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Online Calligraphy books

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I am new in the forum, and certainly very far away from the skills of most members, but I do try to improve. A large part of my attempts comes from online information, of which there is a wealth available.

For this reason I am opening this thread: to share in successive messages links to most of the books I have found in the hope others may find them as useful as I do.

I'll start with books in English, but beware: as a Spaniard, many of the books I use deal with the Spanish hand(s) and its history and are written in Spanish. I do also use books in Italian, French or other languages. However, the writing samples are in most cases self-explanatory and can be followed without difficulty.

I think it would be nice if others did also share their links to publicly available calligraphy books here.

'Nuff said! Time to get started.

1510 - Scribal Pattern Book

You can get this from Yale's Beinecke Library. Click on "Export as PDF" and select "Entire set" to get the full contents as  a single PDF file. Or use the direct link

I think it is better to know how to get it and where from, since this will also enable you to explore other available treasures at this site.

I quote from the book page:

Most passages of text in the first part begin with large decorative initials, primarily white floral designs on black grounds. Initial (green and red added) with full penwork border of swirling leaves on f. 1r; initial in colors and containing arms on f. 4r.

Manuscript on parchment of Gregorius Bock, Scribal Pattern Book. This model book for scribes is composed of two parts. The first illustrates alphabets in various scripts; the alphabet is often preceded by a text written in that style. The second part of the codex is composed of decorative initials arranged alphabetically.

A wonderful book to see alphabets and examples of several ancient scripts.

Examples of the chancery hand, engraved

The Getty institute and the Hathi project bring us this nice book on Chancery italic. The web page is at and the full book can be obtained by clicking on... "Full view" at the bottom.  There you can download a single page or the full book as PDF (the direct link would be;orient=0;size=100.

If you visit the page instead of downloading directly, you can see the hierarchy it belongs to and explore the library.

By the way, it was digitized by the Internet Archive, so it can be found there as well

1618 - Billingsley. The pen's excellencie

You will need Java to browse it at Cambridge University if you check the Zoompan edition to browse it in high quality, but not if you access the simple version in straight JPEG images. The JPEG images have the advantage of being easily downloadable, which allows you to later bind them into a single PDF book.

1856 - Handbook of mediaeval alphabets and devices

You can find this book at Amazon, but also in the Internet Archive in various "versions" (digitizations). It contains mostly embellished capitals, which is a wonderful resource in many occasions. Some of the links are (this one is in B&W) (this one too)

Alphabets, numerals & devices of the Middle Ages

Also by Shaw and also available at the Internet Archive

Well, I'll leave it here and continue on another opportunity. But I am sure you also have your preferred links to free books, so why not share them?

Erica McPhee:
Fantastic share! Thanks so much!

The Zanerian Manua can be found here:

A set of alphabets of all the various hands of modern use : with examples in each style, designed as a text book
by Copley, Frederick S

Publication date 1877 Available at the Internet Archive

Mostly of historical interest, available at the Internet Archive, it consists of 112 pages, with lettering alphabets in the verse of pages and blank reverses, showing how to build the letters over a grid to get the proportions right. It is mainly a book on lettering with many fancy alphabets for commercial labelling and some calligraphic alphabets. IMHO, and as mentioned, it is mostly of historical interest and maybe useful if one wants to find vintage alphabets to give a vintage look to a work. Or may be for crochet projects ;)

The penman's hand-book : for penmen and students, embracing a history of writing ... many complete alphabets ... ; Also, Chapters on teaching penmanship, business letter writing, off-hand flourishing ... etc.
by Gaskell, G. A. (George A.), b. 1844

Publication date 1883 Available at the Internet Archive

An interesting resource, although in many cases for historical purposes. It is also mainly a book on lettering, with an orientation towards preparing works for printing (in a classic press). It contains chapters on History, a large collection of fancy alphabets (with some nice ideas for flourishing), a chapter on teaching and -interesting for many- a chapter on flourishing, advice on how to prepare specimens for photo-engraving (where some still useful tips may be found), and advice on writing business letters, invitation cards, and many pen drawings.

