Fundamental Letter Series

December 23, 2013

FundamentalLettersVisualFUNDAMENTAL LETTERS: A series of two-hour classes at the Hermann-Grima historic house in the French Quarter is a mash-up of arcane and popular social media technologies. From monograms you draw yourself to freeware workshops and tutorials, The Fundamental Letters Series combines startling, enchanting, and compelling historic graphic models with the way we all get along today.

Engraved Calling Cards, the App

December 23, 2013

Hello-graph, the first ever engraved calling card app…


…“To the unrefined or underbred, the visiting [or calling] card is but a trifling and insignificant bit of paper; but to the cultured disciple of social law, it conveys a subtle and unmistakable intelligence. Its texture, style of engraving, and even the hour of leaving it combine to place the stranger, whose name it bears, in a pleasant or a disagreeable attitude, even before his manners, conversation and face have been able to explain his social position. The higher the civilization of a community, the more careful it is to preserve the elegance of its social forms. It is quite as easy to express a perfect breeding in the fashionable formalities of cards, as by any other method, and perhaps, indeed, it is the safest herald of an introduction for a stranger. Its texture should be fine, its engraving a plain script, its size neither too small, so that its recipients shall say to themselves, ‘A whimsical person,’ nor too large to suggest [Pg 76] ostentation. Refinement seldom touches extremes in anything.” —Our Deportment. Or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society by John H. Young (F. B. DICKERSON & CO., DETROIT, MICH. 1881). 

The Complete Engraver: Time & Backstory

July 4, 2012

Time & Backstory.

Engraving for Nerds, the Book Tour

June 30, 2012

The Complete Engraver, and its author Nancy Sharon Collins, published by Princeton Architectural Press, is touring soon to an East Coast city near you. (If not, its okay for you to travel a bit for this amazing opportunity.)

Type foundry digitally preserves vintage stationer’s lettering styles

December 21, 2011

[Guest editor: Tamye Riggs]

The Sweet collection is composed of typefaces based on the engraver’s lettering styles that came into fashion at the beginning of the twentieth century. The collection is anchored by Sweet Sans, Mark van Bronkhorst’s interpretation of the engraver’s sans serif (kin to the drafting alphabets popularized in the early 1900s).

A type designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Van Bronkhorst had long been a fan of these historic faces, many of which had all but disappeared from use. A few cuts of the engraver’s sans style existed in digital form, including Sacker’s Gothic (Monotype Imaging) and Engraver’s Gothic (Bitstream), but these interpretations were somewhat limited in their scope.

Van Bronkhorst sought to study the original forms in depth. As a graphic designer, he had worked with an engraving house in the past, and was aware that stationers and engravers used “masterplates” as lettering patterns, tracing letterforms with a pantograph device to manually transfer the forms to what would become the printing plate. He began hunting for masterplates, but found that most had been destroyed as engraving shops converted to digital typography. The majority of these shops had abandoned the tedious masterplate-tracing process in favor of more expedient photographic processes where “pretty much any digital font would do,” Van Bronkhorst says. He decided it would be a good idea to preserve the masterplate lettering styles—some good, some bad, some ugly—as they seemed otherwise destined to disappear unless interpreted as digital fonts.

After doing some digging, Van Bronkhorst discovered a stash of antique masterplates. With Linnea Lundquist, he commenced work on the first typeface in the Sweet range—Sweet Upright Script—likely the first digital version of this vintage social engraving design.

Van Bronkhorst then turned his attention to the engraver’s sans. Sweet Sans hearkens back to the same or similar masterplates as Sacker’s Gothic. Upon close inspection, various masterplates of what would seem the same letterforms varied considerably. The process of interpreting the design was one of selecting various forms and characteristics while leaving others out. The engraver’s sans was typically a cap-to-small-cap combination, yet a lowercase model did exist. Van Bronkhorst decided that Sweet’s interpretation would be broad, including lowercase and small caps, and in weights from Hairline to Heavy, with true italics. The result is a nine-weight sans family that pays homage to the charm and dignity of its model.

Encouraged by the positive response to the first releases, Van Bronkhorst is expanding the Sweet Sans family with a slightly modernized version, and plans to continue to gradually introduce more vintage stationer’s lettering styles in digital form. His goal is to carefully build a collection that accurately represents the genre while offering type users a variety of styles to suit their needs.

The Sweet collection of fonts is available at

Save the Date: Thursday June 16 @ TDC in NYC

May 16, 2011

Nancy will explain why the organic nature of steel die and copper plate engraved imagery and text complements and enhances our visual experiences, and will demonstrate the importance of engraving as a modern graphic design technique. She will show examples from several avid collectors of elegant and unique engraved imagery, and share her expertise on engraving techniques and methodology. She will also describe the recent installation of a working engraving proofing press and the establishment of a new and growing engraving community in the great American city beneath the sea (New Orleans).

