by Lih-Tah Wong
contact info

Hall of Shame
Tech Gear
Web Links
Site Updates


A Pen  Box from the Michigan Pen Show

Copyright © 2005 Nick Olmos-Lau

I arrived late to the pre meeting trading room of the Michigan Pen Show on September 30, 2005. It was a Friday afternoon and there were only a handful of dealers set up with interesting items.

One item stood out, on the Parker 75 table.  It pulled my eye. It was a small wooden box. I thought I had seen before on Lih-Tah Wong’s website.

I recognized the picture on the front of the box. It was an old 18th C. Plate of a man sitting at a desk writing with a quill. Next to him on another chair, nearby, there is a closed book entitled Art d’Ecrire by Paillasson. I recognized the illustration and opened the box. It had a beautiful illustration of French Round hand Capital letters. The box was empty and there was no pen in it. The sign placed on the inside of the box read: “Solid Sterling Godron with Black Cabochon. Special Box made for the European Markets.” 

I told Lee Chait that I knew where those illustrations on the box came from, and that I was going to send him a picture of the source upon my return home.  I decided instead to write a short article about this box and what it meant to me.

The reason I knew where those pictures came from was a personal interest to find a good exemplar alphabet resource to learn French Round Hand. An 18th Century alphabet that is quite attractive, elegant and one of my favorites..

First I found a good source in Claude Mediavilla’s Calligraphy Textbook, a French contemporary book that has a lot of historical plates and many beautiful examples of it.

When I found the 2001 reprint of Diderot and D’Alembert Encyclopedia volume pertaining to “The Art of Handwriting.” I was stunned by the extent, quality, and beauty of presentation.


The illustration of the front of Lee’s box was a reproduction of the upper part of plate II of this volume, and the inside of the box, has another reproduction of the lower part of plate X of Diderot and D’Alembert Encyclopedia handwriting volume.


This stand alone volume of the Encyclopedia is a brief  booklet of about 43 pages. It was a reprint of 2001 of a portion of the Magnum Opus by the “Biblioteque de l’Image”

 The first 16 pages of text explain each one of the subsequent 16 plates or illustrations which include:

  1. Introduction
  2. Materials and Correct Position to write for Men
  3. Materials and Correct Position to write for Women
  4. How to burnish and cut a quill
  5. How to hold the quill different approaches
  6. Traces and joints
  7. Height, width and slant of handwriting
  8. Preparatory exercises
  9. Alphabets of the Round Hand
  10. Alphabet of the Gothic Batarde
  11. Cursive alphabets
  12. Size of the pen and Cadels
  13. Capital letters
  14. Various styles  of Round handwriting
  15. Various styles of Batarde handwriting
  16. Various styles of Cursive writing

The next 17 pages of text are about the Ancient Alphabets with specific examples and individual characters of Arabic, Hebrew, Phoenician, Ethiopian and Abissinian, Samaritan and Syriac, Palmyrian and Gallilean, Coptic and Egyptian. Greek and Arcadian, Icelandic, Anglo-Saxon, Gothic. Illirian, Serbian, Armenian, Georgian, Persian and several others including Bengali, Talenga, Nagrou, Siamese, Balinese, Tibetan, Tartar, Japanese and Chinese.

It is thrilling to think that renowned Champollion, of Rosetta Stone fame, used these charts in order to learn these alphabets.  He became  the foremost oriental Linguist of his day. Mastering a dozen  languages (some of them nearly extinct such as Coptic), accomplished through genius  instinct and intuition  to unravel the thousand years unsolved mystery of  the meaning and significance of the Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

The Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une Société de Gens de lettres was published under the direction of Diderot, in 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of plates between 1751 and 1772.

This encyclopedia is considered by some as the main repository of human knowledge up to the 18th C. The contributors included some of the most erudite minds of the era. Denis Diderot,   a writer and philosopher was able to garnish the manpower and effort to propagate the content  publish  this work and fight the forces that tried to obstruct it.

Jean le Rond D'Alembert, the co-editor was  a renowned mathematician, famous for explaining mathematically Newton’s discovery of the precession of the equinoxes and perturbations of the orbits and planets. He was able to convince Diderot of the importance of including scientific articles in the Encyclopedia and garner such minds as Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Baron d'Holbach, Necker, Turgot, Buffon and many others to collaborate.

The encyclopedia  contains 72,000 articles written by more than 140 contributors, the Encyclopédie was a massive reference work for the arts and sciences,  and technology  and  served to propagate the ideas of “ The Enlightenment”.

You can freely search the articles and plates of this encyclopedia at the U of  Chicago ARTFL project website.



Copyright © 2000-2013, Lih-Tah Wong.  All rights reserved