calligraphy History of Lettering lettering typography

Arnold Bank, calligrapher

[If you did not read the first article please go here]

This picture appeared in a journal called Art Education (March 1985), written by Anne Gregory.

The article has some biographical information about Bank – that he was Emeritus Professor of Design at Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, US; that he worked as Art Director for Time Magazine from 1941-1947; and he lectured at the Royal Society of Arts, England in 1955.

In his day he was highly influential, the article states, and taught many students.

One paragraph stands out for me. “When he became interested in something like paleography, he wrote to EA Lowe of Princeton. This contact resulted in many pleasant weekends with this Oxford scholar in the company of Stanley Morison and Marvin Newman. ‘We used to go see God every weekend!’ recalls Bank. He also wrote to Alfred Fairbank who was the author of A Handwriting Manual. Their correspondence on Renaissance paleography and italic handwriting is now in portfolios in the Cambridge University Library in England and is available for researchers on these subjects.”

More information about Arnold Bank cheerfully received…

17 replies on “Arnold Bank, calligrapher”

As a design student at the Royal College of Art in the mid-1950s Arnold Bank was thrust upon us aspiring typographers whether we liked it or not. As we were just beginning to take onboard the Swiss and German typographic influences that were beginning emerge, the idea of a series of lectures on calligraphy greeted with scorn. After all most of us had dabbled with broad-nibbed pens and Edward Johnston’s ‘Writing Illuminating and Lettering’ our early years in art school and that was that.

Nevertheless, we made an effort to comply with curriculum requirements (as we had done with architecture during our first year) and attend the first lecture at least. What happened and continued to happen for the next few weeks has been something that I have related many times over the past fifty{?) years and wish that I had captured on camera.

That first morning found all four walls of our room swathed in white lining paper and a table with a collection of ink filled jam jars each with large felt ‘nibs’ from about 10cm in width with which this small American with thick-lensed glasses used in his almost non-stop display of calligraphic imagery. None of us had ever imagined let alone seen such a variety of hand drawn letterforms that emerged in an hour’s non-stop inking and talking.

The magic of the man and his artistry soon got noticed and subsequent lectures (about four in all) were over-subscribed by students from most of the other schools in the College and there were queues in the corridor to get in.

I became very friendly with Arnold during the rest of his time in London and a few like-minded students and spent time with him and his wife at their home in Holland Park where he gave impromptu tutorials. After he returned to the US I lost contact although when I was in New York in 1966 I was hoping to meet up. I had lunch with his brother who told me that Arnold was in Philadelphia or maybe Pittsburg and couldn’t make the trip. What a pity.

My parents met in Arnold Bank’s lettering class at the Art Students League in NY
in 1947 or 48. It was an evening class as my father was an art director for J.Walter Thompson and my mother in the art department of Shell Oil.

As a left-handed student at Carnegie Tech/ Carnegie Mellon in graphics from Sept 1966 to October 1968. In July of 1967 as a lefthander I struggled in the classes of Arnold Bank, “murdering his letters.” When he told me this in class he hovered over my drawing board as a big tear dropped from his cheek on my page. At that time he suffered from extreme eye bulge and hypothyroidism. But his passion for letters had certainly made the right mark. Within the month I suffered a skull fracture and spent the summer drawing and practising my calligraphy with great persistence. Returning to the fall session much improved he took me aside to correct a statement he had made that a lefthander could never be a great letterer.

(Continued) Bank explained he should never have said “a lefthander cannot be a good calligrapher. ” Rather he said I should have stated “I don’t know how to teach you.” A great master finally aclnowledged humility and wisdom, with some intersession from his equally impressive designer and teacher, Howard Glasser. His lectures and masterful and passionate demonstrations, his analysis of scale and proportion had a great impression on me. His presentation on the evolution of lettering systems is a profound subject. One of his commissions appeared in a design manual, a prayer for ‘a physician’ done in triple split pen and Arabic/Anglo lettering…a great masterpiece. I am shocked his work is not available publically on the internet.

These comments were enjoyable. I am thrilled that Bank enjoyed many more years influencing students after 1968 when I knew him. Someone could post a lovely website for him. He was a great educator providing insights and structure in the finest tradition of word, letter and beauty.

Arnold Bank was a teacher of mine at Carnegie Mellon University in the late 1960s. He was passionate about lettering and his lectures on that subject were really discourses on good design. If he thought you had some promise in lettering, he might invite you to dinner at his house, and that would be a thrill because he had an entire wall of rare books relating to the letterform — I’m so glad to know that the collection was kept in tact and is now part of the Carnegie Mellon Library. I’m indebted to Arnold Bank on many counts, including having met Hermann Zapf through him.

