Joseph-Balthazar Sylvestre’s Alphabet Album (1843)

This “alphabet album”, a beautiful book of calligraphy and typographic engraving, was assembled by Joseph-Balthazar Silvestre (1791–1869), a paleographer, calligrapher, and miniaturist painter born in Avignon who later taught the sons of King Louis-Philippe I (1773–1850) how to form their letters.

Ranging from the old-fashioned to the modern, from the elegantly unreadable to the crystal clear, these alphabets are organized and labeled by century, country, and often library of origin, thereby providing the reader with a sense of how many different variations people have made on the simple shapes of Roman letters over the millennia.

Although presenting historical script up to Silvestre's modern-day of the 1840s, the casual viewer might be forgiven for thinking that Silvestre may have somehow plucked a couple of alphabets from the future as well. For those of us not well versed in the history of type, there's something oddly 20th-century about some of the forms — a reminder that type associated with particular eras is often "retrieved" from times past. Another highlight is a beautiful script entirely comprised of gnarled tree-forms, a medium given added salience in this volume given the sylvan name of its compiler.

Browse some of our favourites below, and please forgive the low resolution (which is the highest we could find).

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