Edward Johnston archive

Scope and Content

The archive consists of

  • Personal documents including diaries and notebooks
  • Correspondence and letter books
  • Hectographed class sheets, some of which are in facsimile
  • Sales catalogues
  • Exhibition catalogues
  • Photographs of blackboard demonstrations
  • Photographs of manuscripts produced by Johnston
  • Photographs of Johnston and others
  • Books and essays by Johnston and others
  • Notes made by Johnston for unidentified essays and articles
  • Lecture notes
  • Writing about Johnston
  • Miscellaneous papers and documents

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Johnston was born in 1872  in Uruguay of 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 .


Individual items have been grouped by type and then arranged chronologically.

Conditions Governing Access

The archival 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. The biography was written by Frances Lord.

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue is available onsite.

Conditions Governing Use

The photocopying of archival material is not allowed. Written permission must be sought before any archival material is published.

Appraisal Information

None timetabled


None expected

Related Material

The Crafts Study Centre holds other material relating to the Edward Johnston archive in the

  • Eric and Macdonald Gill archive
  • Irene Wellington archive
  • Marianne Straub archive

Also see access points


Selected bibliography

Edward Johnston's Cat International Typeface Corporation, 1999

Johnston Priscilla, Edward Johnston, Barrie & Jenkins, 1959

Howes Justin, Johnston's Underground Type Capital Transport Publishing, 2000

Geographical Names