A Digital Bookshelf of Lettering Manuals and Alphabet Source Books

This list of vintage instructional lettering books is a work in progress, not yet published openly on our main site. Please keep to yourselves for now. Thanks! — S. Coles

Writing Books

16th–18th-century engraved and manuscript books devoted primarily to demonstrating elaborate calligraphy.

Petrus Josephus Boonekamp (calligrapher), Handleiding tot de Schrijftkunst, Leyden, 1830.
Petrus Josephus Boonekamp (calligrapher), Handleiding tot de Schrijftkunst [Manual to the Writing Arts], Leyden, 1830. Image: Letterform Archive.

Writing manuals at Letterform Archive

Calligraphy at the Getty Research Institute (to edit)

Lettering Manuals

19th–20th-century instructional books on calligraphy, penmanship, lettering, show card writing, sign painting, etc.

Edward Johnston, Writing & Illuminating & Lettering, 14th Ed. London, 1925 (1st Ed., 1906)
Edward Johnston, Writing & Illuminating & Lettering, 14th Ed. London, 1925 (1st Ed., 1906). Image: Letterform Archive.
Spencerian Key to Practical Penmanship
Platt Rogers Spencer, et al., Spencerian Key to Practical Penmanship, New York City and Chicago, 1873. Image: Letterform Archive.

1873: Spencerian Key to Practical Penmanship
Spencer, Platt Rogers

1877: The American Sign Writer
Collins & Brooke

1878: The Art of Lettering and Sign Painter’s Manual
Boyce, Allen P.

1883: The Penman’s Hand-book
Gaskell, George A.

1884: Ames Guide To Self Instruction
Ames, Daniel T.

1888: The Art of Letter Painting Made Easy
Badenoch, James Greig

1888: A practical manual of house-painting, graining, marbling and sign-writing
Davidson, Ellis A.

1894: Grinnell’s Hand Book on Painting
Grinnell, V. B.

Text-book on Plain Lettering (2nd ed.)
Henry Sylvester Jacoby, Text-book on Plain Lettering (2nd ed.), New York City, 1901. Image: University of Californa Libraries via Internet Archive.

1895, 1901: A Text-book on Plain Lettering (2nd ed.)
Jacoby, Henry Sylvester
Recommended. Subjects: Map lettering.

1898: The Sign Writer and Glass Embosser (more)
Sutherland, W. & W. G.

Sign writing and glass embossing
James Callingham, Sign Writing and Glass Embossing, Philadelphia, 1890. Image: Getty Research Institute via Internet Archive.

1890: Sign Writing and Glass Embossing
Callingham, James

1890: Parsons’ Hand-Book Of Forms: A Compendium Of Business And Social Rules And A Complete Work Of Reference And Self-Instruction
Parsons, William Franklin
Subjects: Penmanship

1899: Sign & Show Card Writing
Butterworth, Charles F.

1900: New Zanerian Alphabets
Zaner, Charles Paxton

1902: Letters & Lettering: A Treatise with 200 Examples
Brown, Frank Chouteau

1902: A Textbook on Lettering and Sign Painting
International Correspondence Schools

textbook on show-card writing
International Correspondence Schools, A Textbook on Show-card Writing, Scranton, 1903. Image: The Library of Congress via Internet Archive.

1903: A Textbook on Show-card Writing
International Correspondence Schools, Scranton
Recommended. Alternate copy. Alternate copy.

1903: Davids’ Practical Letterer: Instructions in Commercial Lettering with Brush or Pen
Hackes, Sidney (compilation) and Binger, Arnold (designs)

1903, 1906: Modern Show Card Lettering, Designs and Advertising Phases (3rd ed.)
Thompson, William Alexander

1906: Writing & Illuminating & Lettering
Johnston, Edward

1906: Henderson’s Sign Painter
Ohnimus, John G.

1908: The theory and practice of lettering, designed for the use of engineers and draftsmen generally… Alternate copy (fair)
Sherman, C. E.

Frank H. Atkinson, Sign Painting Up to Now
Frank H. Atkinson, Sign Painting Up to Now, Chicago, 1913 (1st Ed., 1909). Image: Letterform Archive.

1909, 1913: Atkinson Sign Painting
Atkinson, Frank

1909: Architectural Drawing and Lettering
Brown, Frank Chouteau (lettering section)

Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship
Charles Paxton Zaner, Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship, Revised Ed., Columbus, OH, 1933 (1st Ed., 1909). Image: Letterform Archive

1909–1930: Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship
Zaner, Charles Paxton

1909, 1913 Modern Lettering
Heyny, William

1912: The Essentials of Lettering
French, Thomas Ewing and Meiklejohn, Robert
Recommended. Subjects: Map lettering (“stump letters”)

1913: Instructions on Modern Show Writing
Bissell, J. G

1916: The Sign Painter
Hussey, A. R. (Pullman School of Lettering, Chicago)

c.1916: Lettering
Stevens, Thomas Wood

c.1916: How to Make Show Cards: A practical treatise for the use of retail merchants and their clerks
Miller, Charles Arthur
Alternate (fair)

1916: Standard Lettering
Standard Lettering (2nd ed., 1922)
Claflin, Roy Cleon

1918: “A Show At” Sho Cards
Atkinson, Frank H. and Atkinson, G. W.

c.1918: Alphabets and Lettering with Esterbrook Drawlet Pens
Esterbrook Pen Company

c.1918: Lettering for Commercial Purposes
Gordon, William Hugh

1919: One Hundred Alphabets for the Show Card Writer
The Merchants Record Company

1920: One Hundred Loose Leaf Lessons in Lettering with Pen and Brush
Gordon, William Hugh

1920: How to Paint Signs and Sho’ Cards
Matthews, E. C.

