I should be able to read that
August 23, 2015 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Copperplate, a beautiful and elaborate script that in its time was considered a basic penmanship style. Most people in the west know it from wedding invitations and the Declaration of Independence. Traditionally done with a steel nib it was quick, legible and considered elegant. Some consider the flourishes (majuscules in calligraphy vocab) the best part.
posted by ladyriffraff (31 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Minor quibble: “majuscule” refers not to flourishes per se, but to capital letters (cf. “minuscule” – not “miniscule” – for lowercase). Capital letters, of course, frequently feature elaborate flourishes in copperplate penmanship...
posted by letourneau at 5:47 PM on August 23, 2015 [12 favorites]

Oh, how I wish I could do that. Queen Elizabeth has a wonderful signature. I should work on mine.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:48 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

My mom learned to write copperplate primarily so that she could address my wedding invitations. They were beautiful. I, honestly, don't know how anyone has the patience to do such a thing. I wouldn't have wanted to address all the envelops in regular script. She also made 500 sauerkraut balls for the event because OMG I HAD TO HAVE THEM and she didn't want to give her recipe to the caterer or the caterer didn't want to make them. I dunno, but clearly my mom loves me. A lot. I should call her more often.
posted by imbri at 6:01 PM on August 23, 2015 [40 favorites]

Oh, I thought this was going to be about the Copperplate that most people in the west know from R.E.M. album covers.
posted by escabeche at 6:19 PM on August 23, 2015 [17 favorites]

In that first video, does she miss "q" or am I just unable to parse the script?
posted by jacquilynne at 6:57 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the letter v was missed, too!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:00 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

(minor quibble - "most people in the west" really don't know/care about the USA Declaration of Independence, you're confusing the USA with the western world).
posted by wilful at 7:21 PM on August 23, 2015 [22 favorites]

I think the script is beautiful, but does anyone else find the sound of the quill scraping the paper uniquely grating?
posted by Evstar at 7:29 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was taught to write a clear cursive script in the fourth grade. I remember the anticipation. I thought at the time it was a mark of getting older, you know--like the big kids. From the first day of instruction I realized that I had arrived at the first circle of Hell. I was left handed. Lefties must learn to write with their right hand, or else spend their lives standing on their heads to avoid dragging their hands across their letters, or else ruin sheet after sheet of paper by shoving the pencil into it from the wrong angle, breaking point after point off the pencil and having to make trip after trip to the front of the room to re-sharpen the goddam thing and learning to make do with mere stubs when the other kids had long, beautiful No. 2's, and them pretending not to notice, but I knew they watched me, secretly laughing. I copped an attitude from the first day, and refused to change hands with my pencil. So there. The pitying looks from my teacher as she watched my labors was worse than the laughter of the other kids, and broke my tender heart. All served only to stiffen my resolve, and tempered me, made me strong. Yes. I was relieved of this burden only when I entered junior high school, and the teachers allowed me to print in block letters.

I still write upside down.
posted by mule98J at 7:30 PM on August 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

In that first video, does she miss "q" or am I just unable to parse the script?

Yeah, it goes 'pr'. My heart skipped a beat.
posted by fatbird at 7:58 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

If anyone wants to learn there are great tutorials over at the Flourish Forum (you have to register) with videos and sample sheets and also a lot of resources at the IAMPETH website, including lessons and videos.
posted by oneear at 8:07 PM on August 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Maybe she forgot the q because it's not really part of the Polish alphabet. Same with the v (which got left out for both cases).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:16 PM on August 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I feel for you, mule98J. I feel lingering trauma from elementary school cursive. I'm right-handed, I just couldn't do that shit. My teacher finally progressed from pitying looks to "Just...just give it up for now, just rest your head."
posted by firemouth at 8:44 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I do not have great fine motor skills (I run through keyboards like whoa because I hit them way too hard) so cursive and I had a rough start. My third grade teacher held my paper up in front of the class and announced "Eyebrows is the only girl in class who still has to write on every other line, like the boys," in an attempt to shame me into improving. Didn't work, but I'm still mad!

I am almost the only person my age I know who still writes cursive (much faster than print for me), and people now comment all the time how pretty my handwriting is. It's not; it's as sloppy as it was in third grade (if now smaller so I can use every line), it's just that nobody uses cursive anymore so even my hot mess looks pretty to them because it vaguely approximates Palmer Method examples and is starting to seem like a lost art.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:54 PM on August 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sorry about the 'in the west' comment. I had another link in there in an early draft and forgot to change the surrounding text to be more US-centric. Mea Culpa.
posted by ladyriffraff at 9:18 PM on August 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

I did all our wedding invitations, place cards and thank you letters in Copperplate. People who do calligraphy for a living earn every penny.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:34 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I learned to read at the beginning of third grade, I was still nowhere near learning to write; in fact, I did not know the alphabet -- little Joan Bair challenged me to recite it one day in front of about ten other kids midway through the year, and I was totally lost by "q" -- but I sort of learned by the end of the year, though no one could read it and some teachers affected to believe I was merely imitating the shapes and lengths without using actual letters (the same ones who had not been shy about asserting I would never learn to read or write, as I recall).

