Edward Johnston – Master Calligrapher

By Michelle Davies

“Nobody had such a lasting effect on the revival of contemporary writing as Edward Johnston. He paved the way for all lettering artists of the twentieth century and ultimately they owe their success to him.” Herman Zapf

Edward Johnston (1872-1944) almost single-handedly revived the art of formal penship with his major work Writing & Illuminating, & Lettering, first published in 1906 and in print ever since.

His book created a new interest in calligraphy and his re-discovery of the influence of tools, materials and methods.

The epoch-making sans-serif alphabet and roundel symbols he designed for the London Underground Railways changed the face of typography in the twentieth century while his great pupil Eric Gill (1882-1940) created Perpetua and Gill Sans.

Johnston originally changed career direction, abandoning medical studies at Edinburgh University to study calligraphy. He taught Lettering and Illumination at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London in 1898 and began to research letter forms in early manuscripts.

Writing & Illuminating, & Lettering was translated into German in 1910 and sparked huge interest there.

He revived the use of the broad-edged pen, devising the simply-crafted round calligraphic handwriting style know as the Foundational Hand (pictured below).

He also inspired and taught most of the early twentieth century calligraphers and letter designers at his classes at the Central School and later at the Royal College of Art in London.


The Edward Johnston Foundation

Foundational Hand


Read Writing & Illuminating, & Lettering

Buy fonts

Master Calligrapher – A book by Peter Holliday

London Underground font


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