The Story of Lorem Ipsum: How Scrambled Text by Cicero Became Used by Typesetters Everywhere

In high school, the language I most fell in love with happened to be a dead one: Latin. Sure, it’s spoken at the Vatican, and when I first began to study the tongue of Virgil and Catullus, friends joked that I could only use it if I moved to Rome. Tempting, but church Latin barely resembles the classical written language, a highly formal grammar full of symmetries and puzzles. You don’t speak classical Latin; you solve it, labor over it, and gloat, to no one in particular, when you’ve rendered it somewhat intelligible. Given that the study of an ancient language is rarely a conversational art, it can sometimes feel a little alienating.

And so you might imagine how pleased I was to discover what looked like classical Latin in the real world: the text known to designers around the globe as “Lorem Ipsum,” also called “filler text” and (erroneously) “Greek copy.”

The idea, Priceonomics informs us, is to force people to look at the layout and font, not read the words. Also, “nobody would mistake it for their native language,” therefore Lorem Ipsum is “less likely than other filler text to be mistaken for final copy and published by accident.” If you’ve done any web design, you’ve probably seen it, looking something like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

When I first encountered this text, I did what any Latin geek will—set about trying to translate it. But it wasn’t long before I realized that Lorem Ipsum is mostly gibberish, a garbling of Latin that makes no real sense. The first word, “Lorem,” isn’t even a word; instead it’s a piece of the word “dolorem,” meaning pain, suffering, or sorrow. So where did this mash-up of Latin-like syntax come from, and how did it get so scrambled? First, the source of Lorem Ipsum—tracked down by Hampden-Sydney Director of Publications Richard McClintock—is Roman lawyer, statesmen, and philosopher Cicero, from an essay called “On the Extremes of Good and Evil,” or De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum.


Why Cicero? Put most simply, writes Priceonomics, “for a long time, Cicero was everywhere.” His fame as the most skilled of Roman rhetoricians meant that his writing became the benchmark for prose in Latin, the standard European language of the Middle Ages. The passage that generated Lorem Ipsum translates in part to a sentiment Latinists will well understand:

Nor is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure.

Dolorem Ipsum, “pain in and of itself,” sums up the tortuous feeling of trying to render some of Cicero’s complex, verbose sentences into English. Doing so with tolerable proficiency is, for some of us, “great pleasure” indeed.

But how did Cicero, that master stylist, come to be so badly manhandled as to be nearly unrecognizable? Lorem Ipsum has a history that long predates online content management. It has been used as filler text since the sixteenth century when—as McClintock theorized—“some typesetter had to make a type specimen book, to demo different fonts” and decided that “the text should be insensible, so as not to distract from the page’s graphical features.” It appears that this enterprising craftsman snatched up a page of Cicero he had lying around and turned it into nonsense. The text, says McClintock, “has survived not only four centuries of letter-by-letter resetting but even the leap into electronic typesetting, essentially unchanged.”

The story of Lorem Ipsum is a fascinating one—if you’re into that kind of thing—but its longevity raises a further question: should we still be using it at all, this mangling of a dead language, in a medium as vital and dynamic as web publishing, where “content” refers to hundreds of design elements besides font. Is Lorem Ipsum a quaint piece of nostalgia that’s outlived its usefulness? In answer, you may wish to read Karen McGrane’s spirited defense of the practice. Or, if you feel it’s time to let the garbled Latin go the way of manual typesetting machines, consider perhaps as an alternative “Nietzsche Ipsum,” which generates random paragraphs of mostly verb-less, incoherent Nietzsche-like text, in English. Hey, at least it looks like a real language.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Related Content:

Why Learn Latin?: 5 Videos Make a Compelling Case That the “Dead Language” Is an “Eternal Language”

What Ancient Latin Sounded Like, And How We Know It

Can Modern-Day Italians Understand Latin? A Youtuber Puts It to the Test on the Streets of Rome

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Look Inside the Labor-Intensive Process of Making a Tiffany-Style Lamp

What do Tiffany lamps have in common with Kleenex?

A brand name so mighty, it’s become an umbrella term.