You can think of this books as a "Universal Penman's" lookalike, in the sense it provides a huge amount of examples that can help you get ideas and plan projects.

Writing & illuminating, & lettering
by Johnston, Edward, 1872-1944

I don't think this one needs any introduction.

If you must get one book, get this one. If you want to learn and get started, get this one. If you can afford spending a few (really, a few) bucks, order it on Amazon. I have the fac-simile edition published by Dover, which I must confess I find a bit small for my taste (about A5), but there are many other re-editions, some re-touched to modernize the looks also available.

I am not providing links to commercial sites since I am not sure if it is accepted policy in the forum, but they are trivial to find.

However, if you do not want to spare those bucks, or if you want to be able to see the contents at any size or be able to carry it with you on your cell phone or tablet anywhere, or if you simply want to be able to see the original editions (yes, with an s), then you can download it freely online, Note that the book was published in B&W, so the color versions only add the aging-sepia of the page backgrounds.

Internet Archive, 1906 edition, color
Internet Archive, 1906 edition, color (another one)
Internet Archive, 1917 edition, color

Ninety-five Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship
Publish date: 1914
Authors: C.W. Jones

OK, time to move on. So you have learnt your cursive script and now want to go on learning about flourishing. Then, this is a very nice resource that will provide the basics, exercises and a plethora of ideas. You can buy it from or read it online at


or download it for your offline peruse (and pleasure) at

The Internet Archive

Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship

You can also get them from IAMPETH, both

Zaner Lessons


Bloser Lessons

to help you build up your Zaner-Bloser script drinking from the very sources.


Actually, IAMPETH has a huge resource on penmanship books, as has already been pointed out in other posts. Providing a full list would be probably absurd since it is better for you to browse their archive by yourself directly:

IAMPETH rare books

You will find there almost anything you need to learn mostly pointed pen scripts (Spencerian, Zanerian, Madarasz, Palmer, engravers, engrossers, -yes they are different-, etc...) but also examples of the Italian hand, books on flourishing, black letter, old english, and many copybooks and example books that might inspire you for your own projects.

From my own point of view, the main problem is that there are so many books to look at that one does not know where to start if one wants to see it all. It is probably more practical to decide first on something specific (e.g. Spencerian script, or flourishing) and then going straight to books on that topic.

Manual of Free-hand Penmanship
by Alvin R. Dunton, B . Harrison, J. W. C . Gilman, John D . Williams, Silas Sadler Packard

Publication date 1877

Another classic that you can buy in commercial reprints if you want. And one you can find online as well both at

The Internet Archive


Google books

for download. It is a brief treatise to learn calligraphy. Of special interest is its "modern" approach, showing that you have much, much more freedom in choosing how to write (e.g. sitting position) than what most "academic" books proclaim. A practical, easy and short book on learning cursive writing. If you are the likes of those who ask "is it correct if I sit in a different position?" or "can I put the paper oriented in an non-canonical way?", then may be this book will help you feel reassured of your unconventional practice. Personally, I am of the opinion that rules may help get started, but none is a one-size-fits-all and that it is better if each one finds what works best for him/herself (as long as you do not ignore the advice of more experienced practitioners). But that is just me. YMMV!

And I do really think that it is quite a lot for now. More later.

I know that posting many links to the same site is frowned upon, which I find OK for sites like IAMPETH, where all the books hosted are about the same topic, calligraphy. It is more difficult to spot interesting books in huge, generic libraries where stepping upon an interesting book may be a question of chance or hitting on the appropriate search term which, when we talk of historical texts may mean esoteric variants of a common word, or when we talk of international information may require knowledge of specific languages.

Archive.Org is one such site, but not the only one. Many Countries have started digitization efforts on vast amounts of books and it is now possible to obtain Calligraphy books in many languages. And even more interesting yet, sample manuscripts by the biggest masters that can be studied and used as a reference. In this series of posts I intend to share many interesting books, specifically intending to pinpoint them among these vast collections (or the even vaster Internet at large).

