The Kingsley Read alphabet collection

Scope and Content

The collection contains personal papers of Kingsley Read; research notes and cuttings on alphabets and alphabet reform; correspondence from Shaw, I.J. Pitman and others about alphabet reform; drafts of the different stages of Shaw-script; letters and excerpts written in Shaw-script; correspondence about Quickscript and example material; correspondence about and examples of Readspel/Sound-spell; correspondence relating to the transfer of the archive to the University of Reading and the exhibition held in 1972; published material on alphabets and spelling reform; and portrait photographs including Read and Shaw.

Administrative / Biographical History

In February 1941 George Bernard Shaw wrote a preface to Richard Albert Wilson's The Miraculous Birth of Language in which he called for 'an alphabet capable of representing the sounds of the following string of nonsense quite unequivocally without using two letters to represent one sound or making the same letter represent different sounds by diacritical marks'. The book was published the following autumn, by which time Shaw had made public his planned campaign with a long letter to The Times of 14 April. Shaw had served from 1926 to 1939 on the BBC's Spoken English Advisory Committee, which included several exponents of phonetic writing. He also knew Henry Sweet, creator of a Current Shorthand (and a prototype for the character of Henry Higgins), although Shaw himself used the shorthand system of Isaac Pitman. All of his interest in spelling and alphabet reform was made clear in Shaw's will of June 1950, in which provision was made for Isaac Pitman, with a grant in aid from the Public Trustee, to establish a Shaw Alphabet. Following Shaw's death in November 1950, and after some legal dispute, the Trustee announced a world-wide competition to design such an alphabet, with the aim of producing a system which would be an economical way of writing and of printing the English language.

Ronald Kingsley Read was born on the outskirts of Birmingham on 19 February 1887. He studied design at the Birmingham School of Art. His varied career included becoming a partner in a toy factory and running his own sign lettering business, but throughout his life he maintained a keen interest in phonetics, corresponding with Shaw about the Sweet alphabet during the 1930s. He was one of the four contestants chosen to share the prize money for the alphabet competition held after Shaw's death and later appointed sole responsible designer. Read evolved a modified version of the Shaw Alphabet which he called Quickscript. A few days before his death in February 1975 he completed his work on an enlarged version of the Roman alphabet, originally known as Soundspell and now called Read-spel.

Access Information

Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Check for contact details and opening hours.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Kingsley Read and his family


Description prepared by Bridget Andrews and Gil Skidmore with reference to Patricia Smart, The Kingsley Read alphabet collection: a catalogue (Reading: The Library, University of Reading, 1983)

Other Finding Aids

The published catalogue is Patricia Smart, The Kingsley Read alphabet collection: a catalogue (Reading: The Library, University of Reading, 1983). This contains an item-level list of the collection's contents.

Related Material

The Pitman Collection in the University of Bath holds material relating to alphabet reform and to the Shaw alphabet competition.