Of course, Kleenex is still manufacturing tissues, whereas authentic lamps from Louis Comfort Tiffany’s New York studio were produced between 1890 and 1930.

Handcrafted of coiled bronze wire and many pieces of blown favrile glass arranged in intricate natural motifs, bonafide Tiffany lamps can fetch prices of over a million dollars.

The “Tiffany lamps” for sale on Wayfair?

Not the genuine article.

Still, if the one on your end table brings you pleasure, who are we to get snippy about it?

There’s plenty of that attitude to be found in the YouTube comments for the above process video …

To be clear, what you’re seeing is the process by which an affordable colored glass lampshade in the style of Tiffany comes together at an overseas factory.

The quality may be lacking, but it’s still a pretty labor-intensive proposition.

First, the pieces are cut by hand or using blades mounted on metal arms. Their shapes and number are predetermined by a pattern…again in the style of Tiffany.

You won’t find the speckled confetti glass or golden hued glass with a translucent amber sheen that are defining features of the real McCoy here…

Once the pieces have been cut and sorted, their edges are wrapped in copper foil tape. (In Tiffany’s day this would have involved hand cutting strips of copper, then smearing them with beeswax to help them to adhere to the glass.)

The wrapped pieces are then laid out in a mold according to the pattern and soldered together.

The bottom edge is reinforced, and the shade is fitted onto a lamp base.

If you’re a museum curator, a connoisseur of the genuine article or a glazier, we don’t fault you for getting a bit salty.

(Our favorite comment: Oh the humanity. I used to be a glazier. I couldn’t finish watching the video. The way they cut the glass dry and slide it around without felt on the table makes me cringe. You can hear the crinkling sound of glass particles under it when it’s being slid around. The smallest contoured cuts and breaks are so rough they’re practically gnawed. If clear glass was handled this way every window would have deep scratches and would probably self destruct from thermal cycling or a strong breeze.)

If you’re susceptible to ASMR, enjoy your tingles – all those crinkling sounds of glass particles!

If you’re someone who’s insatiably curious as to how ordinary things are made, we hope you’ll consider the twelve minutes of this Process Discovery video time well spent, and no less interesting than their non-narrative peeks into the manufacture of bubble mailers, snow globes and swim goggles

We leave you with a brief tour of the “real thing”, courtesy of the New York Historical Society:

via Colossal

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Fully Functional Replica of the Antikythera Mechanism, the First Analog Computer from Ancient Greece, Re-Created in LEGO


Discovered amidst the wreckage of a sunken ship off the coast of Greece in 1901, the Antikythera Mechanism (previously featured here on Open Culture) is often considered the world’s oldest known analog computer. Dating back to approximately 150-100 BCE, the device has a complex arrangement of precisely cut gears, all designed to track celestial movements, predict lunar and solar eclipses, and chart the positions of planets. It’s a testament to Ancient Greek engineering. Above, you can see a fully functional replica of the Antikythera Mechanism re-created in LEGO, courtesy of the scientific journal Nature. As one YouTuber put it, “The device is unbelievably cool, and the video is masterfully done.”

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Vin Mariani, the 19th-Century Cocaine-Infused Wine, Imbibed and Endorsed by Presidents, Popes & Writers

In the neverending quest to elevate themselves above the fray, today’s mixologists – formerly known as bartenders – are putting a modern spin on obscure cocktail recipes, and resurrecting anachronistic spirits like mahia, Chartreuse, Usquebaugh, and absinthe.

Might we see a return of Vin Mariani, a Belle Époque ‘tonic wine’ that was hit with such august personages as Queen Victoria, Ulysses S. Grant, Alexander Dumas and Emile Zola?

Probably not.

It’s got coca in it, known for its psychoactive alkaloid, cocaine.

Corsican chemist Angelo Mariani came up with the restorative beverage, formally known as Vin Tonique Mariani à la Coca de Peroum, in 1863, inspired by physician and anthropologist Paolo Mantegazza who served as his own guinea pig after observing native use of coca leaves while on a trip to South America:

I sneered at the poor mortals condemned to live in this valley of tears while I, carried on the wings of two leaves of coca, went flying through the spaces of 77,438 words, each more splendid than the one before…An hour later, I was sufficiently calm to write these words in a steady hand: God is unjust because he made man incapable of sustaining the effect of coca all life long. I would rather have a life span of ten years with coca than one of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 000 centuries without coca.

