What is Engrosser’s Script?
Engrosser’s Script is an American style of calligraphy developed during the late nineteenth century. Its core characteristics are similar to those of its primary influence—a number of English handwriting variations known collectively as “English Roundhand”. It is a cursive, Latin-alphabet-based calligraphic script executed with a steel pen inside of an oblique penholder. The forms generally lean 35°-40° forward from vertical, although extreme varieties of slant in each direction do occur.
Engrosser’s Script differs from English Roundhand in a few unique ways:
- ES is not a “cursive” script in the true sense. The letters are assembled strokes between which the pen is lifted from the paper. This is known as “modularity,” and implies a modular nature of the script.
- There is an inherent angularity in the stroke shapes present in specimens of fine Engrosser’s Script which contrasts heavily when compared to English Roundhand from centuries prior. This angularity is most common in the interior structures of the rounded forms (a, c, d, e, &c.) and is thus referred to as “interior angularity.”
- Engrosser’s Script’s aesthetic qualities are somewhat determined by the abilities of a steel pen point—a writing instrument that was uncommon before the 1800s. Certain strokes in ES are
impossibledifficult to execute with a quill pen due to their precise geometry. Inversely, the quills that were commonly used in the century prior to Engrosser’s Script’s zenith produced strokes that the pointed steel pen cannot.
Many people are confused about the differences between “Engrosser’s Script” and other names for apparently similar styles of calligraphy. The distinctions between a few of the most common aliases used in place of Engrosser’s Script are simple to outline.
The term ‘Roundhand’ functions best when used as an umbrella term for a variety of different styles of calligraphy. When compared with ‘ES’, the most commonly pictured type of Roundhand is English Roundhand, which is the direct English predecessor to the Engrosser’s Script utilized in America.
It should be noted that during a transitional time in the development of Engrosser’s Script, both “Roundhand” and “Engrosser’s Script” were used in the influential work of E. A. Lupfer titled The Zanerian Manual (1924). Thus, one is not incorrect to use the term in reference to ES, there are simply more accurate terms.
To learn more about the evolution of Roundhand in England, prior to the development of Engrosser’s Script, see The English Writing Masters and Their Copy-books (1962).
A term used frequently by penmen of the early 20th century is “Engraver’s Script”. This choice of words is in reference towards the various engraving companies that employed large amounts of modular shaded script in their designs for insurance policies, stock certificates, currency, etc. This phrase was further solidified by the titles such as Lessons in Engraver’s Script Penmanship (Jones, 1911) and Lessons in Advanced Engraver’s Script (Pub. Jones, Plates by Madarasz & Martin). The first of which shows several condensed letterforms consistent with the styles commonly used in materials such as those listed above. The second includes shaded capital letters executed in an ornamental style and a more rapid method of execution.
The term ‘Copperplate’ is used in connection with fancy cursive handwriting, but the merits of conflating the term with Engrosser’s Script fall short on two simple principals:
- Copperplate is already a term used in connection with the Intaglio printing process, which can be used to print any variety of designs, including pictures, text, technical drawings, etc.
- Over the last century, Copperplate has been used as a contemporary term to include all variety of shaded round writing, and thus includes so many styles in general that it no longer accurately defines anything specific.
While there are various names commonly used in place of ES, we must be discerning when we select which term(s) we choose to use to refer to our own practice or in conversations with others. There are distinctions between various names, and fostering deeper understanding of the origins of such names helps to preserve the history and unique qualities that make Engrosser’s Script such a beautiful and worthwhile pursuit.
Learn Engrosser’s Script from the comfort of home
Learn to pen logical, consistent, and well-spaced letters and words. Combine these time-tested techniques into projects and participate in critique as both recipient and critic. Temper the hand and the eye through analyzing historic and modern sources. Discover the modular language of script and pursue it to fluency.