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Alfred Fairbank

Influential English calligrapher; student at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, disciple (in his own words) of Edward Johnston. In 1921 he was a founder member of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators, and honorary secretary from 1931 to 1933.

After the Second World War he founded the Society for Italic Handwriting, which professed as one of its aims the general improvement of the nation’s handwriting by aspiring to the standards of the Renaissance Italian masters. Standards continued to decline steadily despite his efforts, as schoolchildren were left to develop their own personal “styles”.

He wrote several books on handwriting, including A Handwriting Manual (1932), many times reissued. In the words of Ruari McLean, “It remains a classic: unpretentious and satisfying, the keystone of modern enjoyment of italic handwriting.” A Book of Scripts (King Penguin, 1949) was also very successful.

His only typeface was the first italic for Monotype, Bembo. This was not the italic that was put out for general use, and was eventually released (in metal) as Bembo Narrow Italic. It is sometimes referred to as Fairbank Italic.

The fact that he designed no more than one typeface can perhaps be explained by his comment: “I believe in the importance of the unique work, of things made for particular purposes. I claim the superiority of actual script over reproduced copies, on the same grounds as one believes in the painting more than in its reproduction, or the playing of an orchestra rather than the gramophone record. The reproduced work is expedient, although valuable for its service and essential for commerce. Handwriting is not done for reproduction, unless it is expedient, and it is not often that.”

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