Edward Johnston archive

Scope and Content

The Edward Johnston archive contains papers donated by Heather Child, Justin Howes, Andrew Johnston, Celia Rooke, Mariann Straub, Irene Wellington, C.T. Whall, and the Crafts Study Centre itself. Justin Howes wrote in 1987, 'the archive, although drawn from too large a variety of sources to be associated exclusively with Johnston … contains all the material for a study of Johnston's philosophy and its development'. He went on to state that 'together the collection and archive will allow researchers to look at Johnston's aims and achievements side by side'.

The archive contains meticulously-kept working diaries which record time spent on commissions, trains caught, letters received, etc; notebooks which contain teaching notes, memoranda, extracts from letters worthy of keeping etc; and four letterbooks from 1903-1944. There is a large quantity of correspondence with individuals and organisations, including with other calligraphers/letterers such as Margaret Alexander, Alfred Fairbank, Eric Gill, Graily Hewitt, C.M. Lamb, Noel Rooke, Anna Simons and Irene Wellington. There are notes and transcripts of lectures given to the Central School of Arts and Crafts and Leicester Municipal School of Art, and a complete set of lectures given to the Royal College of Art; and numerous hectographed (an early form of copying/duplication) class instruction sheets, some of which bear the names of the recipients. The archive contains a large collection of photographs, including of Johnston's demonstration blackboards, of manuscripts by Johnston, and of Johnston himself. There is also material relating to books and essays, most notably sketches/diagrams for Writing and Illuminating and Lettering together with several editions of the publication, and manuscripts of Formal Penmanship .

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, 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.


The papers were arranged by Justin Howes on behalf of the Crafts Study Centre in 1987, with individual items grouped by type and then arranged chronologically and sometimes alphabetically. They were given the reference code '2/'. Items 1-852 were listed in 'Edward Johnston: a catalogue of the Crafts Study Centre Collection & Archive' by Justin Howes, 1987; items 835-870 were additions to the archive and were listed by Howes in January 2000.

The papers were renumbered with the new reference code 'JOH' by Greta Bertram in 2021, with minor adjustments to the arrangement of sub-parts.

  • JOH/1-6 Diaries
  • JOH/7-8 Notebooks
  • JOH/9-12 Letterbooks
  • JOH/13-325 Correspondence
  • JOH/326-364 Lectures
  • JOH/365-456 Hectographed class sheets
  • JOH/457-549 Blackboard demonstration photographs
  • JOH/550-812 Photographs of manuscripts
  • JOH/813-831 Photographs of Edward Johnston and others
  • JOH/832-846 Books and essays by Johnston
  • JOH/847-852 Notes for unidentified essays/articles by Johnston
  • JOH/853-856 Sales catalogues
  • JOH/857-859 Exhibition catalogues
  • JOH/860-867 Writing about Edward Johnston
  • JOH/868 Set of Roman and Allied Alphabets by Edward Johnston issued to the students of Leicester Municipal School of Art
  • JOH/869 Article by Edward Johnston, 'Decoration and Its Uses', in 'The Imprint', February 1913
  • JOH/870 Set of 13 cards densely written by Johnston, October 1937

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Becky Lyle, Submissions Officer for the project and by Jean Vacher, Collections Manager at the Crafts Study Centre, c.2004. The biography was written by Frances Lord. This entry was revised 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.


None expected.

Related Material


Selected bibliography

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