Stan Knight’s Historical Scripts, from classical times to the Renaissance is a very useful book and here is why.
The book is a survey of bookhands (and a few inscriptions). As such, with just about 100 pages and with just one script per double-page. It’s coverage is limited. But what the author aimed for is quality, not quantity. ‘It is important to understand that historical scripts were nor rigidly-fixed styles (as are the majority of modern typefaces). Those reproduced in this book represent the high peaks in an endlessly shifting landscape’ writes Knight.
The reproduction and sharpness of the images is excellent, especially compared with other books on the subject. Again this is done with a knowledge of the limitations as the author warns us ‘Ideally, one should study historical scripts at first hand. The originals have a subtlety, finesse and an “atmosphere” which can not be captured in reproduction [anyone who has had the chance to be near manuscripts knows how true this is]. But to access such manuscripts is often difficult. The documents are, by nature and age, fragile, and the libraries that house them (quite sensibly) limit their availability even to those engaged in serious research. This book aims to provide the next best thing to studying original manuscripts.’
The book’s size is 23 × 30.5 cm which allows for reproductions almost real size and large-sized close-ups.
The scripts covered in this book are: some of Greek and Roman inscriptions, rustic and square capitals, uncials, half-uncials, insular and Caroline minuscules, Protogothic and gothic scripts, Caroline, English and Gothic capitals and humanist scripts. Excluded are local scripts such as Merovingian, Luxeuil, Benevetan, etc.
Ewan Clayton, the calligrapher and scholar writes in the introduction to Historical Scripts ’Now is an important moment in the history of lettering and documents, perhaps as important as any moment we can identify in the story this book traces. Our technology for producing written artifacts is changing. As it changes many of the structures we have built to bring order to the world of the written word (libraries, publishing houses, the form of the book itself) are being questioned. This brings its own anxiety and disorientation.
At moments such as these it is helpful to see ourselves as part of a continuum, one that stretches back beyond the age of Gutenberg and the introduction of printing. For historical tradition is never a fixed or immovable force but always a living resource capable of development in new ways.’
This review is for the edition of 2015.