George Bickham the Elder

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Page 209 of The Universal Penman. An example of Bickham's lettering and engraving skills.

George Bickham the Elder (1684–1758) was an English writing master and engraver. He is best known for his engraving work in The Universal Penman, a collection of writing exemplars which helped to popularise the English Round Hand script in the 18th century.

In 1712, Bickham wrote copy books and business texts, as there was a strong link between writing and mathematics instruction (arithmetic and bookkeeping) in the-mid 17th century to early 18th century.

Bickham the Elder collected from twenty-five London writing masters in 1733 to create and engrave the penmanship samples forming the Universal Penman, which was reported to be the most important and popular of copy texts used by writing masters to instruct their pupils.

Appearing in Bickham’s Universal Penman was this poem by writing master Samuel Vaux, dated 1734, conveying, that poor writing was a disgrace to the beauty of the writer: “An artless Scrawl ye blushing Scribler shames; All shou’d be fair that Beauteous Woman frames.” And then this piece, hinting, that calligraphy may have a role in encouraging romance: “Strive to excel, with Ease the Pen will move; And pretty line add Charms to infant Love.” (Monaghan, 2005, p. 281).

George Bickham also published The British Monarchy, which is a collection of 188 plates of historical notes with 43 plates of views of English and Welsh counties. They are called views, rather than maps, though they are presented as map-like perspectives with major towns marked.

His son George Bickham the Younger also followed in the family tradition of engraving.


  • Monaghan, J. E.. Learning to read and write in colonial America, Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005. ISBN 1558495819