Nancy Sharon Collins is especially well-known for her exemplary bespoke hand-engraved social stationery. Besides being a stationer, she is a veteran graphic designer, typographer, independent print history scholar, partner in Collins, LLC, director of special projects for the AIGA New Orleans chapter, and instructor of design at Southeastern Louisiana University. Her book about American commercial engraving is due out in the autumn of 2012.

For details and to make a reservation.

“Allied Oil” courtesy of Strathmore archives, Mohawk Fine Paper, Cohoes, NY; Monogram © Richard Sheaff; “D” monogram engraved by Emily DeLorge.

Engraving Workshop

February 26, 2011

I am giving an engraving workshop at Loyola University New Orleans. This is a breezy overview of what is contemporary, commercial “engraving”:

Friday, March 18 @ 6:00pm
Loyola University New Orleans
Media Room 1.
Monroe Library

(This same workshop was recently given at:

Tuesday, March 1 @ 5:00pm
Southeastern Louisiana University
Mac Lab
East Stadium)

Each workshop includes:

•    what is engraving and why do we love it.
•    historic specimens of weird and fantastic engraving.
•    contemporary applications for engraving.
•    how to prepare art for engraving, and the various kinds of “engraving”.
•    how to engrave…
•    …or, how to work with an engraver (so you just have to design and leave the engraving to somebody else.)
•    engraving resources (so, I have this engraving-appropriate art. now, how and to whom do I send it to get it “engraved”?).

Students of host university, ATypI, SOTA and AIGA members free; moderate fees may apply for non-members and students of other institutions.

Support Your Local Craftsperson

February 15, 2011

Time was when every middle-sized town had a local printer, and many had engraving facilities…

Petite Suite Monograms on Felt & Wire

January 27, 2011

Allyson Kuhn nails it again; recent monogram story on Felt & Wire including our copper photo-engraved plates, hand cut, 1/2″ steel dies and sets of engraved monogram notes which are available on Petite Suite.

Inaugural Meeting of Louisiana Engravers Society

January 14, 2011

Thursday, January 6, in Jennifer Rice’s Innisfree office at 729 East Boston Street in Covington, the inaugural meeting of the Louisiana Engravers Society met. This is a landmark event because engraving for print is almost a dead art. Nancy Sharon Collins of Covington and Yvette Rutledge of New Orleans have banded together to formalize the growing group of engraving enthusiasts whom they meet and who practice here in south Louisiana. Together, they have made it their mission to not only keep this venerable, exquisite art form alive but also encourage its growth by introducing it to younger generations. Highlights were meeting and networking, learning and sharing information and resources, especially sharing technical innovations. Sam Alfano demonstrated the work he has been doing creating digital translations of ornate engraved scroll designs, a process that took him three years to perfect (you can see some on his website.)

Engraving is the most beautiful form of printing known; think of Old Masters prints, those portraits and landscapes made-up of thousands of tiny lines, that’s engraving. Albrecht Dürer was a master engraver, Raphael and Rubens allowed master engravers to copy their work thus increasing the market for their famous paintings. While etching has come to be the prevalent form of intaglio printing practiced in the fine art, printmaking world, engraving has fallen out of favor because it takes 6-10 years to become a master! (The difference between etching and engraving is that in etching, acid is used to make the “cut” while engravers literally cut into the surface of the metal to form designs. The similarity is that the printing process is then the same; ink is worked into the “cuts”. the excess wiped clean, and a print then pulled. Several etching artists are represented at the St. Tammany Art Association where their work can be seen). These days, engraving is best known on the currency carried in our wallets, all our postage stamps used to be engraved, and fancy social stationery and wedding invitations are still engraved. However, we have master engravers right here in our community and several students locally who want to learn.

Participants included Yvette Rutledge and Vince Mitchell, co-directors of the New Orleans Center for Lettering Arts and Mystic Blue Signs (Rutledge is herself a master letter and engraver), Nancy Sharon Collins, bespoke hand engraved social stationer (who also teaches graphic design at Southeastern Louisiana University), the Alfonos (Sam is a master gun and jewelry engraver), Cordelle Louvier, master printer, Emily DeLorge (graphic designer and engraving apprentice) and Skye Jenkins and Alex Babbit (enthusiastic students wanting to learn.) Noel Martin, local master stationery engraver, was unable to attend at the last minute but was present in spirit. Alfono offers engraving classes for jewelry engraving and Rutledge will be offering an engraving class for print, jewelry and metal work this coming fall.
photo: Kyle Petrozza


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