Reynolds Stone’s Engraved Lettering
While there are a few beautiful examples of Reynolds Stone’s work to be found online, they hardly do justice to the master engraver and his legacy. Earlier this year I decided to look a little further and managed to track down a copy of his book, Engraving, from 1977. On opening the book I was astounded by the breadth and quality of the work. It took me a little while to secure permission to publish images on the blog, but I’m finally able to share a few more examples of his outstanding lettering work with the web.
From humble family Christmas cards to illustrious royal commissions, Reynolds Stone’s wood engravings form a cornerstone of Britain’s visual heritage. During his lifetime (1909 – 1979) Stone’s love of his craft saw him create a huge collection of flawless lettering and illustrative works. His abundant lettering often features elaborate flourishes, inspired by the late 16th century renaissance style, and have rightly been referred to as masterpieces of the style. Stone once said of his work:
“One bold flourish is usually better than a larger number of small twiddles, which are not worth doing anyway. But the final danger is to do too much because the eye, delighted by a small mouthful, is soon surfeited.”
His lettering appears on inscriptions, bookplates and names plates and were the subject of several collaborations with Stanley Morison who admired Stnone’s skill in this exacting art and prompted him to say to him: “anyone can draw trees” . Stone’s prolific work is still hugely admired today, but an online search doesn’t begin to reveal the breadth of his designs or his achievements as a letterer. Some of his most prestigious works include:
- The coat of arms that appears on the cover of all UK passports, produced for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in 1955
- The Royal Arms for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953
- The famous clock masthead for The Times newspaper
- £5 and £10 bank notes for the Bank of England in 1963 and 1964 respectively – including the Queen’s portrait
- Several stone memorials including one to the employees of the Victoria and Albert Museum who died in World War II, which sits in the museum’s Grand Entrance, complimenting Eric Gill’s memorial to those killed in World War I
- The Minerva typeface for Linotype and a proprietary typeface Janet (see below)
A self-taught engraver, Stone was unsure of his future after graduating from Cambridge. He was permitted to study printing at the Cambridge University Press and learned to set type alongside the apprentice compositors. The overseer, F.G. Nobbs, took the time to teach him about type and Stone ‘devoured’ copies of typography magazine The Fleuron, which lay around in Nobbs’ office. In particular, an article on ‘Printers’ Flowers and Arabesques’ (Vol. 1, 1923) by Sir Francis Maynell and Stanley Morison (both of whom were later patrons of Reynolds Stone) inspired Stone to copy out some of the patterns. He was influenced by Bewick’s historical wood engravings and by Eric Gill’s contemporary works and began to engrave in the evenings on some boxwood he’d been given. Eventually this led to some small commissions which allowed him to “sack himself” from a job at a print firm to focus on engraving full-time.
Wood engraving differs from woodcutting or woodcarving in several ways; designs are cut into the endgrain of a fine, dense wood, usually boxwood rather than along the grain of softer wood. The tools used are the same as used in metal engraving and can produce incredibly fine details at small scale. Importantly the blocks were made type-high so they could easily be printed alongside type via letterpress. This made them extremely efficient for printers to incorporate for most of the 19th Century. The technique was developed towards the end of the 18th Century by Thomas Bewick, whose work had a huge impact on Reynolds Stone.
Stone’s work is kept alive in a variety of forms today; his typeface, Janet, named after his wife and originally designed for private use, was cast in 18pt metal type and has since been digitised and made available by his son, Humphrey. Humphrey is also completing a memoir of his father, fully illustrated with engravings. Stone’s granddaughter, Clementine, runs a gift shop featuring items incorporating his work.
All images © Reynolds Stone 1977. My thanks to Reynolds Stone’s family and John Murray, who gave permission to show the above images.
Scans from Reynolds Stone, Engravings, John Murray, London (1977)