Although professional scribes would each unavoidably write in their own individual style, they did have standard letter forms to which they mostly tried to adhere. Certain scripts and sizes were regarded as appropriate to certain types of work: see for example Pica. This virtuosity tended to be less marked in monastic scriptoria, where a uniformity of script was more common — maybe because they tended to be focussed on one or two types of book. The professional however needed to show he could execute in a variety of styles.

Herman Strepel’s advertisement sheet for scripts, c. 1450 (The Hague, KB, 76 D 45)

This picture of a scribe’s sample sheet used as an advertisement — it’s one-sided and was probably pinned to the wall — comes from Erik Kwakkel’s blog post The Secrets of Medieval Fonts. (The text doesn’t look like it reads “lorem ipsum . . “!) Presumably such display sheets were fairly common: work needed drumming up even back then. But like all ephemera few example have survived. Another such sample sheet can be seen at Medieval Manuscripts Provenance. These sheets are directly ancestral to the printer’s type samples which were an indispensable part of the book designer’s toolkit back in the days of letterpress.

Professor Kwakkel’s post includes a link to a free downloadable book, Turning over a new leaf: Change and development in the medieval book, which will enable the enthusiast to explore change in scribal practice in greater depth.

There were three main divisions of script: 1. Caroline minuscule, 2. Pregothic script, and 3. Littera textualis or Gothic script. These did tend to be more used at different periods one after the other, but there was extensive overlap. One can see a trend from what we might regard as the most modern-looking one, Caroline minuscule, towards the sort of Gothic letter form which Johannes Gutenberg was striving to imitate in his Bible.

Three medieval script families: 1. from St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, 14 (9th century); 2. from Leiden, University Library, BPL 196 (12th century); 3. from London, British Library, Arundel 28 (13th century)

See also Lettre de forme. . .