Copperplate calligraphy is best known for being the script in which the United States Declaration of Independence was written. However, this position of prominence is indicative of the prevalence with which copperplate was used throughout the colonies, as well as Europe, at the time of the American Revolution. This beautiful and historical script has undergone resurgence in popular culture, and is frequently used in White House invitations, as well as a plethora of formal invitations and announcements.
Copperplate was originally conceived to fulfill the need for a more practical and efficient business script. The two major varieties were the round hand, which was used extensively in business and the Italian hand, which was deemed suitable for ladies. The style spread to France, Spain, and Italy, where it was commonly referred to as English round hand, but took its other name from the copperplated copybooks that served as students’ handwriting guides.
Unlike other forms of calligraphy that require a flat-tipped pen, copperplate is produced with a pointed nib, allowing the artist to determine line thickness by applying varying degrees of pressure. Copperplate scripts are written at a letter slant of 55 degrees, and emphasize the broader downstrokes, much like modern cursive, giving the script a fluid, delicate yet grounded appearance. Capital letters feature the S-shaped “line of beauty,” which was very popular in the 1700s for furniture and architectural design, as well as cursive.
If you are interested in mastering this elegant lettering (or would just really like to forge an invitation to the White House) consider signing up for the Center’s two-day Copperplate Calligraphy class, being held on October 6th and 7th (Saturday and Sunday) from 10:00am to 4:00 pm. Students will be given the opportunity to learn from expert calligrapher and illuminator Karen Gorst, and returning students can continue to perfect their spacing, lettering, and practical aspects of using copperplate for one-of-a-kind pieces and for reproduction and will be allowed to choose one of ten lettering styles. Register online here!
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