Catalogue entry

T03733 Alphabet and Numerals 1909

Hoptonwood stone 13 × 24 3/8 × 2 3/8 (329 × 618 × 60)
Inscribed in raised characters ‘ABCDEFGHIJ/KLMNOPQR/STUVWXY &Z/123/456/789 TAX AD/A.E.R. GILL Lettercutter Pub. by JOHN HOGG Paternoster Row, London C. SMITH & SONS Moulders, Kentish Town, London’
Transferred from the Victoria and Albert Museum 1983
Prov: Presented by the artist to the Victoria and Albert Museum 1931 (A. 25–1931)
Exh: British Institute of Industrial Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1931 (no catalogue); travelling exhibitions of the Department of Circulation, Victoria and Albert Museum; Eric Gill, Dartington Cider Press Centre, Dartington, July–August 1979, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, October–November 1979
Lit: Edward Johnston, Manuscript and Inscription Letters, 1909, plate 15 (photograph taken before ‘John Hogg’ text added, and signed lower right ‘A.E.R.G. 1909’); Evan R. Gill, The Inscriptional Work of Eric Gill an Inventory, 1964, 168 C; Robert Harling, The Letter Forms and Type Designs of Eric Gill, 1976, p.22. Also repr: Reproduction in plaster by John Hogg, 1909; coloured reproduction published by Victoria and Albert Museum

The three inscribed alphabets T03733-T03735 were carved in April 1909 for reproduction in the portfolio by Edward Johnston, ‘Manuscript and Inscription Letters for Schools and Classes and for the use of Craftsmen’ (1909).

Gill first met Johnston at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1899, as his teacher of letter design. Johnston was a calligrapher rather than a carver, and for his book ‘Writing and Illuminating and Lettering’ (1906) he included an appendix by Gill on ‘Inscriptions on Stone’. Gill there recommended Hoptonwood stone and slate as the best materials for inscriptions to be placed out of doors. The plates in ‘Manuscript and Inscription Letters ...’ were intended to be further illustrations to be used with the earlier book, and were not bound together so that they could be more easily copied. Gill made five plates for it. The three carved inscriptions were to illustrate:

1. Roman capital letters (plate 13) T03735

2. ‘Lower case’ italics and numerals, to match the capitals (plate 14) T03734

3. ‘Raised letters’ - capitals and numerals (plate 15) T03733

Gill's two other plates were of ‘Roman Capitals ... and Arabic Numerals ...’ written with a brush (plate 16) and, at the head of the Section, ‘Alphabet from the Inscription on the Trajan's Column, Rome ... Drawn by A.E.R. Gill from a photograph’ (plate 17). The inscription on Trajan's Column is described by Johnston as ‘the root form of Western European lettering’ and he instances Gill's two inscriptions in capital letters as modern alphabets ‘founded on such root forms’. Gill himself pointed out that he was not strictly dependent on the Trajan lettering, in a letter to the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in June 1931:

I'm sorry the E and F of the incised capitals have such short middle bars - I suffered a reaction at the time against the Trajan snobbery of the Art Schools.

The extra text at the lowest line of T03733, ‘TAX AD’ was intended to demonstrate channelled and rounded sections to the letters. The commentary explained ‘The forms and sections of the large letters at the foot ... are only appropriate for isolated letters or words or for obviously ornamental uses.’

The three inscriptions were included in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1931 organised by the British Institute of Industrial Art, and were given to the Museum by the artist during the course of the showing. Gill had corresponded with the Museum frequently during the 1920s, and the Museum had already acquired several inscriptions by him for educational purposes.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986