The Vintage Speedball Textbook

I once found a set of Speedball pen nibs as a kid. I was familiar with conventional pen and ink usage, but had never seen nibs like this before. It wasn’t until taking a calligraphy course in college (with Professor Don Anderson, author of “The Art Of Written Forms”) that I ran across them again and had a chance to try them out. The times have evolved a lot since then and so much of the calligraphic art is becoming lost to digital convenience, but leafing through some vintage ephemera turned up this tasty reminder of how much type production was once done by hand.

The Speedball Steel Brushes product are almost a century old and are still used and available, but from the 1920s through the 1940s, their more extensive presence in art production justified publishing a semi-annual “Speedball Text Book” booklet written by Ross F.George. This stapled, paperbound periodical presented type styles that were current and gave a step-by-step process of how they could be recreated with the use of the Speedball pen nibs. These manuals are wonderful testaments to the lettering styles and production techniques of the day.


14th Edition of the “Speedball Text Book” – 1941.

Speedball card

A vintage set of Speedball pen nibs.


Poster Block font and instructions as to how to prepare and produce the typeface.


Basic intro and instructions.


Basic lettering styles.


Balanced layout structure.


How to use the Speedball pens to do Roman Caps.


How lettering styles evolved …


Use of the brush nib.

The following are style examples:










How to space your lettering.



Generic advert layout examples.


Poster layout examples.


More posters.


How to plan an effective poster design.


The effect of type design on your message.


Remember “Engrossing” ? (Can’t say I do. . .)


Now that’s calligraphy!


Newspaper ad layout examples.


Price tix.


Index to the 14th edition.

The following covers show examples of other editions of the “Speedball Text Book.”

SB 11

11th Edition (1929)

SB 12

12th Edition

SB 13

13th Edition


15th Edition

SB 16

16th Edition

SB 17

17th Edition

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8 thoughts on “The Vintage Speedball Textbook

  1. Pingback: type inspiration: speedball textbook | Small Caps

  2. Pingback: type inspiration: speedball textbook | Small Caps

  3. Jeff Levine

    I have made a number of these lettering examples into typefaces, available through my foundry page at

    Some examples are Brushmark JNL, Vertical Roundpoint JNL, Nightowl JNL, Roundpoint Pen JNL, Eckhardt Brushletter JNL, Eckhardt Casual JNL, Big Band JNL, Handmade Gothic JNL, Fun and Games JNL…

    HAving been in love with lettering since childhood (over 50 years ago, I have modeled many of my fonts from those youthful influences such as Speedball books, lettering stencils, sign kits, water-applied decals, rubber stamp alphabet sets, etc.

  4. Ron Rifkin

    I still remember when my brother used the one called “Bold Display” for the showcard accompanying his cloud chamber science project in the 1960’s. Appropriate, no?
    I still have the nibs and a book somewhere.

  5. Patrick

    Great find, that 1941 edition! I still have (somewhere) my circa 1972 edition. It looks like the basic instruction pages hadn’t changed much over time, but those fantastic mid-century letterforms and poster examples were gone. So was the four color cover!

    Thanks for sharing this, J.J.!

  6. azabache

    I have a version of the 16th edition. En español. I got it in middle school and went through a few sets of nibs. Never mastered every style, but learned a lot. For a kid growing up in Puerto Rico in the ’60s, it was a heck of and introduction to design.