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Writing and Illuminating and Lettering by Edward Johnston

Who is the Father of Calligraphy?

In the 15th century, the production of illuminated manuscripts began to decline as printing became ubiquitous. However, this did not signify the end of calligraphy. Instead, a distinction emerged between everyday handwriting and more elaborate forms of lettering and script at the beginning of the 16th century. Edward Johnston (1872-1944) played a pivotal role in reviving calligraphy at the end of the 19th century, breathing new life into this ancient art form.

Johnston's initial interest in calligraphy was sparked during his studies at the South Kensington School of Art in London, where he was particularly inspired by the manuscript collection at the British Museum.

Fascinated by these historical scripts, Johnston began to experiment with the broad-edged pen, a tool that would become central to his teaching and practice. His dedication and innovative approach almost single-handedly revived formal penmanship using this tool.

His teaching and practice almost single-handedly revived the art of formal penmanship in the particular form of the broad-edged pen as a writing tool.

Johnston also devised the calligraphic handwriting style known as the Foundational hand, written with a broad pen. He initially taught his students an uncial hand using a flat pen angle but later taught this hand using a slanted pen angle.

His major work, "Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering," first published in 1906 and continuously in print since then, created a new interest in calligraphy and a new school of excellent scribes.

Writing, Illuminating and Lettering


Roman Capitals - Letter B


This influential work laid down the foundations of modern calligraphy, covering the principles of writing, the anatomy of letters, and the tools required for the craft. This comprehensive book became an essential reference for both beginners and experienced calligraphers.

Johnston is perhaps best known as the designer of the Johnston sans-serif typeface for the London Underground in 1916. Commissioned to create a typeface that was clear, legible, and functional, Johnston's design has become an iconic and enduring part of London's visual identity. The typeface, now known as Johnston Sans, remains an iconic and enduring part of London's visual identity.

Johnston's revival of calligraphy continues to influence not only calligraphers but also individuals in various other fields.

A notable example of his broader impact is Steve Jobs, who took calligraphy classes at Reed College in 1972. These classes profoundly influenced Jobs' understanding of typography and proved immensely useful in designing the Mac a decade later.

Edward Johnston's contributions to calligraphy and typography have left an indelible mark on the world of design. The life he breathed into this ancient craft ensures that its traditions continue to thrive, even in today's hi-tech world.

Visit London Transport Museum to find out more about The man behind the London Underground Lettering

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