I worked harder on improving my penmanship than any other aspect of school, and by the end of twelfth grade it was still worse than anyone else's in all my classes according to my teachers, as they seemed to delight in telling me, but not with the malice and resentment that I actually could do it that I remember from third grade.
posted by jamjam at 9:38 PM on August 23, 2015

This post could not have come at a better time for me. I've just been getting into Copperplate, and practicing the letters over and over has been a much-needed creative outlet and source of calm for me. Thank you so much for putting it together!
posted by shiu mai baby at 10:51 PM on August 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

To me, Cooperplate was a gateway font, as I really came in to understanding the power of typography by studying the graphic design of 1980's R.E.M. ephemera. Cooperplate was the typeface used for Lifes Rich Pageant and virtually all its supporting materials and merch and that was huge in getting me to dig deeper in to how type worked. You can bore yourself reading my previouscomment about it here on the blue if you're the sort that does that kind of thing.
I still love the typeface and think that it can be used very tastefully and strikingly if deployed the right way from the right hands. I think it's like Trajan in that sense in that it's much more the singer than the song.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:17 PM on August 23, 2015

Senor Cardgage: love the previous comment, but I'm scratching my head as to why you're consistently using "Cooperplate", both in this and the previous post. Is that just a misspelling of Copperplate? (A quick search wasn't very enlightening.)
posted by pjm at 1:33 AM on August 24, 2015

I learnt to write using copperplate, using a fountain pen, and I am also left handed. Ink is hard work for leftys! My handwriting still shows some copperplate-ish elements, but I can bust it out to shame my kids every now and then.
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 2:37 AM on August 24, 2015

The agony of inking left-handed results from having to drag your hand through wet ink, and push the stylus from behind. Righties elegantly keep their hands clean because their palm is always ahead of the stylus, and their penmanship typically more elegant because of the ergonomic hand positioning.

Leonardo da Vinci (another fellow lefty) famously solved this problem by teaching himself to read and write backwards, literally in mirror script. This afforded him the same benefits that right-handers enjoy when inking, while also deterring others from reading his written notes.

I've often looked back on my primary education and wished that someone would have introduced this mirror writing concept to me at a developmental age, because I would have no doubt given that serious practice. Nowadays I just use a Dvorak.
posted by johnnyace at 3:07 AM on August 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I grew up with French handwriting, using a fountain pen. Some features of it can still be found in my script. We weren't allowed to use ballpoint pens, nor allowed to print, until secondary school (age 11). Until then, my left hand was sometimes blue from touching my hand to the page, but, since we got graded for neatness, I learned not to do that. I was lucky that no one ever made me use my right hand nor twist my hand around (that looks painful!)

@johhnyace: my best friend and I discovered Leonardo's mirror script when we were 9 or 10 and practiced it for hours. I still use it during work meetings for personal notes.
posted by bentley at 5:31 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

And then there was the year that I did all of our holiday cards in Copperplate. NEVER AGAIN.

imbri, your mother is a saint.
posted by blurker at 6:38 AM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Traditionally done with a steel nib

Not commonly until acid-free inks were developed in the nineteenth century. Previously, iron-gall inks would corrode steel nibs, although they did exist.

An interesting aspect of the development of the hand - known as Roundhand in the eighteenth century - is that quills began to be cut to a needlepoint (previously they were square-cut) specifically in order to emulate the fine lines made by engravers on copper plates - from which the hand took its name. I've seen engraved handwriting manuals of the period with blanks filled-in with writing exercises. It's really very difficult to copy engraving on copper with a quill pen: Benjamin Franklin says somewhere that it does the pupils good even if they can't really copy the exercise.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 7:32 AM on August 24, 2015

I used to share an office with Paul Antonio (in the links). He is amazing. He did our wedding invitation and a couple of bits for the cover of one of my books. I could watch him work for hours, which was one of the reasons I had to move out of the office.
posted by Hogshead at 9:02 AM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

There are actually a number of script styles that can be made with a fine pointed flexible nib. "Copperplate" may be a bit of a misnomer, or in any event lacking in specificity, because it encompasses a number of related hands, viz. roundhand, engraver's/engrosser's, etc.

There are also distinctively American styles not usually classified under the "copperplate" umbrella, foremost among them being Spencerian script. With the resurgence of interest in fountain pens, there has been increased demand for fine flexible nibs for "flex writing." Unfortunately, it is really not possible to get the same results with modern materials as can be found in vintage flex nibs. However, many modern nibmeisters such as John Mottishaw and (recently retired) Richard Binder are quite well known for modifying modern fountain pen nibs for added flex. The most widely admired of these is likely Mottishaw's "Spencerian grind" which is available for certain nibs.

Generally speaking I prefer a broad, edged nib. But I do like some added flex in there when I can get it.
posted by slkinsey at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I couldn't quite figure out how to make this fit with the fpp but a roundhand demo on glass by a car pinstriper.
posted by ladyriffraff at 10:46 AM on August 24, 2015

So all of you experts: since I'm still solidly a novice with all of this, any online resources you'd recommend for nibs? Ink I'm set with, since right now I don't need much past the standard black that I have, but my only local resources for nibs and holders are the JoAnne/Michael's/AC Moore trifecta, and their selection is incredibly limited. It's pretty much the Speedball sets or nothing.
posted by shiu mai baby at 3:27 PM on August 24, 2015

Paper & Ink Arts has every nib you'd ever need, and then some.
posted by MrBadExample at 3:47 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

> I think the script is beautiful, but does anyone else find the sound of the quill scraping the paper uniquely grating?

Nope, on the opposite end of the spectrum. It's a soothing noise. But, then, I'm in the SCA.

(And add me to those who clenched when majiscules was wrongly defined in the FPP.)
posted by IAmBroom at 10:19 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

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