Letterforms Study Group at the Tipoteca 2025—Wood Type Workshop

Although Legacy of Letters came to an end with Legacy of Letters 2023: Letterpress Extravaganza, my engagement with letters inscriptional, calligraphic, and typographic in Italy is not over. In 2025 I will lead a workshop version of the Letterforms Study Group at the Tipoteca. The workshop will be focused on investigating an unidentified wood type (see below) in the Tipoteca’s collection.

Capitals (from left to right: B A / O N M  / Y Z) of the unidentified corsivo inglese wood typeface at the Tipoteca. Note the angled bodies of all the letters and the lateral kern of N. Photograph by Paul Shaw 2023.

This wood type, housed in two drawers labeled Stocchetti 005 and Stocchetti 006, is a script style called corsivo inglese in Italian. I first came across it in 2012 and then again in 2023. The second time I wanted to use it for my contribution to the group keepsake portfolio we were printing as part of Legacy of Letters 2023, but was prevented from doing so because the type was the wrong height. It could not be printed with the Vandercook-style proof presses without being damaged.

Despite that setback, I became obsessed with finding an opportunity to further study this corsivo inglese wood type. Not only are the letters surprisingly elegant for a wood type, but they have been produced on angled bodies with kerning (both lateral and vertical) to better simulate the appearance of their model, the Roundhand script pioneered by English writing masters between the 1690s and mid-18th century. The type also has angled spaces and triangular endpieces.

Detail of Roundhand script from The Universal Penman, of The Art of Writing… by George Bickham (London: 1741). Image courtesy of Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The ultimate example of the Roundhand script—commonly, though erroneously, called Copperplate or Wedding Script—is The Universal Penman, or The Art of Writing, a compendium edited and engraved by George Bickham between 1733 and 1741. Although scripts and metal type are conceptually incompatible, numerous typefounders cut and cast script typefaces from the 1770s through the 1950s.

They constantly strove to solve (or avoid) three problems involved in converting sloped letters written with a quill and ink into similar letters carved in steel, cast as lead type (usually on square bodies), and then assembled for printing: 1. how to maintain a strong slope; 2. how to achieve smooth joins between letters, and 3. how to insure good spacing for letters that overhung or underhung adjacent letters. Several of the methods they invented were amazingly successful and many of the scripts they produced are astonishing for their beauty, elegance, and ability to mimic Roundhand and other varieties of penmanship. Among the best script typefaces ever made in metal was the Penman Series issued by the Bruce typefoundry of New York in 1872 (shown below).

Detail of Meridian Penman, No. 2,054 engraved and cast by the Bruce Type Foundry. From Specimens of Printing Types Made at Bruce’s New-York Type-Foundry. Established in 1813. (New-York: George Bruce’s Son & Co., no. 13 Chambers-Street, 1882). Image courtesy of Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The Penman Series was cast with angled, buttressed, overhanging kerns similar to those of the unidentified script typeface shown below. This technique and others have fascinated me ever since I began to seriously study script typefaces in 2008.

“O’Hara.” Three-quarters view of metal script typeface showing one method of kerning. Photograph courtesy of the Tipoteca 2012.

Detail of the unidentified corsivo inglese wood typeface at the Tipoteca showing vertically-kerned punctuation. Photograph by Paul Shaw 2023.

The unidentified corsivo inglese wood type at the Tipoteca is not as sophisticated as metal scripts like the Penman Series, but it is certainly more inventive than most wood types. It is ripe for detailed study. This is what the Letterforms Study Group workshop scheduled for 2025 proposes to do.

Letterforms Study Group workshop
The details of the workshop are still being confirmed, but this is what is settled as of March 2024:

• The workshop will take place for one week sometime between mid-May and mid-June 2025 at the Tipoteca in Cornuda. There will also be one or two days of study at a library in Milano, Verona, Venice, or Padua.
• Typesetting and printing will be overseen by Lucio Passerini of Il Buon Tempo. Printing will be done using one or both of the handpresses at the Tipoteca. These presses are able to print wood type that is too high for cylinder presses.
• The group will be limited to 8 people in order to keep the experience intimate. Participants do not need to have had prior letterpress experience. But they should have a strong interest and curiosity about type (and lettering in general).
• The group will work collectively on a single project: to research, design, proof, and print a small edition of a specimen of this corsivo inglese wood type (including its spacing material).
• The design and printing of the corsivo inglese wood type will be supplemented by talks on the history of script and the history of script typefaces. There will be visits to one or two libraries to see relevant materials in person.
• The cost will probably be $3500 which will cover the workshop, library visits, talks, local travel, and lodging. It will not cover travel to Cornuda, food, or incidentals. Lodging will be at the Villa Bolzonello.

This is a research workshop with a practical outcome. It is for type historians, type designers, type nerds, letterpress printers, librarians, museum curators, graphic designers, and calligraphers.

Registration for the workshop will open once the final details have been settled. For now, those interested in the workshop can pre-register by sending an email to paulshaw@nyc,rr.com indicating their interest. No deposit is required at this time.