The First Fifty

By Kenneth Hardacre
Date Added: 17/07/2009


The Society for Italic Handwriting was inaugurated on 25 November 1952, and the first issue of the BULLETIN appeared in the Autumn of 1954. It seemed at first a little uncertain whether it was to be called the BULLETIN or ITALICA, but after the second issue the latter title was never heard of again.

That first issue had roughly the present page size, bore a modest (and by today's standards not very inviting) grey cover with a calligraphed title, and contained twenty-four pages (of very thin paper) reproduced by photo-litho, with the text done on an ordinary typewriter. The photo-litho process was chosen as an inexpensive means of reproducing the examples of handwriting which would form an important part of the magazine's content - though, strangely enough, the first issue contained only one example of italic handwriting outside the advertisements. There were six pages of these and we are grateful for our advertisers' support in those early days, when they probably did not exactly rejoice at the display quality of their advertisements.

But though No. 1 had necessarily to be produced within a very close budget, its liveliness, optimism and variety were a clear reflection of the personality and extremely hard work of its first editor, Dr. W. N. Littlejohns. Among its contents were the text of a talk on Cresci given to the Society earlier in the year by Sir Francis Meynell; an account of handwriting experiences at Cholmondeley School by Mr. Percy Wood; a report on a week-end course conducted by Mr. Alfred Fairbank at Old Jordans Hostel, near Beaconsfield; the first part of a collection of references to handwriting in literature, presented by Mrs. Margaret Horton; four pages of reviews of books on italic handwriting; and a good deal of miscellaneous matter (news and views, information, notes on materials and four "italic" limericks).

Immediately the BULLETIN settled down to regular quarterly publication. The first seven issues all had much the same physical appearance but with covers in varying colours and more generous samples of actual handwriting as illustrations. The Editor's plea for material seemed to be meeting with a fair response and "What Members are Saying" was a regular and quite lengthy feature of these early issues. No.3 contained the first contributions from Mr. Fairbank, one of them illustrated by the first of those photographs of historical examples which have since become such an important feature of the Society's journal. Unfortunately the process of reproduction used at that time could not do full justice to such photographs: it was very much a matter of seeing through a glass darkly. But Dr. Littlejohns managed to persuade members to keep up the flow of lively articles on every aspect of italic handwriting. No.6 was a very special issue in that it contained the full texts of the lectures given by Sir Francis Meynell and Mr. Fairbank at the Society's meeting in connection with the Conference of Educational Associations in 1956, and No.7 had a contribution from Sir Sidney Cockerell.

With No.8 came a considerable technical improvement: although the photo-litho process was still used, the typewriter was banished and the text was set in 8 pt Times Roman type. (Considerably later a switch was made to 10 pt Ionic, with a further improvement in legibility as a result.)

We now enter what might be called the middle period of our publication's first half-century. Though the format was to remain fixed for the next six years, there were continual modifications. The layout became more open, everything appeared less cramped, the headings were calligraphed (by Mr. Lewis Trethewey), and the quality of reproduction, especially the reproduction of historical examples, improved slightly. One senses a subtle change in the content too:- not a hardening or a loss of liveliness; perhaps an increase in dignity, without any accompanying solenmity; certainly a greater sense of purpose, even of responsibility. There was less chatter about how nice it was to have a publication. This was now taken for granted and we settled down to make it the vehicle for achieving the Society's real purpose: to put italic handwriting on the map. While the BULLETIN maintained its role in linking the Society's world- wide membership of professionals and amateurs, emphasis was now more firmly placed on important things like practical instruction, the teaching of handwriting in schools and the study of historical hands. Its pages reflected the growing activities of the Society - courses, branches, exhibitions and overseas connections - and were now able to do rather more justice to Mr. Fairbank's discoveries in the British Museum, the Public Record Office and elsewhere.

After eighteen issues and four and a half years of devoted service, Dr. Littlejohns found that pressure of other work compelled him to give up the Editorship. In this he was succeeded by Mr. Kenneth A. Hooton and soon afterwards Mr. David E. Thomas took over the management of the advertising. As long as a strict budget meant acceptance of the photo-litho process, an editor's biggest headache was the still far from perfect quality of half-tone illustrations, though our printers, D. and H. Newman Ltd., stretched the technical limitations as far as they would go. The problem was partially solved by issuing a series of supplements to the BULLETIN. Mr. Hooton's first issue was accompanied by a collotype reproduction of Bartholomew Dodington's letter of 1590 to Lord Burghley, printed by Mr. Eric Gee and the Birmingham School of Printing. During the next two years eight further supplements, printed by Messrs. Bradford and Dickens, were issued, with comments by Mr. Fairbank, and these attracted the attention of The Times Literary Supplement and The Book Collector.

Meanwhile, the pages of the BULLETIN itself contained an ever-increasing wealth of italic hands, both free and formal. Mr. Frank Allan Thomson announced his discovery of a new Arrighi manuscript containing Facta et Dicta Memorabilia of Valerius Maximus; Mr. Fairbank wrote on the Apologues of Collenucci, the writing of which he attributed to Arrighi, and reported on another Arrighi attribution, a manuscript of Machiavelli's La Clitia, discovered by Professor Beatrice Corrigan.

This "middle period" saw an almost continuous flow of contributions across the Atlantic from Professor Lloyd]. Reynolds, Mr. P. W. Filby, Mr. Maury Nemoy, Mr. George Salter and Mr. Paul Standard. It was notable too for a mass of material on handwriting in schools and training colleges, written by people with direct experience, and for a whole series of practical articles by Mr. Lewis Trethewey.

In 1962 the Society received an anonymous donation of £500 a year so that it could improve and expand its official journal. Mr. Hooton, who had initially undertaken to edit the BULLETIN for a year and had in fact done noble work for over four years, was now very conscious that he could not devote to it the amount of time that he would have wished. He was succeeded by Dr. Arthur S. Osley, who immediately set about a complete replannmg of the Society's publication. And so, with a new title, a new printer (John Dickens of Northampton), a more suitable reproduction process (offset-litho), an improved layout (using 12 pt. Bembo type) and a cover designed by Mrs. Sheila Waters, THE JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY FOR ITALIC HANDWRITING (No. 32) appeared in the Autumn of 1962, to coincide almost exactly with the tenth anniversary of the Society's formation.

It was now felt that here was a publication which was not only perfectly suitable as a member's magazine but also one of which the outside world could be expected to take some notice. And so it has proved, for the nineteen issues since then have contained much valuable and original material: Miss P. Wallis Myers's authoritative articles on teaching handwriting to young children; Dr. Osley's studies of the italic types of Aldus and Arrighi; Dr. R. W. Hunt's article on Humanistic Script in Florence in the early fifteenth century; and a whole succession of the results of Mr. Fairbank's researches (on Pietro Cennini, Bartolemeo San Vito, Antonio Tophio, Ludovicus Regius, Giovanbattista Palatino and others), many of them appearing in print for the first time in the pages of the JOURNAL.

In the second issue for which he was responsible Dr. Osley explained why the vine leaf was chosen for the cover design. "The white vine was a favourite decorative motif in the period when the italic style was being evolved. Moreover, a leaf naturally suggests life and growth. Thus past and future are linked." This brief survey of the past fifty issues of the JOURNAL has certainly been a story of life and growth and we look forward with confidence to the continued flourishing of our own particular white vine. The Society has been most fortunate in its Editors. May they in turn be equally fortunate in having in the future a host of willing contributors to their pages!