From our Digital Antique Books Library…
General Letter Engraving for Watchmakers, Jewelers and Kindred Trades,
A Complete Exposition of the Art of Engraving on Metals.
by G. F. Whelpley, 1892
If you want to learn how to engrave letters, monograms and writing
this great book is an excellent guide. This 1892 book addresses what
was then a decline in the education of apprentices, and was intended
to give aspiring engravers a way to successfully self educate as a
letter engraver. Interestingly for its time it was intended for
females as well as males:
“thus place within the grasp of boys and girls what will prove at
once an amusing and a lucrative employment. The market is not
overstocked with good engravers, especially letter engravers.” And
"The work is adapted to ladies as well as to gentlemen, and is no
more laborious than telegraphy, stenography, or many of the other
avocations that females follow. How much better would it be for a
girl to be able to engrave well and earn a comfortable living, than
to be employed in a store where she is compelled to stand ten or
twelve hours a day, and scarcely realize enough to support her?"
He suggests that round hand (developed in the 1660’s - lots of
flourishes) is the best skill for an engraver. Roman, Script and Old
English are the core alphabets suggested. It is good to study some
calligraphy. And you have to have good posture to engrave letters.
Design, layout skills and letter spacing are very important.
There are sample illustrations given with all the core marks for
letter engraving on them, and the student is repeatedly encouraged
to pay attention to detail, to practice, and practice again until
these basic marks are mastered. Copper, Britannia metal (a
pewter-like alloy) and zinc are suggested for initial practice.
Door plates, and coffin plates are recommended as common engraved
objects for the learner. An engravers pad (a hard cushion of
leather) is used at the beginning. (interestingly identical to the
way shown me by a Haida West Coast First Nations engraver). There is
another version shown set on a rotating support. Good drawings on
how to hold the graver help understand what is meant in the text.
The graver angles to use and sharpening are well addressed. There is
lots of unique detail on graver types and preparation. While most
engravers at that time apparently used sperm whale oil as a
sharpening lubricant the author happily preferred olive oil. Another
trick: dulling a polished surface to engrave on it is accomplished
by rubbing fingers in the hair to get your hair oil on them and
dabbing the surface (eww), but this can also be accomplished by
There are numerous design tips such as the importance of creating a
central axis to the letter. The tips for how to engrave, the
mechanics of holding, and controlling are very good and detailed. If
you are using this book to learn engraving, as it was meant for,
read this type of three times to fully understand it.
This book was definitely written in a time when writers loved the
marks of lettering, and reveled in the control, and beauty of the
curves and sensitive subtleties of the mark.
There is an extensive chapter on engraving coffin plates in
different metals. Patience, repetition and the mastery of small
components to build to excellent work is emphasized. The need for
persistence, practice and more practice is tellingly repeated. Ring
engraving is addressed in detail. Methods of recording engravings on
paper are explained (no photocopiers back then). There are many very
good illustrations, mostly engraved. Some are white lines on black
ground, clearly printed from engraved plates.
Advanced engraving and complex styles are thoroughly described.
Monograms and highly decorative work are extensively described, as
is engraving on pearl, ivory etc…
File Size: 5.18MB, 115 pages, dozens of illustrations.