Jan van den Velde's backslanted letters

I came accross backslanted text in a few plates from Jan van den Velde's Spieghel der Schrijfkonste and came to wonder what it stood for.
In the examples I found the text seems to be introducing something else but I can be wrong.

Any help, references or other examples would be much appreciated!

Bert Vanderveen's picture

The harder to do, the more impressive — it’s showing of. Van den Velde was a master of course… and his Spieghel was a demo of his proficiency.

riccard0's picture

I would assume it’s a mean to differentiate the text, either as a title or other kind of emphasis. The same one would do nowadays using italics, bold or a different typeface.

oldnick's picture

Although the illustration shows a right hand, backslanting could also be a natural consequence of ledt-handedness. Even if this isn't the case, indicating emphasis by slanting doesn't really dictate that the direction of the slant can only go one way. Nicolette Larson notes that backslanted foundry type first appeared in the 1820s, most likely as a novelty.

hrant's picture

Note that backslant is used to denote rivers in (oldschool) cartography.


Bert Vanderveen's picture

Backslanted original means mirrored form for the engraver, which is regular slant and of course favors righthanded craftsmen. The more common slant is of course a pain for the same guy… But these people were exceptionally skilled, so… (Note that intaglio printing requires a mirror image.)

Avondwinkel's picture

Thank you for these indications and leads. In a very short allusion to van den Velde in Dutch Type, Middendorp writes that his handwriting had been adapted for print by engravers. Both steps are impressive.
Showing off must have been an important motivation but I'd be surprized if this very unnatural way of differenciating text didn't have another one. Still from Middendorp's short allusion: 'Gerrit Noordzij has written that this type of calligraphy is the purest expression of the mannerist attitude, which "creates its own little cosmos amidst the chaos". (Letterletter 14, 1996)'
My first thought was irony, which I read about some time ago but can't remember where, though it's maybe a little early for this. Would you know where to look for early/-iest examples of ironic use of backslanted lettering?

thank you for the reference. If she writes more on the subject, do you know where should I look for this text by Nicolette Larson?

Nick Shinn's picture

Nicolette Gray.
Nick was thinking of someone else.

oldnick's picture


Yup: how could I make that mistake?

Gray, Nicolette. XIXth Century Ornamented Types and Title Pages. London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1938.

Avondwinkel's picture

Thank you!

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