Well, let's go on.

A system of easy lettering
by Cromwell, John Howard, 1857-

Publication date 1890 [c1887]

Available at the Internet Archive, this is a book on lettering. By today's standards it is probably too basic, but for the same reason it may provide a good beginner's introduction. Alphabets are laid out on graph paper, so that they are easy to reproduce. It was a great resource in the old times of dot-matrix printers and pixel-based fonts. It can still be for designing computer fonts in restricted environments. It may help you make lettering designs for other kinds of artwork. But it is (IMHO) of limited interest from a calligraphic point of view, and mainly as a basic introduction to lettering.

Alphabets old and new, for the use of craftsmen
by Day, Lewis Foreman, 1845-1910

Publication date 1910

We start now to get more interesting. Lewis F Day was one of the great masters of its time, and in this third edition of his book, digitized by the Smithsonian and available at the Internet Archive. This is the most complete copy available online (but you can find others at the Archive). It contains a wealth of alphabets, both minuscule and capitals (obviously with many more examples of Capitals).

Given its date, you can think of it as a large collection of "vintage" alphabets, although some of its "modern" alphabets do indeed look quite actual even nowadays and are reminiscent (or rather "prequelaes") of modern calligraphy. And do note as well that it does also contain other alphabets such as Coptic or Hebrew alphabets. The index starts on page 252.

I'll try to avoid duplicating links that have been mentioned in other threads (like Lewis F. Day's Penmanship of the  XVI, XVII & XVIIIth centuries, but cannot guarantee I'll spot all of them. By the way, this one is also available on Google books and in printed form from various sources.

Well, I think it is time to move on. But before that, I'd like to leave you with a calligraphy jewel. If you like italic or chancery cursive, you'll know one of the three GREAT MASTERS (yeah, with capitals) of the hand is Arrighi, author of the Operina.

Well then. Here you have a book entirely manuscript by the very Ludovicus Vicentinus degli Arrighi himself. It is

Petrach. Complete Works

Now, what is that? That is a link to the National Library of Spain (so don't get surprised if it is in Spanish). This is the page of a Manuscript of Petrarch's Poems, in Italian, signed by Vincentinus on page 184v.

Once you get there, click on "View work" on the left, below the front page image, and this will open a new window where you can browse the book. On the new tab, click on the download link (a green down arrow) and there you will be able to download all or part of the book. For simplicity, I usually prefer to download it complete as PDF, and then browse it later at my own leisure.

I ain't sure if you'll see it in English or Spanish. If it is in Spanish, just click on PDF, then select "de este volumen" to download the whole volume (more on this later) because if not, by default it will download only the current page, and then click the "Descargar" (Download) button.

A note is due: some books in the BNE are too long and may be split in "volumes", you can tell in the "browse" tab (the document icon): the first level is "volumes", the second is usually "chapters" and the third "pages". So, if there is more than one "first-level" entry then it means that the book is split in several volumes, you need to first move (click on the volume) to each volume and download it separately one by one.

That is the case of this book: it is divided in six sections or volumes to keep downloads shorter (consider that the site was designed at a time when these sizes were considered huge, well before the advent of video streaming on demand).

To me, this is truly an authentic jewel of calligraphy and a great resource of inspiration on layout, color and illumination, and, even more yet, Poetry (I don't mind reading Petrarch in Italian).

In other posts I will try to identify some interesting calligraphy books that you can find (if you know how) at the BNE (Spain's National Library), at BNF (France's National Library), and in various smaller libraries in France, Italy, Germany or the Netherlands. But I think it is time to get a rest and give you a break.

I love this thread! there are many many books on calligraphy available online.
I wasn't going to announce this until next week, but... now's a good time too !

I made a bibliography of over 300 copybooks published from 1525 to approx 1930 on this website : go to the bibliography page.
You'll find the books organized by century and country, with some historical background for each century. I also added a small comment for most of the books (but nothing as compleat as what you've been doing here @jrvalverde !)

I'm super nervous about sharing this... it's a work in progress... be kind... well, now it's out !


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