This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
It may be said that practically all the lettering now used in architectural offices in this country is derived, however remotely it may seem in some cases, from the old Roman capitals as developed and defined during the period of the Italian Renaissance. These Renaissance forms may be best studied first at a large size in order to appreciate properly the beauty and the subtlety of their individual proportions. For this purpose it is well to draw out at rather a large scale, about four or four and one-half inches in height, a set of these letters of some recognized standard form, and in order to insure an approximately correct result some such method of construction as that shown in Figs. 1 and 2 should be followed. This alphabet, a product of the Renaissance, though of German origin, is one adapted from the well-known letters devised by Albrecht Durer about 1525, and is here merely redrawn to a simpler constructive method and arranged in a more condensed fashion. This may be accepted as a good general form of Roman capital letter in outline, although it lacks a little of the Italian delicacy of feeling and thus betrays its German origin.
The letter is here shown in a complete alphabet, including those letters usually omitted from the Classic or Italian inscriptions: the J, U (the V in its modern form) and two alternative Ws, which are separately drawn out in Fig. 1.
These three do not properly form part of the Classic alpha-bet and have come into use only within comparatively modern times. For this reason in any strictly Classic inscription the letter I should be used in place of the J, and the V in place of the U. It is sometimes necessary to use the W in our modern spelling, when the one composed of the double V should always be employed.
The system of construction shown in this alphabet is not exactly the one that Durer himself devised. The main forms of the letters as well as their proportions are very closely copied from the original alphabet, but the construction has been somewhat simplified and some few minor changes made in the letters themselves, tending more towards a modern and more uniform character. The two W's, one showing the construction with the use of the two overlapping letter V's, and one showing the W incorporated upon the same square unit which carries the other letters (the latter form being the one used by Durer himself), are shown separately in Fig. 1. It should be noticed that every letter in the alphabet, except one or two that of necessity lack the requisite width - such as the I and J - is based upon and fills up the outline of a square, or in the case of the round letters, a circle which is itself contained within the square. This alphabet should be compared with the alphabet in Fig. 4, attributed to Sebastian Serlio, an Italian architect of the sixteenth century. By means of this comparison a very good idea may be obtained of the differences and characteristics which distinguish the Italian and German traits in practically contemporaneous lettering.
Fig. 1. Two Alternative Forms of the Letter W, to accompany the Alphabet shown in Fig. 2.
After once drawing out these letters at a large size, the beginner may find that he has unconsciously acquired a better constructive feeling for the general proportions of the individual letters and should thereafter form the letters free-hand without the aid of any such scheme of construction, merely referring occasionally to the large chart as a sort of guide or check upon the eye. For this purpose it should be placed conveniently, so that it may be referred to when in doubt as to the outline of any individual letter. By following this course and practicing thoroughly the use of the letters in word combinations, a ready command over this important style of letter will eventually be acquired.
Fig. 2. Alphabet of Classic Renaissance Letters according to Albrecht Durer, adapted and reconstructed by F. C. Brown. (See Fig. 1.).
Fig. 2. (Continued)
In practice it will soon be discovered that a letter in outline and of a small size is more difficult to draw than one solidly blacked-in, because the defining outline must be even upon both its edges; and that as the eye follows more the inner side of this line than it does the outer, both in drawing and afterwards in recognizing the letter form, the inaccuracies of the outer side of the line are likely to show up against the neighboring letters, and produce an irregularity of effect that it is difficult to overcome, especially for the beginner; while in a solidly blacked-in letter, it is the outline and proportions alone with which the draftsman must concern himself. Therefore, a letter in the same style is more easily and rapidly drawn when solidly blacked-in than as an "open" or outline letter. In many cases where it is desired to give a more or less formal and still sketchy effect, a letter of the same construction but with certain differences in its characteristics may be used. It should not be so difficult to draw, and much of the same character may still be retained in a form that is much easier to execute. Some such letter as is shown at the top of Fig. 10, or any other personal variation of a similar form such as may be better adapted to the pen of the individual draftsman would answer this purpose. The titles shown in Figs. 3 and 5 include letters of this same general type, but of essentially different character.