Edward Johnston collection

Scope and Content

The Crafts Study Centre has listed together in this collection material relating to Edward Johnston (1872-1944) and his work, collected or produced by various admirers. It also includes photocopies of items that were loaned to the Crafts Study Centre and were included in 'Edward Johnston: a catalogue of the Crafts Study Centre Collection & Archive' by Justin Howes, 1987, and which have subsequently been returned to the donors.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Johnston was born in 1872 in Uruguay to Scottish parents. He started to train as a medical student in Edinburgh in 1896 but abandoned his studies a year later. In 1899 he was invited to teach writing and illumination at the recently formed Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, by the principal, William Lethaby.

His students there included Harold Curwen, E.F. Detterer, Eric Gill, Noel Rooke, Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson and Anna Simons. The classes laid the foundation for a revival of formal writing and formed the basis of Writing and Illuminating and Lettering , first published in 1906. Johnston also taught at the Royal College of Art from 1901 and from 1903 leased chambers in Lincoln's Inn for his design studio. Johnston gave up his class at the Central in 1912 but remained in close contact with ex-colleagues.

Edward Johnston worked for the Cranach (in Weimer), the Nonesuch and the Doves Presses (in Hammersmith) and from 1913 was co-editor of The Imprint with F. Ernest Jackson and J.H. Mason. The typeface for The Imprint was specially cut by the Monotype Corporation.

World War I created many opportunities for Johnston and his generation to become involved in government-sponsored design projects. Johnson, Gill and Meynell all had a strong belief in the importance of good design in public places. Johnston Sans was the first typeface designed by a leading Arts and Crafts practitioner for a mass audience.

Johnston moved to Ditchling in 1912, where Eric Gill already lived and an artistic community was forming. He moved in 1916 with Hilary Pepler and his family to Hallett's Farm on the edge of Ditchling Common. Commissioned by Frank Pick, advertising manager of the London Electric Railway he designed his famous block letter alphabet, Railway , for the London Underground in 1916 using a sanserif letterform which he popularised, and is still used today in a revised digitalised form. His typeface was used for station signs and for printed material. In 1931 when the British Institute of Industrial Art reported on The Art of Lettering and its use in divers crafts and trades , the London Electric Railways were commended for having "brought fine lettering into everyday life".

He continued to teach, write and publish and was president of the Art and Crafts Exhibition Society from 1933-1936 and was made CBE in 1939. A retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the V&A Museum in 1945.


  • EJC/1 Photocopies of items originally loaned by Andrew Johnston, as listed in 'Edward Johnston: a catalogue of the Crafts Study Centre Collection & Archive' by Justin Howes, 1987: photocopies of correspondence with Eric Gill and Hilary Peplar; photocopies of copies by Anna Simons after EJ instruction sheets; photocopies of class instructions sheets by Graily Hewitt and H. Laurence Christie; photocopies of EJ's diaries.
  • EJC/2 'Handbook of Greek and Latin Palaeography' (E.M. Thompson, 1893) with copies of EJ annotations by Stan Knight, and accompanying correspondence.
  • EJC/3 Photographic transparencies and contact sheets of Edward Johnston at Ditchling with SSI members, 1931 and 1938.
  • EJC/4 Offprint, 'Edward Johnston: Margaret Alexander's Notebook – Introduced by Heather Child MBE and with notes by Justin Howes'.
  • EJC/5 Photographic transparency roll, 'Maggs Notebook' / 'Vellum-bound notebook' by EJ
  • EJC/6 Pencil alphabet by Thomas Swindlehurst with annotations by EJ

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Greta Bertram, Curator, Crafts Study Centre, May 2021.

Other Finding Aids

A handlist is available on request.

Conditions Governing Use

Written permission must be sought before any archival material is published.

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


It is likely that further Johnston-related material will be offered to the CSC. Material of interest will be added to this collection.

Related Material


Johnston, Edward, Writing & Illuminating & Lettering , 1906

Johnston, Edward, Lessons in Formal Writing , 1986

Child, Heather, Formal Penmanship and other papers , 1971

Edward Johnston's Cat , International Typeface Corporation, 1999

Johnston, Priscilla, Edward Johnston , 1959

Howes, Justin, Johnston's Underground Type , 2000