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The Art of Steel Die Engraving

The Art of Steele Die Engraving is ann example of a cartouche; an ornate border found in baroque or rococo architecture as a bas-relief frame to contain a name, number, or street address. It was this device, a ring around Ptolemy’s and Cleopatra’s names, that enabled Jean-François Champollion to decipher the Rosetta Stone.

Conceived as a frontispiece for an engraver’s facilities brochure, this elaborate Spencerian cartouche (after Platt Roger Spencer, a nineteenth-century American writing master) was formed by extensions of the letterforms only. It was designed to be showy and ornate, to set off the engraver’s skill, with condensed letters and caps that change size to fill the circular design. There are no rules for this, for every design is a different problem, though the complexities of the surrounding loops are best kept optically equal. I like to draw the major axes of the open looped curves parallel to the slope of the words, so that they are in harmony. This is personal preference. Less important words may be drawn smaller to emphasize the key words, and to further the design of the cartouche.

No fairing or French curves were used, the finished art was drawn and inked freehand.