Much of Thompson’s “The Script Letter” is nearly copied from a book that came 100 years before

Stephen Coles
Stephen Coles Posts: 1,001
edited January 2023 in Technique and Theory
I wanted to reply to a comment by @PabloImpallari in this thread, but didn’t want to veer off topic, so I’m posting it here.
1) When I discovered that Tommy Thompson famous book about how to draw scripts was an exact copy (down to the points and commas.. I could not believe it!) from the 1913 Art of Writting by John Jenkins.
It’s a remarkable accusation, and I was skeptical at first, but he’s not far off! I checked my copy of The Script Letter (Third Printing, 1949) and found that several instructional sections of Thompson’s book nearly match of Jenkins’ book. These include the section, “The Principal Strokes”, and large parts of “Joining” and “Formation of the Capitals”. While Thompson changed the text in various places (mostly to update the English phrasing), the order of the explanations and letter illustrations are almost exactly the same. Thompson redrew the models, but they are so similar in proportion and style it took a while to confirm that they weren’t simply reproductions of the original.

To be fair, round hand calligraphy instruction is highly standardized and probably didn’t change much in the century between the two books. Also, Thompson states in the preface, “My information has come from many sources.” And, in the introduction, he clearly admits, “I have called freely on a little copy book long in my possession : The Art of Writing by John Jenkins, 1813. This is perhaps the first copy book printed in America.”

So, it wasn’t like Thompson was trying to keep his source a secret. Nor is The Script Letter “an exact copy” of The Art of Writing. (These sections make up less than half of the book.) Still, I was a surprised to see how much of Thompson’s book wasn’t his own. Good find, Pablo! And thanks to IAMPETH for sharing Jenkins’ book and many others on the Internet Archive.

John Jenkins, The Art of Writing, 1813. Image: Internet Archive via IAMPETH.

Tommy Thompson, The Script Letter, 1947 (Second Impression). Image: The McGuire Group.


  • PabloImpallari
    PabloImpallari Posts: 787
    edited January 2023
    It’s a remarkable accusation
    Hi Stephen, lets make something clear:
    It was NOT an accusation, as you like to call it. You're seeing ghosts where there aren't any. All it was is an example of type identification in the context on someone asking for font identification tips to improve his own identification skills. I would never dare to accuse him of anything at all. I fucking  <3 Tommy! and as we all do, I owe him a lot of gratitude for everything I have learned with his teachings. Please, stop put words in my mouth that I never said. 

    Also, If thats an accusation for you, then all the examples in the same post can be seen as accusation too, and thats not the case.

    If I ever really want to do a real accusation: I know how to do it, and I will write something in a complete different tone.

    For example:
    In the same post, I showed the the Survey / Surveyor connection but simply as a find, as tracking it down it history. In the same way I did when Hoefler asked: Who will trace the history of "adventure lettering" from the Star Wars logo, through this, to the Revue typeface? in the 1880 Commercial Art, by C. E. Wallace identification case. No accusation there whatsoever.

    If I ever wanted to frame it as an accusation i could have used very different words to crete a different narrative. For example I could have said something with more punch! in the style of yellow tabloids!

    I could have said something 
    silly like "Hey look everybody! Im accusing Hoefler of ripping off an Intertype design! Not only they copied the entire design but they also went the extra mile and blatantly ripped off the NAME of the typeface! What was previously known as Intertype Coast Survey will be forever forgotten and from know on it will be known as Surveyor. The King is dead, Long Live to the King" and I could have posted side by side images comparing both of then, like this ones:

    But I didn't did it, because.. once again.. it was not an accusation.

    As you see, everything can be put up to debate and a lot of arguments can be made up! I love debates so much that I can play it for both sides, being the accuser or being the defender.. I find debates amusing!

    Thanks Stephen!
  • PabloImpallari
    PabloImpallari Posts: 787
    edited January 2023
    All in all.. Im happy that you made a thread for this discussion, so we can take the opportunity to give some propers credits and recognition to Jhon Jenkins.

    So we can now line up some great names timeline
     Jenkins -> Tommy --> Mortimer --> Doyald (he was writting a similar book with his own teaching about scripts too when he died) --> and currently Ken

    It makes my heart happy to know that this beautiful tradition is in good hands and that it will continue to be passed on, hand in hand, for future generations to come.