Handwriting Types

A Journey Through Calligraphic Styles


Handwriting is about freeing the imagination, training the mind in the aesthetics of words, capturing a moment, a memory, a dream, a project on a tangible medium. An art made of paper and ink, of pens caressing sheets leaving trails of rare beauty: calligraphy is a slow luxury we allow ourselves in a hyper-technological world where everything moves fast.

Writing has very ancient roots and has developed over time into two "calligraphies": on one hand ideograms and pictograms, representative symbols of objects or concepts; on the other phonemes, symbols corresponding to a sound and which, when combined, form words, definitions of objects or concepts, expressions of thoughts.

Looking at the different writing styles born in the West, we can discover the evolution of calligraphic writing, the primal contact between paper and ink, developed from the famous goose feather pens and sublimated by the invention of the increasingly refined fountain pens.


First Types of Calligraphy in History

The Birth of "Beautiful" Writing

The first form of calligraphic writing is the "Roman Capital", initially used for epigraphs and inscriptions on stones and marbles. The letters were painted with a brush and then engraved with a chisel to create grooves to be filled with color. With the introduction of the papyrus roll, the brush was replaced by the calamus, a broad-tipped pen made from dried reed. Papyrus, being very delicate and difficult to consult, gave way to the more durable parchment, made of specially treated and cut sheep, lamb, or calf skin, bound together in the prototype of the book, the codex.

The adopted writing style is the "Rustic Capital", characterized by faster execution and tighter forms. The spread of Christianity coincided with the need to differentiate the character of the writing of sacred texts from that associated with the governance of the empire: thus the "Uncial Majuscule" was born, a round, full, and soft script. From this developed the "Semi-Uncial" script, one of the styles of lowercase characters.


Different Styles and Characters Depending on the Territory

Discovering the Evolution of Calligraphy

The fall of the Roman Empire left a cultural void in the field of writing, filled by scribes who, using properly treated bird feathers, made sharper and finer strokes on parchment than those achieved with the calamus. Thus, particular writing styles developed, linked to specific territorial realities, such as the "Insular" and "Beneventan" scripts.

Charlemagne, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, placed great importance on literacy, imposing the need for a unique script that would transcend local particularities: with these premises, two complex writing systems were born, "Lettera Antiqua" and "Carolingian Minuscule".

Between the 11th and 12th centuries, a new type of vertically developed, narrow, compact, and angular script began to form, known as littera moderna or "Gothic". In reality, this name encompasses various types of script, among which stand out Textura, the set of characters used by Gutenberg for the first printing, and Rotunda, a calligraphic style that used curved lines, very well-known in Italy.


Ancient and Modern Calligraphic Fonts

From Humanism to the Industrial Revolution

It was then the humanist scholars who defined new writing characters, giving birth to the "Humanist Antiqua", characterized by clarity and thinness of strokes. Simultaneously, another type of cursive writing spread, derived from merchants and notarial acts, which would be named "Italic" or "Chancery", more modern and elegant. Before the advent of printing, manual writing was necessary but not particularly refined; after the spread of movable type, handwritten texts became a manifestation of skill, virtuosity, and refinement. Thus, the figure of the master calligrapher, a connoisseur of Italian chancery script, was born.

In England, meanwhile, an elegant and sinuous script was chosen, still serious and legible, used even today in international writing known as "Copperplate", the famous "English Cursive". The advent of the industrial revolution then transformed the writing instrument, with the introduction of the metal nib: an immediate sales boom followed.

William Morris, determined to reclaim the role of manual arts in full industrialization, founded the Arts and Crafts Movement in 1860 and took a keen interest in calligraphy, considering it a fundamental component of the "Fine Arts". In this historical context, the work of Edward Johnston, an amateur calligrapher who embarked on researching ancient writing techniques, fits in. Considered the father of modern calligraphy, Johnston demonstrated that he could create new scripts based on reinterpretations of ancient ways of writing.


Calligraphy and Special Characters

Styles for important letters, invitations, and greeting cards

When we talk about writing and cursive characters today, we are talking about a true art form, the result of practice, time, patience, and passion. Elegant cursive writing is used decoratively for wedding invitations, greeting cards, poems, commemorative scrolls, but also for letters and more professional communications.

The best writing tool for trying out different calligraphic styles remains the fountain pen, the direct descendant of the goose feather pen that once made the scribes of a distant past dream. There are those who are so familiar with different types of cursive writing that it becomes a daily habit, a meticulous way of copying notes and arranging important texts. What are the main calligraphic styles?


Chancery Calligraphy

Italic or Italian Cursive Style

This calligraphic style emerged in the 15th century in the main chanceries of the time: the characters for italic writing were codified in a manual that became one of the fundamental texts of calligraphy (La Operina da imparare di scrivere littera cancellarescha) by Ludovico Degli Arrighi from Vicenza in 1522.

We are talking about a cursive writing style with multiple forms, also adapted in typography: it was Francesco Griffo who created the first italic typeface for printing for Aldo Manuzio. Chancery calligraphy is considered the origin of all the italics in use today in Western countries, characterized by its highly decorative nature and Renaissance imprint. The quintessential cursive writing, preferred by calligraphers around the world who make it their own by adding personal expressions and adapting it to various degrees of formality.

Spencerian Calligraphic Style

The American Cursive

When we talk about the American standard in writing, we refer to this style that emerged in the 19th century in America through the adaptation of English cursive to American commercial needs. There was a need for fast and immediate handwriting: thus, American Business Handwriting and American Cursive Handwriting were born.

It was Sir Roger Spencer who developed a new, free, and decorative character, a natural evolution of these styles, drawing inspiration from nature, particularly the spirals of ivy, wheat sheaves, and the flight of birds.

The American commercial cursive gave way to the Spencerian script, rich in shading, flourishes, and zoomorphic decorations, which come to life through the use of a flexible nib, the most suitable for this calligraphic style.

Copperplate Calligraphy

The English Cursive Writing

The English Cursive originated as commercial writing in 18th-century England and then became a universal style, taught in primary schools of the main European countries. The name Copperplate refers to the engraving technique on copper plates of this very decorative and complex writing, characterized by particularly elaborate and elegant capital letters.

The spread of this style is mainly due to the metal nib, which ultimately replaced the turkey feather and goose quill pens used until the 19th Century.

Preferred and used especially in public administrations: in particular, the Italian Ministries use this modern historical script in the headings of official communications.


A hand racing towards the unknown, transforming a blank sheet into a canvas of emotions. Calligraphy sublimates the infinite embrace of paper and ink, the immortal pleasure of handwriting well known to those who own a Montegrappa pen. So Montegrappista, passionate about calligraphic styles, take your pen, a precious Italian artifact, and honor it!