I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years looking at the engraved copybooks of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writing masters. My primary interest is the formal roman hand that developed during this time, but the roundhand script is everywhere in these books, and provides the graphical context for everything else. (We call it the “English” Roundhand, although the London writing masters of the late seventeenth century were not too proud to acknowledge its French antecedents.)
Ever since Adobe’s Bickham Script was first released, I have admired Richard Lipton’s distillation of the roundhand exemplars gathered in George Bickham’s The Universal Penman (1741) into a cohesive typeface that, through intelligent use of contextual OpenType layout, manages to approach the liveliness of the scribes’ work. I was thrilled, in 2016, to see the fonts extended to include Cyrillic and Greek support in the latest Bickham Script.
These new designs go beyond distillation of Bickham’s collected forms. The Universal Penman contains no Cyrillic samples, and Bickham’s sole Greek specimen is directly copied from Louis Barbedor’s 1647 book; it is of a different age and a different style. Working with expert advisors, Lipton has interpreted later traditions of Russian and Greek cursive writing, wonderfully working them back into the particular roundhand style of mid-eighteenth-century London.
The best way to appreciate Lipton’s achievement is to spend some time playing with the fonts, seeing how they achieve specific combinations of shapes in particular contexts. It’s possible that no Russian, Ukrainian, Greek, or other writer of these scripts ever wrote in exactly this way, but there is always the sense that they might well have, that the forms and the ways they connect are natural and easy.
Playing with the fonts also reveals some troublesome features of the scripts in their cursive form, notably the repeated sequences of identical strokes in Cyrillic words such as дышишь or слышишь, which impede word legibility in a manner similar to repeated tooth patterns in Arabic script or the picket-fence effect of some words in Textura blackletter. Although the identity of a word can often be guessed from context, or from the first few letters, in handwriting an underline and overline are sometimes used to help distinguish cursive ш and т. This might be a nice stylistic variant option for a future version of Bickham Script Pro.
Robert Slimbach did the initial designs for Bickham Script Pro 3, directing Lipton’s design work thereafter. The contribution of expert Cyrillic and Greek typographic advisors Maxim Zhukov and Gerry Leonidas to this project needs to be acknowledged, as does the work of Frank Grießhammer and David Parsons in programming the OpenType layout for the fonts.
John Hudson is a type designer and co-founder of Tiro Typeworks. Since 1997, he has specialised in the design and development of custom fonts for multilingual computing. In addition to his type design activities, John writes and lectures on font technology issues.