Mariani identified an untapped opportunity and added ground coca leaves to Bordeaux, at a ratio of 6 milligrams of coca to one ounce of wine.

Unsurprisingly, the resulting concoction not only took the edge off, it was accorded a number of healthful benefits in an age where general cure-alls were highly prized.

The recommended dosage for adults was two or three glasses a day, before or after meals. For kids, the amount could be divided in two.

Reigning masters of graphic design were enlisted to promote the miracle elixir.

Jules Chéret leaned into its energy boosting effects by depicting a comely young woman clad in skimpy, sheer yellow replenishing her glass mid-leap, while Alphonse Mucha went dark, claiming that “the mummies themselves stand up and walk after drinking Vin Mariani.”

While we’re on the subject of corpse revivers, 21st-century mixologists will please note that a cocktail of Vin Mariani, vermouth and bitters, served with a twist, was a particularly popular preparation, especially across the Atlantic, where Vin Mariani was exported in a more potent version containing 7.2 milligrams of coca.

Angelo Mariani’s innovations were not limited to the chemistry of alcoholic compounds.

He was also a marketing genius, who curried celebrity favor by sending a complimentary case of Vin Mariani to dozens of famous names, along with a humble request for an endorsement and photo, should the contents prove pleasing.

These accolades were collected and repurposed as advertisements that assured adoring fans and followers of the product’s quality.

Sarah Bernhardt conferred superstar status on the drink, and not so subtly shored up her own, grandly pronouncing the blend the “King of Tonics, Tonic of Kings:”

I have been delighted to find Vin Mariani in all the large cities of the United States, and it has, as always, largely helped to give me that strength so necessary in the performance of the arduous duties which I have imposed upon myself. I never fail to praise its virtues to all my friends and I heartily congratulate upon the success which you so well deserve. 

Pope Leo XIII not only carried “a personal hip flask” of the stuff to “fortify himself in those moments when prayer was insufficient,” he invented and awarded a Vatican gold medal to Vin Mariani “in recognition of benefits received.”

Mariani eventually packaged the glowing endorsements he’d been squirreling away as Portraits from Album Mariani. It’s a compendium of famous artists, writers, actors, and musicians of the day, some remembered, mostly not…

Composer John Philip Sousa:

When worn out after a long rehearsal or a performance, I find nothing so helpful as a glass of Vin Mariani. To brain workers and those who expend a great deal of nervous force, it is invaluable.

Opera singer Lillian Blauvelt:

Vin Mariani is the greatest of all tonic stimulants for the voice and system. During my professional career, I have never been without it.

Illustrator Albert Robida:

At last! At last! It has been discovered – they hold it, that celebrated microbe so long sought after – the microbe of microbes that kills all other microbes. It is the great, the wonderful, the incomparable microbe of health! It is, it is Vin Mariani!

(We suspect Robida penned his entry after swallowing more than a few glasses… or he was of a mischievous nature and would’ve fit right in with the Surrealists, the Futurists, Fluxus, or any other movement that jabbed at the bourgeoisie with hyperbole and humor.

Mariani used the album to publish the Philadelphia Medical Times’ defense of celebrity endorsements:

The array of notable names is a strong one. Too strong in standing, as well as in numbers, to allow of the charge of interested motives.

Mariani also included an excerpt from the New York Medical Journal, denouncing the unscrupulous manufacturers of “rival preparations of coca” who pirated Vin Mariani’s glowing reviews, “craftily making those records appear to apply to their own preparations.”

Elsewhere in the album, medical authorities tout Vin Mariani’s success in combatting such maladies as headaches, heart strain, brain exhaustion, spasms, la grippe, laryngeal afflictions, influenza, inordinate irritability and worry.

They fail to mention that it could get you much higher than vins ordinaires, defined, for purposes of this post, as “wines lacking in coca.”

The psychoactive properties of coca definitely received a boost from the alcohol, a collision that gave rise to a third chemical compound, cocaethylene, a long-lasting intoxicant that produces intense euphoria, along with a heightened risk of cardiotoxicity and sudden death.

