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Copy-sheet with calligraphic design of Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark, with the royal arms and a battleship and numerous flourishes
Engraving completed with pen and ink by one John Cooke, 14 December 1717
- Production date
Height: 400 millimetres
Width: 317 millimetres (sheet)
- Curator's comments
- Kim Sloan, 'A Noble Art', BM 2000, cat.69
Fantastic calligraphic flourishes like the example here are unfamiliar to us today, but childrens' exercise copybooks were filled with such images well into the eighteenth century. Cheap prints with examples of fine penmanship were issued for copying, but often the central section was left blank for the pupil to fill as an exercise and keepsake of his accomplishment in writing, which, as noted in the text here, was generally considered to be 'as useful to the Gentleman and Scholar, as the Man of Business'. John Smith, who taught at Christ's Hospital, was one of the finest calligraphers of this type and he designed some of the earliest surviving writing sheets. George Shelley (c.1666-1736), who was educated at Christ's Hospital and also taught writing there for twenty years, adorned his first book Penman's Magazine (1705) with a hundred open figures and 'fancies' after originals by the seventeenth-century 'master of the quill' for these 'flourishes', Thomas Seddon.
The fact that the print depicts Queen Anne (d. 1714) and that John Cooke did not fill it with his writing exercise until 1717, indicates that calligraphic flourishes of this seventeenth-century type continued to be associated and taught as part of good penmanship into the eighteenth century. However, by the third decade, such fantastic figures had disappeared to be replaced by more purely decorative flouishes, initial letters and small vignettes with decorative borders of the type found on similar writing sheets right through the Victorian period. By the end of the century such flourishes were rarely found on official documents and accounts as they had been earlier, but instead made an appearance in the borders of grangerized volumes (see cat. 87), or in manuscript keepsake books, usually made by women who decorated and illuminated the texts in the margins in a manner similar to that found in Bickham's example (cat. 72). Queen Charlotte and her daughters compiled several volumes; Princess Elizabeth's example now in Hanover was made as late as the 1830s (Roberts, pl.23).
In 1762 when William Massey was writing his history of English penmen, he wondered why women, several of whom he had taught and who all showed 'a natural genius for writing' did not set up a school and teach writing and accounts to young women. He took note of several English women who had excelled at writing, most recently Mary Johns, the daughter of a cooper of Bermondsey who had a natural genius for both drawing and writing. Her performances, including the Lord's Prayer in the compass of a silver penny, were in several collections, but in 1752 she married a carpenter named Taylor and no longer had the leisure to do 'anything in that way' since 'the prudent management of a family and the carefree bringing up of children, are a married woman's greatest and wisest employment.' Massey further expressed disappointment that Bickham refused to include her work in his Universal Penman as it would have been 'not only to her honour, but to her sex in general.'
Literature: Massey, pp. 168-72; Heal, passim; O'Connell, pp. 34-5
- Not on display
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