Show and tell: A book about the social network of the past

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In late July I serendipitously ended up at the San Francisco Center for the Book for a book talk and signing for The Complete Engraver, Monograms, Crests, Ciphers, Seals, and the etiquette of social stationery by Nancy Sharon Collins and published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2012. Nancy's talk was so informative and humorous that I bought the book.

The title is a long one, and for good reason. This book is an incredible resource for those interested in history and function of engraved printing but I also think it is an equally great sociological resource. We live in a world with Facebook, email, and text messages. The nuances of using these communication devices is becoming second nature to us but in the not so distant past trading cards of paper with your name and a corner folded in a certain manor was a key way of communicating. Even children could have petite calling cards because the size of the card had meaning as well. I noticed that one of the most universal business card sizes in the U.S. (3.5 x 2 inches) was once the calling card size reserved for men.

The top card is engraved on onion skin paper which is sturdier than it's delicacy would let you think. An engraving press uses two tons per square inch of pressure.

The top card is engraved on onion skin paper which is sturdier than it's delicacy would let you think. An engraving press uses two tons per square inch of pressure.

Engraving is the key thread throughout the book but only the last chapter is dedicated to it's technicalities. The other chapters are filled with exactly what the title describes; the etiquette of social stationary. Even if you're not terribly interested in printing techniques I would recommend reading this book for it's historical information on the intricacies of the social network of the past. 

I experimented with the engraving fonts developed for the book promotion.

I experimented with the engraving fonts developed for the book promotion.

As promotion for this book Monotype Imaging Corporation developed two new fonts based on Cronite Masterplate engraving styles. The book has detailed information about the process of taking a lettering style only available as an engraved plate and turning it into a digital font. The fonts are available here for free.

 

I was excited to see there are some images of engraved samples of calligraphic writing styles in the book.

I was excited to see there are some images of engraved samples of calligraphic writing styles in the book.

I tried my hand at writing the alphabet shown below. To me the alphabet looks tied up in knots. On the right is my first stab at creating a monogram with calligraphy. Mine is too legible compared to the examples I've seen.

I tried my hand at writing the alphabet shown below. To me the alphabet looks tied up in knots. On the right is my first stab at creating a monogram with calligraphy. Mine is too legible compared to the examples I've seen.

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We have a zillion ways to communicate these days but after reading the book I found myself nostalgic for etiquettes of the past that I never experienced. For instance this excerpt from the book is a perfect example of a norm gone remise in todays culture:


Mourning stationary: Mourning stationery was essential in the nineteenth-century communication toolbox and may have reached its apogee in the Victorian era. in those days, grieving women wore heavy black veils to separate them from the public. Most cultures allowed for this outward sign of grieving, but many of these traditions have been lost and these days it's expected we just "get on" with our lives.  

This does not allow for the natural process of healing nor any gracious way of dealing with profound emotions. Mourning stationery, with its distinctive black border on each item, functioned as a visual signal that the sender was grieving the death of someone close to him or her. Traditionally, the various stages of mourning were indicated by the width of the black border, which diminished with time.  (Book excerpt)

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There is definitely some tediousness to the social norms of the past. I think it would be interesting if we still had some of the formalities. I could imagine going to someone's Facebook page and seeing a black band around their cover image indicating loss. There are lots of things mourned. Most often I see loves being mourned on Facebook. What if there was a way to signal you were going through emotional ache without airing all the details to every long lost contact? I don't think that would be a bad thing. 

I can't help comparing what I've learned in this book to how Facebook is used. You can visit someone's wall. They're not around so you leave your calling card. The visual cues are not all gone. Earlier this year millions of people changed their profile images to the Human Rights Campaign logo to show solidarity of support. Digital ways of communicating will always be persistent but it feels like there is a cultural want for handmade correspondence. Wedding invitations are as important and more elaborate than ever. As Nancy said in her presentation people are looking for high-touch/low-tech experiences. I for one have been making a conscious effort to send more mail. 

Buy The Complete Engraver here. 

Learn more about the book here. 

//Show and Tell is a feature of my blog where I share about creative resources I find or creative experiences I participate in.  //