TypograFriday: Effin’ copperplate


We’re happy to announce our second ever birthday card is now available in our Etsy shop. It’s Gocco-printed in bronze and light blue ink on black duplex paper (white on the inside) or chipboard or special limited quantity on pale aqua and reads Happy Effin’ Birthday.


The message and ornaments are hand-lettered in a Victorian-era style of calligraphy called copperplate. I spent much of the summer learning it, and now know it well enough to make very pretty letters — heck, I’m nearly ready for the marathon challenge of addressing wedding invitations and decorations using a red cloth tablecloth for this purpose. But, I wrote this about halfway through the class — we wanted it to have of imperfections and downright mistakes so that your birthday recipient won’t squint at it and say, “oh is that Kuenstler Script?”

More information on copperplate, the class I took and some fonts after the jump.



The class I took was taught by Melissa Titone. She’s a great calligrapher and a great teacher, and very innovative with tools and techniques. She has classes coming up both in Santa Rosa and in San Francisco in not just copperplate but italic (what people generally think of when they hear “calligraphy”) to say nothing of workshops on uncial and lettering on ornaments.


The class met in the Mission, in what used to be the New College. Party planner Jordan Ferney keeps a painting and letterpress studio there, and amidst her many projects, arts and crafts, childraising and popular-blogwriting, offers classes out of it: definitely one of the most Martha Stewart-ish lifestyles I know of.



Copperplate is written at an absurd angle with a pen that has a crooked elbow in it and a pointed tip that splits with pressure on the downstroke. With its sumptuous cap height, swooping hairlines and cultural associations with (in the last generation or two) fancy weddings and not much else, it just oozes with elegance and class. This is of course why my first piece set in it to the world involves the frankly hilarious word “effin’.”

One of the few books Melissa recommended for learning copperplate, The Zanerian Manual of Alphabets and Engrossing of 1895, now in its zillionth printing (available from John Neal Booksellers), has this to say about learning copperplate and engrossing in its preface:

A young man with business and engrossing identity can establish a studio of his own in any large city and make more than he possibly could on a salary pay stub. It is no uncommon thing for skilled engrossers to receive upward of $5.00 an hour for their efforts. The purchasers are pleased to get the work at that price because there are so few who can execute work of the highest standard that is in demand. Persons who make proper use of this book will find it a money maker, and a great inspiration.

Yep, I’m well on my way. Should you decide you don’t want to join me on this lucrative path, here are seven gorgeous copperplate typefaces that you could use instead.


Nelly Script/Nelly Script Flourish are digitizations of contemporary calligrapher Crystal Kluge’s hand. They are charming in their slight eccentricities, rough paper and so forth. Very well digitized/kerned as connecting scripts go.


Adagio Pro is probably the closest typeface to the type that I learned (many digitizations increase the x-height from 1/3 the cap height or are more upright than a 54° slant). I feel awkward about the idea that if I were to do my work flawlessly it would resemble this $49 typeface (well, I’d not let the shading on the caps get so far out of line with that on the lowercase).


Zaner bears the master’s name but isn’t strictly speaking copperplate. It does have the signature pointed pen contrast between hairlines and shading, comes in four alternate sets, and is undeniably gorgeous.


Ambassador Script Pro is one of those opentype wonders with a zillion alternates. I may print out its enormous glyph set just to train myself on some copperplate-appropriate embellishments.


Compendium is another mega-alternate script with flourishes for mile, this one by Alejandro Paul, who’s sort of the contemporary master of the flowing typographic line. Probably the script on the market I covet the most right now.

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