Joseph Balthazar Silvestre’s Alphabet-album

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Monsieur Silvestre’s Alphabet-album, a collection of decorative alphabets, has a lengthy subtitle—Collection de Soixante Feuilles d’Alphabets Historiés et Fleuronnés, tirés des Principales Bibliothèques de l’Europe—and is a good example of how the 19th century, always characterised as a period of over-elaborate decoration, contains the seeds of 20th-century design. Silvestre’s book dates from 1843 yet contains several examples of sans serif or rectilinear lettering which wouldn’t have looked out of place a hundred years later. There’s also some fine examples of over-elaborate lettering, of course, with the usual embellishments and calligraphic flourishes, and also a page of letterforms based on tree shapes, a common sight in Victorian graphics.

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