"Our Tools of Learning" : George Arthur Plimpton's Gifts to Columbia University

Handwriting > Page 1


La Operina di Ludouico Vicentino, da Imparare di scriuere littera Cancellarescha

[Rome: 1522]

Plimpton 095 1522 L96

Considered by many to be the finest of all writing books, Arrighi’s treatise was the first illustrated publication on the formation of chancery letters to be written for a general audience. It was printed in the manner of the 15th century block book, with the letters cut on wood blocks like pictorial illustrations of the period.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Calligraphy Manuscript book on paper and on parchment

Nuremberg, 1550

Plimpton MS 300

This album of calligraphic virtuosity has 32 leaves, of which only seven are parchment. The opening on display shows two parchment leaves, surely chosen by Brechtl as support for two of his most elaborate script samples: on the left, in red ink, in a very spiky cursive, a text in German; on the left, in gold ink, in a smooth Italic, a text in Latin. While we might hesitate to draw parallels between red ink and German text, or gold ink and Latin text, it remains entirely valid to associate the sharp fractured script with German, and the flowing Italic with Latin—Germany and Italy being the respective birthplaces for those scripts.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton



A Booke Containing Divers Sortes of Hands, as well the English as French Secretarie with the Italian, Roman, Chancelry & Court Hands

London: Imprinted by Thomas Vautrouillier, 1570

Plimpton 092 1570 B38 (STC 6446)

This book, the first work on handwriting printed in England, is an enlarged adaptation of Beauchesne’s Le Thresor d’Escripture, printed in Paris in 1550 and Lyon in 1580. The woodcut plates show a wide variety of scripts, including many forms of both secretary and italic, and a number of purely decorative hands. De Beauchesne, a French Huguenot immigrant, was a writing master who became tutor to Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, the only daughter of King James I. Baildon’s role in the work is uncertain; he may have cut the woodblocks, or edited the work. Containing thirty-seven leaves (this copy lacking nine leaves, dedication and letter press), the work includes admirable examples of gothic and secretary hands, as well as chancery, italic, secretary written with the left hand (a reversed hand read through a mirror) and other hands. One other incomplete copy of this edition and a fragment are known to exist.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton

Writing Tables with a Kalender for xxiiii. yeeres, with sundry necessarye rules

London: Franke Adams, stationer and bookbinder, 1583

Plimpton 529.3 1583 (STC 26049.13)

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, “writing tables” or “table books” were memorandum books in which notes could be written without ink. Some, as mentioned by Chaucer in the Sumner’s Tale, (of a Friar with “A pair of tables all of ivory, And a pointel ypolished fetishly, And wrote alway the names, as he stood, Of alle folk that yave hem any good”) were made of ivory. The blank leaves inserted in this book are made of paper covered in gesso, and a silver stylus would have been included that fit into a slot in the binding which, in the words of a 19th-century owner of a copy of this book, “produces an impression as distinct, and as easily obliterated as a black-lead pencil.”

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


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