Donald Jackson (calligrapher)

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Donald Jackson in 2015

Donald Jackson, born 14 January 1938 in Lancashire, England, is a British calligrapher, official scribe and calligrapher to the Crown Office of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.[1][2] Jackson is artistic director of The Saint John's Bible, a recent, hand-written and illuminated Grand Bible commissioned by the Benedictine monastery of Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, US. He is the author of The Story of Writing (1981) and The Calligrapher's Art.


Donald Jackson holding a handful of quills

Produced and directed by Jeremy Bennett; calligrapher, Donald Jackson; narrator, Susannah York. Alphabet: the story of writing (1980) 4 × 30 minutes, VHS, A set of four, half-hour videos. RBS v2.16–2.19

This four-part series produced for Parker Pen contains hardly any printing or typesetting. The first two parts cover letterforms up to the fourteenth century and are highly recommended. They are extremely well done – particularly the parts where presenter Donald Jackson makes reed pens (part one) and quill pens (part two) and demonstrates their influence on letterforms. Part two also features a superb demonstration of the art of illuminating. Part three has a short section on printing which covers the invention of the printing press and copper engraving. While discussing Gutenberg the letterpress printing being shown from a much later period – an iron press is used and the type looks far too modern. Part four was presumably the point of the whole production as far as Parker Pen were concerned – it focuses entirely on pens, handwriting, and calligraphy. It is by far the weakest part of the series, disparaging the "bad new letterforms" that computers have been responsible for and claiming that "we can tell what people were like from their writing". Narrated by Susannah York and presented by Donald Jackson.


Part I: the making of letters

After an introduction and shots of lettering on various different kinds of signage the film goes back in time and discusses the development of letterforms including:

  • Cave paintings, clay tablets, and wax tablets
  • Hieroglyphics
  • Papyrus
  • The reed pen
  • The origins of the alphabet
  • Roman inscriptions

Part II: the pen is mightier than the sword

Focuses on manuscript production from the end of the Roman Empire including:

  • The dark ages – the Book of Kells
  • Development of lowercase
  • The quill pen
  • Using gold leaf
  • Making ink
  • Illumination

Part III: penman, printer, and engraver

  • fourteenth- and fifteenth-century manuscript books
  • Gothic script
  • Italic (chancery) script
  • the printing press – printing on an iron hand press, without using the tympan
  • copy books
  • copper-plate engraving – close-up of an engraver at work with flat bed cylinder presses working in the background and a copper plate being inked and printed

Part 4: writing: everybody’s art

  • examples of pen labels
  • examples of the copper-plate hand
  • new inks for steel nibs
  • portable pens
  • ball point pens
  • modern calligraphy


  1. ^ "Concordia Presents an Evening with Donald Jackson". 
  2. ^ Calderhead, Christopher (2005). Illuminating the Word: the Making of the Saint John's Bible (1st ed.). Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press. 

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