x-height for Copperplate

I was recently at a calligraphy jam in Singapore and a lady asked me this question: "How tall should we write our letters? Is there something like nib width measurement for copperplate?"

I suppose those who have had some experience with calligraphy from Roman Capitals up till Italics would have been informed of an x-height of each and every script. For these broad edge scripts, the height of letters is a very important aspect of the script, and writing the script usually involves deriving the x-height by counting the number of nib widths.

Yet we face a new challenge: The pointed pen does not exactly have a nib width. Sure, we can consider the nib width to be the diameter of the single point of ink when a nib is placed on paper, but we would then be measuring x-heights by hundreds of nib widths.

So is there a certain x-height we should write for Copperplate?

*The x-height of a script is the height of its minims, which is defined as "a short vertical stroke, as in the letters i, m, n, u." The x-height is so-called because it usually is the height of the minuscule x.

First of all, let us bear in mind that the x-height for broad edged scripts is directly (linearly) proportionate to the nib width:

x-height = Y x (nib width),

where Y depends on each script

 

This means that there is no one x-height that works best for Italic or Uncial—you can write at any x-height, assuming you get the a nib of nib width where:

nib width = x-height / Y

Therefore if we wanted to write at an x-height of 2 cm for Caroline Minuscule, we would have to get a nib of nib width:

nib width = 2 cm / 4

             = 0.5 cm

since Y is  4 for Caroline Minuscule

 

X-height of a Caroline Minuscule is typically 4 nib-width tall.  In theory: To achieve 2.0cm (20mm) x-height, the width of the broad edge nib used needs to be 0.5cm (5mm). 

X-height of a Caroline Minuscule is typically 4 nib-width tall. 

In theory: To achieve 2.0cm (20mm) x-height, the width of the broad edge nib used needs to be 0.5cm (5mm). 

Likewise, there's really no "ideal height" to write Copperplate. I have written at 1 mm x-height, and I have written at 10 mm x-height, both of which look equally decent.

 

I have never really found any specific reference on this, but the x-height of Copperplate should affect the width of its letters—we definitely should not use the same width when writing with 10 mm vs 1 mm x-heights.

It also makes more sense to decide on how tall you'd like your letters to be, rather than how wide you want them to be. This in turn means that the x-height chosen will affect the width of the letters.

 

For the purpose of these examples, I shall use 10 mm as the x-height.

 

As with other many scripts, the width of Copperplate is based on the width of the minuscule letter "o", meaning that the width between most shades is equivalent to the space inside an "o". 

*pro-tip: you can easily manage this width by ensuring that you use the same bottom curvature of each letter as the one you use for "o".

 

Note how the the curvature of minuscule "i"(foreground) follows the ovals (in the background)?

Note how the the curvature of minuscule "i"(foreground) follows the ovals (in the background)?

I have written the "o" with variance in the counter width. Clearly, the middle example looks the best.

 

So what's the magic number that we use? We turned to simple trigonometry for help, but it does not seem to be so simple. There could be a more complicated algorithm involving pi, but I have not the mental capacity nor capabilities to derive such an algorithm.

We decided to do our research the old fashioned way: by looking at Copperplate Engraving samples, specifically those engraved by George Bickham. 

By measuring the x-height and then the horizontal distances between any two shades, we actually came to a conclusion:

 

The width of the letters (between two regular shades) is exactly half of the x-height.

 

(Of course there are exceptions, such as "en", where the ligature is expanded to 1.5 times). 

 

I hope this clears up any queries about copperplate. Happy writing,

@YakiUjohn the horseshoe