1921: Daily’s Showcard Writing System
Hurst, Albert Edwin and Nowak, Clarence Joseph

1922: Elements of Lettering
Goudy, Frederic William

1922: Principles and Practice of Show-card Writing
Blair, Lawrence E
(fair, missing images)
Alternate (poor)

The Expert Sign Painter
Albanis Ashmun Kelly, The Expert Sign Painter, New York City, 1922. Image: The Library of Congress via Internet Archive.

1922: The Expert Sign Painter
Kelly, Albanis Ashmun

1922: Decorative Writing and Arrangement of Lettering [PDF]
Erdmann, Alfred and Braun, Adolphe A.

1922: The Art of Show Card Writing
(alternate at HathiTrust)
1928 Revised ed.
Strong, Charles J. and Strong, Lawrence J.

1924: Plain and Ornamental Lettering
Fooks, Edwin G.

1940: The Elements of Lettering
Benson, John Howard

1949: Applied Lettering & Design
Holum, Rand

1951: A basic guide to lettering
Buckley, Robert D.

1952: Lettering Art in Modern Use
Ballinger, Raymond

1954: Sign Painting Course
Matthews, E. C.

Speedball Text Book
Ross F. George, Speedball Text Book, 14th Ed. and original pasteup boards, Camden, NJ, 1930–40. Image: Letterform Archive.

1957: Speedball Text Book (17th ed.)
George, Ross F.

1960: Studio Handbook: Lettering by Welo (rev. ed.)
Welo, Samuel

1967: The Art of Hand-lettering (for borrowing only)
Wotzkow, Helm

Collections of Alphabets or Lettering

Letterer showcases that contain little or no instructional material but were often used as source books for commercial artists.

1845: Recueil d’alphabets : dedié aux artistes
Blondeau, Jules

1854 (1941 reprint): Becker’s Ornamental Penmanship and Draughtsman’s Letter Book
Becker, George J.

1859: Examples of Modern Alphabets
Delamotte, Freeman

1863: The Book of Ornamental Alphabets, 5th ed.
(1914: 16th ed.)
Delamotte, Freeman

1877: A Set of Alphabets
Copley, Frederick S

1877: Draughtsman’s Alphabets: A Series of Plain and Ornamental Alphabets…
Esser, Hermann

1880: Muster-Alphabete : verschiedener Schriftarten in den neuesten Formen
Bauer, R. (publisher)

1884: An Encyclopaedia of Monograms
O’Kane, James

1897: Initialen, Alphabete und Randleisten
Hrachowina, Carl

1897: Собрание шрифтов
Маймистов, М.

1903: Nouvel Album de Lettres Peintes
Fleury, Paul

1911: A system of easy lettering (11th ed.)
Cromwell, J. Howard

1912 (1908, 1st ed.): Art Monograms and Lettering (5th ed.)
Bergling, J. M.

1914: Art Alphabets and Lettering
Bergling, J. M.

1915: Presenting the Speed-ball Pen
George, Ross F. and Gordon, W. H.

Strong’s Book of Designs
Charles Jay Strong, Strong’s Book of Designs, Chicago, 1917. Image: The Library of Congress via Internet Archive.

1917: Strong’s Book of Designs
Strong, Charles Jay

Sign Painters’ Portfolios

Collections of chromolithographic prints, often loose leaf, produced by sign artists or companies.

D'Enseignes Décoratives á l'Usage des Peintes
Louis Ramade, D’Enseignes Décoratives á l’Usage des Peintes, Paris, 1890. Image: Letterform Archive.

1890: D’Enseignes Décoratives á l’Usage des Peintes
Ramade, Louis

1898: The Sign Writer and Glass Embosser (more)
Sutherland, W. & W. G.

Nouvel Album de Lettres Peintes
Paul Fleury, Nouvel Album de Lettres Peintes, Paris, 1903. Image: Letterform Archive.

1903: Nouvel Album de Lettres Peintes
Fleury, Paul

1914: Attributs au pochoir : Modèles d’enseignes et inscriptions
Bilard, Raymond (Editor)

Lettering Periodicals

1878–1919: Penman’s Art Journal
1881–1887: Penman’s Gazette
1886–1908: American Penman
1887–1888: The Pen-Art Herald
1895–1903: The Zanerian Exponent and The Penman and Artist / The Penman and Artist / The Penman-Artist
1909: Modern Painter, Vol. 18

General Typography & Layout

1917: The Art & Practice of Typography
Gress, Edmund Geiger

1932: Showcard Lay-out and Design
Bond, Edgar

Still to list:
Scott Boms scans
Zaner-Bloser, Inc. / Sonya Bloser Monroe Penmanship Collection
David Kaminksi list of penmanship books

Other Resources:

Commercial Lettering Copybooks in Britain