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Rare Book School at the University of Virginia

Rare Book School
Preliminary Reading List

Type, Lettering, and Calligraphy, 1450-1830

James Mosley


Preliminary Advices

Some notes on the course, and a preliminary reading list

The object of the course is to trace the broad development of letterforms from the period of the invention of printing to that of the beginning of its mechanization in the early 19th century, the so-called 'hand press period'. I shall relate letterforms in different media -- writing, printing, and sometimes in sculpture and architecture too -- and to note the cultural, technical and economic factors that influenced their development. Although it is not intended as a formal course in type identification, the course should help to develop an awareness of style in type and lettering and to provide knowledge of the consensus of current scholarship, and thus establish a basis for the informed judgment without which the identifying of types should not be attempted.

Preliminary reading

This will depend on what you have already done. If you have only a generalized familiarity with type and writing, then it will be worth looking at least one of the works which give the larger picture (Anderson 1969, Meggs 1998), and at one of the more readable histories of type (perhaps Updike 1937 and Dowding 1961) and of writing (Ullman 1932, Fairbank 1949). Some of the volumes of collected essays in type history are good for browsing (Johnson 1970, Morison 1981, Dreyfus 1994) and should be fairly widely available, at least in academic libraries. Read Carter 1969 (until this year's reprint, not easy to find: a part of the original small edition was destroyed). Indeed, since his writing combines authority, lucidity, brevity and wit to a degree that is quite unique in its field, read anything that you can find bearing the name of Harry Carter (1901-81), as author, editor or translator.


Anderson, Donald M. The art of written forms. New York, 1969. Pb rep 1992 as Calligraphy: the art of written forms .

Carter, Harry A view of early typography up to about 1600. Originally published Oxford, 1969. Pb rep 2002, with a new introduction by James Mosley.

Dowding, Geoffrey An introduction to the history of printing types. London, 1961.

Dreyfus, John Into print: selected writing on printing history, typography and book production. London, 1994.

Fairbank, Alfred A book of scripts. Harmondsworth, 1949.

Johnson, A. F. Selected essays on books and printing. Amsterdam, 1970.

Meggs, Philip B. A history of graphic design. 3rd ed. New York, 1998.

Morison, Stanley Selected essays on the history of letter-forms in manuscript and print, edited by David McKitterick. Cambridge, 1981.

Ullman, B. L. Ancient writing and its influence. New York, 1932 (reprinted, with an introduction by Julian Brown, Cambridge, Mass., 1969).

Updike, D. B. Printing types: their history, forms and use. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1937.