jenkins Art of Writing, 1813.
Detail of “Formation of the Capitals”, plate in John Jenkins Art of Writing, 1813.

Lately, I’ve been practicing English Roundhand capitals with my quill pens. After a long time working with lower case letters, it’s fun to let loose a little and swoosh around the page!  John Jenkins, the American writing master, gives a whole new set of “principal strokes” for forming the capital letters, and you can see how much more room for swooping there is compared to the lower case strokes.

Like the lower case letters, Jenkins groups most of the capitals together by shape. For example, P, R, and B all begin with a downward “Body stroke” that curves gracefully back up to the top so that the pen is ready to form the head of each letter.

-Formation of the Capitals, John Jenkins The Art of Writing, 1813.
“Formation of the Capitals” plates 1 and 2, John Jenkins The Art of Writing, 1813.

The system breaks down a bit, though, in trying to get all the capital letters onto two plates.  Somehow O is missing entirely, and there are two versions of the letter V. One, at the bottom right of the image above, is just a lower case v enlarged, while the other is a pointy letter like N, M, and W.

"Formation of the Capitals" plates 3 and 4, John Jenkins, the Art of Writing, 1813.
“Formation of the Capitals” plates 3 and 4, John Jenkins, the Art of Writing, 1813.

Although I find all the curvy strokes really fun to play with, they also make it more difficult to get the letter forms just right.  With so many compound curves and so few parallel angles, it’s hard to get them all arranged proportionally.  Most of the letters are designed to be made in just a few connected strokes, so one is expected to make all those complex curves without lifting  the pen from the page! For a few of the letters I actually traced my models to get the feel for them in my hands and to see what they looked like on my paper.  Getting the size of the flourishy curves at the beginning and ending of the letters right is a challenge, too- too small and they look cramped, but a little too big, and they draw attention away from the important strokes of the letter.

Ugh, it's a start anyway.
Ugh, it’s a start anyway.

For comparison, the capitals from the 1787 edition of George Bickham’s Young Clerk’s Assistant have a few stylistic differences but are mostly similar. If Bickham were grouping letters though, he’d put P and R with D rather than with B. Interesting! I think I prefer these more droopy initial flourishes on letters like I and J- they don’t  run the risk of looking like the cross stroke of the T:

Capitals from plate 9b of George Bickham, The Young Clerk's Assistant (1787 edition).
Capitals from plate 9b of George Bickham, The Young Clerk’s Assistant (1787 edition).

*Since I’m a huge fan of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series, whenever I look at the titles of John Jenkin’s plates, all I can think of is Sir William Lucas:

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Capital, capital!*

  1. How do I learn how to do English Roundhand and write in the Victorian Era handwriting style? I also love your posts, and I hope you continue adding, because you are the best website creator I have ever read!

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    1. Gosh, thanks! If you want to write with historical tools in the style of the 18th and early 19th centuries (the era before Queen Victoria), than all I can suggest is to read my sources and follow along with the posts in the “handwriting” category of this blog- I’m making it up as I go along!
      If you’re interested in doing this style of handwriting with modern tools, then you’re in luck- there is a large community of calligraphers and teachers, and lots of books on the subject. I suggest searching your local library for books on “Copperplate” calligraphy, which is a term for a more modern version of English Roundhand. Or you may prefer the fancy loopiness of the “Spencerian” hand, which has its roots in the Victorian era. You might also browse through the Flourish Forum, a very friendly online community of calligraphers. Here’s their board on Copperplate and Roundhand. Have fun!
      Do any other followers have some suggestions for Carina?

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