Handwriting, the way into typography


Jan Tschichold (1902-1974) spent 8 years working in Munich and teaching at the printers school. When the Nazis took control of Germany in 1933, Tschichold, who was considered avant–garde, accused of cultural Bolshevism and arrested. Soon after publishing The New Typography in 1928, Tschichold began to change his mind about some of its contents.

Already in 1931 Tschichold had published Schriftschreiben für den Setzer (Script Writing for the Compositor). Among his prolific writing we find another book in the same line Schriftkunde, Schreibübungen und Skizzieren, ein kleines Lehrbuch der Schrift für Setzer und Graphiker (1941) (which can be translated as Palaeography, Script Writing Practice and Sketching, a Little Textbook about Scripts for Compositors and Graphic Designers). It is an improved and expanded edition of this handbook about handwriting for typesetters appeared in 1951.


But why would typesetters need to learn handwriting? To expand the question to our current time, since we are all using word processors to set type on computers: Why to we need to learn formal handwriting?


‘Writing formal scripts provides a condensed overview of the development of our script and the history of typography. Nothing is better for the understanding of the construction of letterforms than the following handwriting practice with the broad nibbed pen. Our book teaches the main forms and provides practice models by which anyone can learn formal scripts in a very short time. This knowledge facilitates typographic design’ (p. 7)
‘The shape of all early scripts is clearly to some degree conditioned and influenced by a certain kind of broad nibbed tool. [The typesetter] will therefore understand the shape of typography better and learn to differentiate between good an bad type […]
Real knowledge is only gained by diligent practice. Theoretical considerations are totally useless.’ (p. 37)
From practicing we learn to understand why there is weight in certain parts of the strokes of regular printed letters. Why, for example, W begins with a thick stroke and ends with a thin stroke. We also learn that the sloped weight of the old regular printed script relates to the pen. (p. 41)


‘The bloodless school handwriting models of the end of the last [nineteenth] century, the extended use of the typewriter [and word processors nowadays], the erroneous ideal of the ‘flowing’ (meaning not regular) script and the tendency of a writing speed that goes beyond natural limits has made most people’s handwriting a mere scribble and produced the much denounced decline of handwriting… A true handwriting culture would also give the right value and encourage good typography.’ (p. 31)

‘Antiqua (Roman script), the archetype of our printed script (typography)’.

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