…some dead celebrities could likely tell us a thing or two about it.

Mariani’s fortunes began to turn early in the 20th century, owing to the Pure Food and Drug Act, the growing temperance movement, and increased public awareness of the dangers of cocaine.

We may never see a Vin Mariani cocktail on the menu at Death & Co, Licorería Limantour, or Paradiso, but the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Museum keeps a bottle on hand.

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Coca-Cola Was Originally Sold as an Intellectual Stimulant & Medicine: The Unlikely Story of the Iconic Soft Drink’s Invention

How a Young Sigmund Freud Researched & Got Addicted to Cocaine, the New “Miracle Drug,” in 1894

The Coffee Pot That Fueled Honoré de Balzac’s Coffee Addiction

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Scientists Are Turning Dead Spiders Into Robots That Grip

Kids who dig robotics usually start out building projects that mimic insects in both appearance and action.

Daniel Preston, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rice University and PhD student Faye Yap come at it from a different angle. Rather than designing robots that move like insects, they repurpose dead wolf spiders as robotic claws.

Very little modification is required.

Yap explains that, unlike mammals, spiders lack antagonistic muscles:

They only have flexor muscles, which allow their legs to curl in, and they extend them outward by hydraulic pressure. When they die, they lose the ability to actively pressurize their bodies. That’s why they curl up.

When a scientifically inclined human inserts a needle into a deceased spider’s hydraulic prosoma chamber, seals it with superglue, and delivers a tiny puff of air from a handheld syringe, all eight legs will straighten like fingers on jazz hands.

These necrobiotic spider gripper tools can lift around 130% of their body weight – smaller spiders are capable of handling more – and each one is good for approximately 1000 grips before degrading.

Preston and Yap envision putting the spiders to work sorting or moving small scale objects, assembling microelectronics, or capturing insects in the wild for further study.

Eventually, they hope to be able to isolate the movements of individual legs, as living spiders can.

Environmentally, these necrobiotic parts have a major advantage in that they’re fully biodegradable. When they’re no longer technologically viable, they can be composted. (Humans can be too, for that matter…)

The idea is as innovative as it is offbeat. As a soft robotics specialist, Preston is always seeking alternatives to hard plastics, metals and electronics:

We use all kinds of interesting new materials like hydrogels and elastomers that can be actuated by things like chemical reactions, pneumatics and light. We even have some recent work on textiles and wearables…The spider falls into this line of inquiry. It’s something that hasn’t been used before but has a lot of potential.”

Conquer any lingering arachnophobia by reading Yap and Preston’s research article,  Necrobotics: Biotic Materials as Ready-to-Use Actuators, here.

Hat Tip to Open Culture reader Dawn Yow.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Mesmerizing Look at the Making of a Late Medieval Book from Start to Finish

Hand binding a book, using primarily 15-century methods and materials sounds like a major undertaking, rife with pitfalls and frustration.

A far more relaxing activity is watching Four Keys Book Arts’ wordless, 24-minute highlights reel of self-taught bookbinder Dennis tackling that same assignment, above. (Bonus – it’s a guaranteed treat for those prone to autonomous sensory meridian response tingles.)

Dennis, whose other recent forays into bespoke bookbinding include a number of elegant matchbox sized volumes and upcycling three Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks into a tome bound in vegetable tanned goatskin, labored on the late-medieval Gothic reproduction for over 60 hours.

For research on this type of binding, he turned to book designer J.A. Szirmai’s The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding, and while the goal was never 100% period accuracy, Dennis notes that the craft of traditional hand-binding has remained virtually unchanged for centuries:

The medieval binder would have found many of the tools and techniques to be very familiar. The single biggest anachronism is my use of synthetic PVA glue rather than period-appropriate animal glue. The second historic anomaly is my use of marbled paper, though it could be argued that the earliest European marbled papers of the mid-17th century do overlap with this binding style. The nonpareil pattern I have chosen for the endpapers, though, dates from the 1820’s, and so is distinctly out of place. But apart from those, virtually all of the other materials in this book would have been available to the medieval bookbinder.