Thank you Mark for commenting. It is always heart-warming to receive such observations from those who knew the subject of these posts. I hope it may offer historians of the future another insight. (By the way, what did you have for dinner and who else was there?) Be most interested to learn more about your own history in lettering subsequent to that contact with Banks, as well as your involvement with Zapf. You have left much open to investigate…

Forgive me for being late in responding here. I was at Carnegie Mellon University from 1967 to 1971, and Arnold Bank’s class was a factor in my decision to switch from a painting major to graphic design.

To say that Arnold Bank was eccentric would be an understatement. He was so passionate about the letterform, it seemed his entire life revolved around it. He would get excited about a student’s poor attempt, likening an “O” to a tomato, and I once experienced his utter shock and concern when a student reacted by breaking into tears. For in fact he was a very kind man, dedicated to his teaching. If he liked what you were doing (and I was fortunate in that regard) he would call you by the typeface you had mastered. And so I was never “Mark” and always “Blackletter.”

Dinner at his house might include five or six students and perhaps another design professor. The talk would be solely around design, and references would be made to his wall of (rare) typography books, which only he could touch. So essentially every dinner was a design lecture. I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember that there was once a discourse on the care of materials, and that he showed us the many brushes he used that had belonged to his father.

Hermann Zapf gave a lecture to our class, and I remember Zapf as a most elegant gentleman who wore French cuffs and cufflinks fashioned from gold Roman coins. Unlike Bank, Zapf did not demonstrate his lettering, but I later had the pleasure of reading a handwritten letter from Zapf (kindly shared by another professor) and I can assure you that Zapf’s casual handwriting was as beautiful as any heraldic manuscript you will ever see.

I went into a career as an illustrator and eventually ended up designing magazines for the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times). I have often thought of Arnold Bank in the intervening years because he had a very prescient mind. At a time when using computers meant organizing stacks of punched computer cards, he foresaw that such a maddening process would eventually evolve into a personal computer that could be a tool for making art, and when computers were truly the furthest thing from our mind, he encouraged his students to embrace them. (At the time, Bill Gates was probably still in high school.)

He was a lot more than a teacher of typography, and a lot more than we ever knew.

Although it has been several years since this information and comments were posted, I want to reply because I am involved in reviewing materials in the Arnold Bank collection at the CMU library in order to see if there is a way to bring some of his work forward into the digital age. The calligraphy guild of Pittsburgh is just starting to do research in this area. I would appreciate any information, articles, stories, comments, photos about Professor Bank that would help shed a light on his influence on his students and the design field. I can be contacted at or I can check this site again periodically

Hi Karen – I have nothing else I can offer you. I was interested in what I discovered from the Penrose of 1955. Good luck on your research – it is certainly overdue.

I just discovered this site but appreciate that people have added over the years and wish to add my own recollection. I studied with Mr. Bank at Carnegie Mellon in the mid-70s when he was still a powerhouse. The TA would encourage us to always remember that, if/when he got upset, he was upset with a letter form that offended him, never with the student.

However, one of my proudest moments as a calligrapher was when I was a sophomore taking and we had all taped our pieces on the board for critique. Mr. Bank walked down the row, scrutinizing each, occasionally grunting. When he got to mine he paused and stared– I don’t think I breathed the whole time he was staring. He turned and asked whose it was and I raised my hand. He stared some more and then asked if he could keep it.

I simply nodded my head as he took it down and said class was over for the day and walked out. As he closed the classroom door, all my classmates turned to me and went, “whoooaaaa!!!!” All these years later I still smile as I remember.

Thank you Joan. It is wonderful to receive a reminiscence from someone who was there. I wonder what the piece was that Mr Bank found so wonderful he wanted to keep? Do you remember? And what about your own history Joan? Would you like to share?

Oh, I definitely remember the piece– it was The Riddle of the Sphinx, lettered in foundational hand, tan and red gouache on brown paper. I’d used the broad edge pen to create a sphinx that suggested an illuminated letter.

Another Mr. Bank memory– “NEVER roll your paper!” He was adamant that rolling would break the paper fibers and destroy its ability to receive the ink. We were to invest in a portfolio or, at very least, carry it between two sheets of mat board. To this day I don’t roll paper!

Thank you Joan. Do you have any images of your work that you would be willing to share?

Joan, thank you for the memory you shared about Arnold Bank. I’m in Pittsburgh with the Calligraphy Guild of Pittsburgh. We are working on a project to gather work by Arnold Bank (through the CMU library where they have his archive) and memories from his students and colleagues to create an online gallery and/or a book. I would love your input. Also, there are so many items here, maybe your Sphinx piece is in his collection. He did keep a lot of student work. If you are willing to be in touch, please send an email to:

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