Das Schreiben als Kunstfertigkeit

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A German book on calligraphy, written by Rudolf Koch. The book title could be roughly translated as: Writing as a Technical Skill. The book is subtitled (again, this is a rough translation) A complete introduction to the learning of the writing styles necessary for the profession of calligraphy. The first edition of DSaK was published in 1925. Several editions followed. The following summary is based on the third edition, which was published in 1934 by the Publishinghouse of German Book Designers in Leipzig (Verlag des Deutschen Buchgewerbevereins Leipzig.

The book block is a bit larger than A4. It contains 96 pages (including 23 pages of black and white photographs). The entire book is set in blackletter. Body text is in a Fraktur that might be Koch's Frühling. The bolder tiles and subtitles are set in Koch's Maximillian, which is not exactly a Fraktur, but rather a combination of Fraktur, Schwabacher, and Gotisch (Textura). There is not color in th book. All of the text and imagery is black, on off-white paper.

Aside from calligraphic instruction, this book has a chapter on book design and binding, a chapter on the making of diplomas and certificates, and an appendix that details the proper writing and the devleopment of Die Offenbacher Schrift (The Offenbach Hand), a handwriting system for school children that seems to be based on Sütterlin.

Anyone who ever wondered how Rudolf Koch formed his letters with a broad-nibbed pen can learn that from this book in about five minutes, so well-formed are the illustrations. How one writes in another style is only covered in this book contextually, not quite through imagery (except the schoolchildren's script in the appendix; there are also a various number of styles depicted in the 23-pages of photographic reference at the back of the book).

The German critic Hans Peter Willberg (1930–2003), wrote in Typolemik that all of Koch's students were trained to basically just copy his style, not to develop new writing forms. Reading this book, one would get that impression, too. It is important to remember that—especially with calligraphy—there can never be a "one size fits all" approach. The book's own subtitle states that the book will instruct all manners of necessary hands. Yet real blackletter variation is not covered. Nor is Antiqua or Grotesk, two styles which were well in practice by 1925 in Germany.

Hermann Zapf has said that Koch's interpretation of how the pen should be held is false. Koch implies in this book that the pen should be held so that the nib stays at a 45-degree angle. Edward Johnston had written early that the pen should be held so that nib is at a 30-degree angle. Zapf follows the Johnston practice.

This is an invaluable book. Even if you cannot read German (or even if you can, but cannot read Fraktur), this book should be respected for the careers it launched: those of Hermann Zapf and Gudrun Zapf von Hesse, amoung many others. The book seems to sum up Koch's ideas about writing, and Koch is consitantly held by typographers and calligraphers as one of the greatest masters of western calligraphic tradition. If you want to learn to write like Koch, this is the source. The images are understandable even without German fluency.

The book is readily available in German antiquaries and used book stores. Try searching them with the website ZVAB.com. The site has full English functionality, and the listed sellers usually ship to anywhere in the world.

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