Those craving a more step-by-step explanation should set time aside to view the longer videos, below, in which Dennis shares such time-consuming, detail-oriented tasks as trimming and tidying the edges with a cabinet scraper and bookbinder’s plough, sewing endbands to support and protect the book’s head and the spine, and decorating the leather cover with a hand-tooled floral pattern embellished with gold foil highlights. 

Rather than cut corners, he literally cuts corners – the metal clasp and corner guards  from a .8mm thick sheet of brass.

Only the final video is narrated, so be sure to activate closed captioning / subtitles in the YouTube toolbar to read his commentary.

Materials and tools used in this project:

Text Paper: Fabriano Accademia 120 gsm drawing paper, 65 x 50 cm, long grain

Endpapers: Four Keys Book Arts handmade marbled paper, Fabriano Accademia 120 gsm drawing paper, red handmade paper

Thread: Undyed Linen 25/3, unknown brand

Cords: Leather, unknown type, roughly 3 oz/ 1 mm

Wax: Natural Beeswax

Glue: Mix of Acid-Free PVA and Methyl Cellulose, 3:2 ratio.

Paper Knife (made from an old kitchen knife)

Bone Folder (handmade in-house)

Scrap book board, various sizes/thickness

Pressing Boards (1/2″ maple plywood, made in house)

Cast-Iron Book Press (Patrick Ritchie, Edinburgh, circa 1850)

Stainless Steel rulers, various sizes

Small Stanley Knife

Maple Laying Press (handmade in-house)

Small Carpenter’s Square, unknown brand

Pencil (Blackwing)

Steel dividers, unknown brand

Lithography Stone (circa 1925)

Cotton Rag

Agate Burnisher

Piercing Cradle (handmade in-house)


2″ natural bristle brush, generic

parchment release paper

blotting paper

Acetate barrier sheets, .01 gauge

Dahle Vantage 12e Guillotine (found at a thrift store)


Bookbinding Needles

Sewing Frame (handmade in-house)

Brass H-Keys (handmade in-house)

Linen sewing tapes, 12 mm


Watch a full playlist of Four Keys Book Arts’ Medieval Gothic Binding videos here. See more of Dennis book binding projects on Four Keys Book Arts’ Instagram.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The 5 Innovative Bridges That Make New York City, New York City

The Brooklyn Bridge ignites the passions of tourists and locals alike.

For every 10,000 visitors who pause in its bike lanes to snap selfies, there’s an alum of nearby PS 261 who celebrated its birthday with a song that mentions the fates of its engineers John and Washington Roebling to the tune of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.

(A sample chorus: Caisson’s disease! Caissons disease! Caisson’s disease is really bad!)

Native son Adam Suerte of Brooklyn Tattoo estimates that he inks its likeness on a half dozen customers per month. (A temporary option is available for those with commitment issues…)

In 1886, a hustler named Steve Brodie claimed to have survived a jump off of it, a tale propagated by Bugs Bunny.

We watch movies at its feet and draw attention to causes by marching across it.

It continues to mesmerize artists, poets, filmmakers and photographers.

But, as architect Michael Wyetzner makes clear in his most recent video for Architectural Digest, it’s not the only bridge in New York City.

Also, despite what you may have heard, it’s not for sale.

Understandably, the hybrid cable-stayed/suspension superstar connecting Brooklyn to lower Manhattan takes the lead in Wyetzner’s coverage of five bridges that have had an enormous impact on the development of a city whose five boroughs were once traversable solely by ferry.

The other notable players:

The Hell Gate Bridge – a feat of WWI-era railroad engineering connecting Queens to Randall’s and Wards Island over a particularly perilous stretch of waterway, it was once the longest steel arch bridge in the world.

In his 1921 book New York: The Great Metropolis, painter Peter Marcus noted that “if laid over Manhattan it would reach from Wanamaker’s store at Eighth Street, to One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street.”

Macomb’s Dam Bridge, a low lying swing bridge whose center portion pivots to accommodate boat traffic on the Harlem River. When construction began in late 1890, the New York Times gushed that it would be a “street built in mid-air” between the Bronx and Washington Heights in upper Manhattan:

It is hardly enough to say of it that it will be the greatest piece of engineering of the kind in the world. Nothing like it has ever been attempted.

