Barbara Calzolari - Inside Engrosser's Script - Feb/March 2021

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Engrosser's Script can be considered as an American reworking of Roundhand Script. Its diffusion took place in the second half of the 19th century and was preceded by a phase in which Roundhand had faded into disuse, in favor of a characteristically American writing style promoted by great penmen such as Flickinger, Dunton and Spencer. At the time, a distinction was made in the United States between two prominent professional categories related to handwriting: at one side were the Penmen, masters of penmanship; at the other were the Engrossers, professional figures charged with the design of documents for both personal and professional use. The work of an Engrosser was rather complex, requiring the knowledge of different writing styles and the ability to produce works that integrated different techniques, including lettering, drawing and illumination. The reasons why the term ‘Engrossers’ was later adopted to identify a specific cursive style can be traced back to the influential work of penman Charles Paxton Zaner, who in his book "The Zanerian Alphabets" (1895) hailed Roundhand Script as the finest among all in terms for elegance, versatility and ease of learning. In the following edition, "The New Zanerian Alphabets" (1990), the title for this section was changed, from "Roundhand" to "Engrosser's Script", denoting the increasingly common use of the term among calligraphers when addressing the Roundhand. In the early years of the 20th century, Engrosser's Script began to define its own aesthetic canons, deviating from Roundhand. In fact, the former, having developed at a time of widespread use of the quill in Europe, featured fewer pen lifts, very shaded strokes and far more circular shapes. Roundhand, on the other hand, was affected by the impact of a more rigid instrument, having emerged at a time when steel pens were nearly omnipresent. As a consequence, the script was characterized by quite a regular appearance and a frequent use of pen lifts, which made it possible to achieve perfectly symmetrical shading on both the left and right sides. The similarities between this new script and engraved Roundhand led a few authors towards the use of new terms. Prominent calligraphers such as Jones, Madarasz and Baird used the term "Engraver's Script". In the early 1930s, however, the expression "Copper Plate Script" began to spread among penmen as well, presumably because most printed specimens of Roundhand and Engrosser's Script were engraved into copper plates through the Intaglio Printing Method. Along with this newest term, and due to the decline of the calligraphy industry in the years of the Great Depression, Engrosser’s Script experienced a gradual loss of its most peculiar characteristics, as a result of a tendency to privilege speed of execution over the script’s once rigorous forms. At any rate, when mentioning Roundhand, people generally refer to the script devised by 18th century’s master penmen in Europe, whereas Engrosser's Script is to be considered the evolved version of its American counterpart based on fine point steel pen. Copperplate, on the other hand, is a term used for contemporary Roundhand writing.