For almost 50 years the Richard Harrison Collection of Calligraphy & Lettering has been a part of the San Francisco Public Library. Richard Harrison (1909-1990), a San Franciscan who loved calligraphy and was a lettering artist himself, began to acquire original works from noted English scribes in the 1950s. In 1963 he chose the library as a permanent home for his splendid collection, which became part of the Special Collections Department, now known as the Book Arts & Special Collections Center. Until the end of his life, Richard Harrison continued to add to and provide support for the collection which bears his name.
In addition to original works by an international array of contemporary calligraphers, Richard Harrison also donated his many calligraphy books to the library. These form the basis of the current reference collection, which continues to grow through both purchase and donation, supporting the in-depth study of the history, art and craft of written forms. The collection includes facsimiles of famous illuminated manuscripts, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, and historical writing books from the sixteenth century to present day. Books on the history of the alphabet, the development of letter forms, the history of illumination and inscriptional lettering find a place here, as do exhibition catalogues, how-to manuals, and books on the lives and careers of individual lettering artists. Displayed is a selection of books chosen to illustrate the richness and variety of one of the San Francisco Public Library’s unique reference collections.