The High Bridge – Originally part of the Croton Aqueduct, it is technically the oldest surviving bridge in the city, as well as a community-led preservation campaign success story. Having languished in the latter part of the 20th century, it is now a beautiful pedestrian bridge whose killer views can be enjoyed without the hassle of Brooklyn Bridge-sized crowds.

The George Washington Bridge – a major money maker for the Port Authority, it’s not only the world’s busiest bridge, it puts a lot of the bridge in “bridge and tunnel crowd” by connecting Manhattan to New Jersey.

Architecture buffs can geek out on the Concrete Industry Board Award-winning bus station and storied Little Red Lighthouse in its shadow.

The GWB’s most ardent fan has got to be artist Faith Ringgold, who immortalized it in her Tar Beach story quilt and related children’s book:

 I never want to be more than three minutes from the George. I could always see it as I grew up.  That bridge has been in my life for as long as I can remember.  As a kid, I could walk across it anytime I wanted.  I love to see it sparkling at night.  I moved to New Jersey, and I’m still next to it.

Wyetzner, whose architectural round up shoehorns in a lot of interesting information about public health, economics, transportation, labor practice and New York City history, is actively courting viewers to suggest bridges for a sequel.

We’ll throw our weight behind the Manhattan, the Williamsburg, the Queensboro, the Verrazzano, and the admittedly dark horse 103rd Street Footbridge.


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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Behold A Grammar of Japanese Ornament and Design: The 19th Century Book That Introduced Western Audiences to Japanese Art (1880)

In 1880, architect Thomas W. Cutler endeavored to introduce his fellow Brits to Japanese art and design, a subject that remained novel for many Westerners of the time, given how recently the Tokugawa shogunate had “kept themselves aloof from all foreign intercourse, and their country jealously closed against strangers.”

Having written positively of China’s influence on Japanese artists, Cutler hoped that access to Western art would not prove a corrupting factor:

The fear that a bastard art of a very debased kind may arise in Japan, is not without foundation…The European artist, who will study the decorative art of Japan carefully and reverently, will not be in any haste to disturb, still less to uproot, the thought and feeling from which it has sprung; it is perhaps the ripest and richest fruit of a tree cultivated for many ages with the utmost solicitude and skill, under conditions of society peculiarly favorable to its growth.

Having never visited Japan himself, Cutler relied on previously published works, as well as numerous friends who were able to furnish him with “reliable information upon many subjects,” given their “long residence in the country.”

Accordingly, expect a bit of bias in A Grammar of Japanese Ornament and Design (1880).

That said, Cutler emerges as a robust admirer of Japan’s painting, lacquerware, ceramics, calligraphy, textiles, metalwork, enamelwork and netsuke carvings, the latter of which are “are often marvelous in their humor, detail, and even dignity.”

Only Japan’s wooden architecture, which he confidently pooh poohed as little more than “artistic carpentry, decoration, and gardening”, cleverly designed to withstand earthquakes, get shown less respect.

Cutler’s renderings of Japanese design motifs, undertaken in his free time, are the lasting legacy of his book, particularly for those on the prowl for copyright-free graphics.


Cutler observed that the “most characteristic” element of Japanese decoration was its close ties to the natural world, adding that unlike Western designers, a Japanese artist “would throw his design a little out of the center, and cleverly balance the composition by a butterfly, a leaf, or even a spot of color.”

The below plant studies are drawn from the work  of the great ukiyo-e master Hokusai, a “man of the people” who ushered in a period of “vitality and freshness” in Japanese art.

A sampler of curved lines made with single brush strokes can be used to create clouds or the intricate scrollwork that inspired Western artists and designers of the Aesthetic Movement.

While Cutler might not have thought much of Japanese architecture, it’s worth noting that his book shows up in the footnotes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan: The Role of Traditional Japanese Art and Architecture in the Work of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Take a peek at some Japanese-inspired wallpaper of Cutler’s own design, then explore A Grammar of Japanese Ornament and Design by Thomas W. Cutler here.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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