Vicomte is a script typeface inspired by Engraver’s script, a 19th century American style more commonly known as Copperplate. Designed as “engraving on paper”, Engraver’s script letters were carefully drawn with a pointed pen, as an attempt to imitate the engraver’s burin rather than the original writing master’s quill.
1. Where does Vicomte come from?
Following in the footsteps of its originator, Vicomte takes a distance from handwriting and instead show inscribed qualities in its letters. The variation of curves and angles, along with the narrowness of each character and tight spacing give Vicomte a dark and catchy texture, producing words with strength – without losing the delicacy of formal script.
Example of writing with a square cut quill by Jean-Baptiste de Baulieu. (late 17th century). “L’écriture coulée” shows a lot of similarities with Roundhand – both being based on the Italian hands from the Renaissance and sharing the æsthetic tastes of the time.
Example of Engraver’s script by Louis Madarasz. Here the capitals are not based on the Roundhand model, but on Spencerian, another pointed pen script. This mix of styles was a common practice in Engraver’s script.
Engraver’s script originates from Roundhand, a handwriting style born in England during the 18th century. The style quickly became popular as a business hand and was promptly adopted for official documents. Some of the most beautiful examples of english Roundhand can be found in The Universal Penman, a collection of writing samples from 25 writing masters, engraved by George Bickham Sr. over the course of 8 years. Each of the 212 plates shows both the talent of the writers, and Bickham’s skill as an engraver. Roundhand was originally written with a square cut quill, the hairlines being made with the side of the nib. During that period, a large amount of copy books were made to promote the style. Taking a close look at the engraved plates that were used, we can see how engravers not only reproduced the writing, but also perfected it with the use of the burin allowing better control over the curves.
Here’s a close up on one of the beautiful plates from the Universal Penman. It shows how engravers were able to achieve a certain degree of “perfection” that was surely very difficult to attain with the square cut quill.
The adoption of the flexible quill and later the pointed steel nib in the 19th century seems to be the result of the writers’ need for a tool able to produce results closer to the work of engravers, with more ease than with the square cut quill. Even though none of the original writings for The Universal Penman’s plates remain for comparison – they were probably destroyed during the transfer process on the plates – and while there is no doubt that writing masters were very able with edged pens, the influence of engraving on the development of pointed pen scripts is evident.
By the mid 19th century, Roundhand and its derivatives were standard styles of writing, and a qualified penman would have been assured to find a steady job in any firm. Engraver’s script (also called Engrosser’s script after its use for engrossing on documents such as certificates, diplomas etc.) emerged at this time, as the ultimate attempt to attain the level of the engraved plates penmen had for examples.
Certificate from E.A.Lupfer, 1914. Note how the terms Roundhand and Engrosser’s script are assimilated, an imprecision that became common with the incorrect use of the term “Copperplate” to designate most shaded scripts.
While Roundhand is handwriting – in the sens of letters written quickly with rare pen lifts – Engraver’s script is closer to drawing. Each letter can be made of separate and carefully drawn strokes, with as many pen lifts and paper turning as needed, and therefore is not a running hand. Vicomte takes the ideas of Engraver’s script to the extreme, with letters that definitely look more engraved then written. Unlike Engraver’s script – that some may consider ridid in comparison to the written Roundhand, Vicomte does not, as envisioned by American penmen, aim at perfection, but seeks to attain the strength and tension found in carved letters. The dark color, the regularity of the shapes and the general construction of the letters are indeed inherited from the american script, but the alternation of curves and sharp angles, especially those on the outside of the curves – where the weight is heaviest – give Vicomte’s letters the sharpness and depth of engraved plates.
Even though Vicomte is clearly intended for display, it was not strictly envisioned as a “logo” typeface. The rhythm and texture need a few words, even a few lines to show off the qualities. For the same reason, it did not benefit from too many swashes and flourishes as it is commonly found in script typefaces as they would break the rhythm. Regularity is part of Vicomte’s nature and it shines best with it is used plainly, leaning on the capitals to provide variety. A few alternates and initial forms are available, only to offer slight rhythmic variations.