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The Practice of Letters - A Symposium about Writing Manuals

The Society of Scribes will host a symposium at the Grolier Club on
November 8. For the historian of the book, handwriting - calligraphy,
social historians and print lovers this symposium should be of interest.

The Practice of Letters - A Symposium about Writing Manuals

David Becker - Curator; The Practice of Letters
Robert Williams - Scribe & Writing Manual Historian.

Saturday, November 8, 1997 * 10:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. * The Grolier Club 47
E. 60th St. NY, NY

The writing manual developed as a result of the printing press. As scribes
were freed of the burden of recording literature, there still remained the
tasks of recording personal and business correspondence as well as
countless other forms of non-print communication. The attendant rise in
literacy and commerce led to the proliferation of the writing masters and
manuals. This increase allowed more people to be responsible for their own
documents.  In addition to wood, copper was used to create the images
necessary to illustrating the strokes, shape and making of letters.
Instructions for quill cutting and other prepatory skills were illustrated
as well, but the production of these instruction manuals differs from
letterpress book studied by descriptive bibliographers. There may be a
combination of letterpress and prints in varying combinations, causing a
complex set of questions about dating, order and ownership. The Practice of
Letters exhibition describes the manuals and copybooks for the first time
in a way that scholars and students of writing can use in their research.
The bibliographic challenge has been ably met by Mr. Becker's catalog.

The writing manual has long been used to teach scribes the stylistic and
structural points necessary to write the particular hand shown. That
scribes of all subsequent eras have continued to learn from earlier manuals
indicates the resiliance and appeal handwriting has enjoyed throughout the
march of communication technology. What can we learn - as scribes - from
yesterday's writing fashions? What can we infer from the texts and their
exemplars of the period and the place writing holds within that timeframe?

This symposium will explore the bibliographic, socio-economic and scribal
importance of writing manuals as illustrated in the Hofer Collection
spanning the years 1514 to 1800. The collection, housed at Harvard's
Houghton Library is second in size and scope only to the Wing Foundation at
the Newberry Library in Chicago. Mr. Becker has spent several years writing
the catalog to the collection. A portion of the Hofer writing manual
collection will be on exhibit at the Grolier Club during the symposium.
Robert Williams has studied writing manuals at the Newberry for the last 3
decades and practices the hands he learns from these manuals. He has
written extensively about writing masters and their manuals, and has taught
a selection of calligraphic hands from these manuals.

Mr. Becker will speak about the bibiliographic evidence and the graphic
processes used in making the manuals. His discussion will include the
difficulty encountered when  dating the production of a manual. As plates
were often reused  years after the initial imprint, examining the paper can
assist in dating the production of a particular manual. Manuals often
combined letterpress with the plates, causing difficulties in description.
The tendency towards uniqueness within each manual - variant foliation
being only one example - will be discussed as well.

After these talks, participants will be given a break in which to view the
exhibit. Upon resumption, questions with direct reference to the exhibited
material will conclude the event.

Mr. Williams will discuss the socio-economic factors giving rise to the
writing manual. Stylistic developments help us to understand shifts in
fashion as well as function. He will also discuss teaching methods as
illustrated in these manuals and their changes in emphasis. Content, as it
pertained to contemporary perceptions and design considerations will be
considered as well.

$20 per person, $15 for members of the SoS. Please send check to SoS at
P.O. Box 933, NY, NY 10150. Please refer questions to Nicholas Yeager,
(212) 346-9609.

Nicholas G. Yeager  Artifex Librorum  51 Warren St. #2  New York, NY 10007
212.346.9609 email:artifex@xxxxxxxxxxxx

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