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Arts and Culture,  Luxury Lifestyle

British Butler to Duke Turned Calligrapher Revives Beautiful Letters Crafted in the Regency Style

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What do you get someone who has everything? In today’s modern digital world, where we are more inclined to send messages via text or email, a hand-written message to your beloved made, expressed in beautiful calligraphy becomes much more than a letter, its transformed into a piece of art.

The words from your heart masterfully immortalized on fine paper, exquisitely and artistically crafted. This was in the past, the way that we shared our thoughts and sentiments before more modern means of communications, and more casual mode of writing took over. A letter written by hand is always more meaningful, and today means even more, as it is so rare. But where would one turn to, to find such a special thing?

MEET STEPHEN DUCKETT, founder of Duckett Calligraphy

Most of his career has been spent as a butler, alongside a range of extracurricular interests from the church organ including playing as well as building, and composing to calligraphy. The bulk of his training took place at Blenheim where, in 2004, he began as Under Butler to His Grace The 11th Duke of Marlborough. In 2014, Duckett became Head Butler to the 12th Duke. In his spare time, he also dabbled in the mysteries of calligraphy, producing occasional commissions for a small but dedicated client base. Calligraphy was a passionate pursuit, and Duckett is largely self taught, only beginning to seriously develop his calligraphic skills in the silence and solitude of monastic life, whilst living for two years as a Cistercian monk in Leicestershire. Keen to research and master copperplate and gaelic uncial, and for that matter calligraffiti, he made use of the nightly silence so treasured by Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO) to channel his thoughts into calligraphy, learning all the time to re-present, complement and in some way do justice to the text before him. Even now, he writes best in the middle of the night, in silence.

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In late 2016 he made an amicable and voluntary departure from the tail-coated profession to start his calligraphy business. Difficult as it was to leave the Palace, and as unreasonable as it is to suggest that it not be missed, he has long hoped for calligraphy with its insistence on concentration and diurnal quietude – to fully immerse him: and by 2016 he felt the time was right. Whilst not at first an obvious next step after the unlikely transplant, was nevertheless effortless: both careers demand the same exactness, a passion for almost incomprehensibly high levels of customer satisfaction and a love of fine materials.


Q. How and when did you start specialising in calligraphy? What is your background?

A. Last week my Grandma showed me a piece of ‘calligraphy’ that I produced when I was 4. So the gene has always been there. But I began to seriously develop my calligraphy whilst a Cistercian novice monk in 2009. The monastic community starts each day at 3.30am and there is a special time between then and 7am dedicated to the fostering of silence and interior recollection. I used this time to practice and study calligraphy, and it was also a great way of staying awake! I think it is because of this that I love the stillness of night and continue to produce most of my calligraphy between midnight and 7am.

Q. What led you to stay with calligraphy?

A. For me it is the other way around: I practice calligraphy because need it. Its not just a career, but a crucial aspect of my creative and internal spiritual life. Calligraphy is an extraordinary form of expression: I use nothing but letters and words to produce art and indeed to express my own innermost truth. To have developed this into my career is a great privilege.

SAM 3269Q. What has calligraphy taught you?

A. Calligraphy is a very efficient teacher of patience and respect. It can’t be rushed and is, to a greater or lesser extent, its own time zone. Once I’ve collaborated with my customer to define how we move forward on a commission, I have to almost stand aside, and let calligraphy teach me how to take things slowly. Calligraphy is a wonderful way of living in the present, because it forces me to think of what I’m doing ‘now’, and not rush to the next stage too early. Above my calligraphy desk is a quote written in copperplate: “Live in the sanctity of the present moment”. I believe this is a crucial condition to living in peace – both with myself and others – and nothing helps me attain this more than calligraphy. The modern-day way of life strongly suggests that I should always be busy, rushed off my feet and seeking what’s around the next corner; calligraphy puts flight to this nonsense, and teaches me to enter into the kind of silence that is restorative in our busy 21st century world.

Q. What, in your opinion, is the hardest and the most rewarding part of doing calligraphy?

A. Good calligraphy should invite the reader to literally fall into the text. What do I mean by that!? As a calligrapher,

I have to re-present what is already known and loved, so that it is seen differently, with fresh eyes. A well-known quote, for example: my job is to write it out again… to re-present it in a way that forces the reader to slow down and hear what the text is saying, to re-learn it. Its a bit like savouring the taste of a good mouthful of wine. For me, this is the hardest and most beautiful aspect of calligraphy, as well as it’s very purpose. The reward is watching a customer’s reaction to my work. It is a privilege to be let so far into other people’s lives, and to produce something so personal and meaningful is verging on ministerial! I pride myself on developing genuine relationships with all my customers.

Q. What are you working on at the moment?

A. I am currently busy building up a stock of products for the Jane Austen Festival in September, as well as for the gift shop at the Birmingham Pen Museum. This is unusual for me, because my work is nearly all completely bespoke. This gives me an opportunity to develop products (mostly gift cards) that are often outside my work manifesto.

SAM 3363Q. What are you working on at the moment?

A. I am currently busy building up a stock of products for the Jane Austen Festival in September, as well as for the gift shop at the Birmingham Pen Museum. This is unusual for me, because my work is nearly all completely bespoke. This gives me an opportunity to develop products (mostly gift cards) that are often outside my work manifesto.

Three Products Offered by Duckett Calligraphy

Following much research about historic correspondence, I produce handwritten letters authentic to the Regency period. The mill from which my hot-press paper comes has been producing since the 1700s; the iron gall ink is a 19th century recipe; I write letters in copperplate with swirl decorations and – if desired – 23.5ct gold embellishments. He uses several wax seals on each letter and each MS is folded and addressed in a manner authentic to the period. Ideal for Valentine’s day, birthdays, christenings, engagements, weddings, sympathy notices, well wishes and just for telling someone they are loved.

Duckett’s handmade greetings cards are made to order with the option of an accompanying glass picture frame indicates the quality of the workmanship.

Duckett is slowly producing a complete psalter, written, illuminated and decorated by hand. Once leather-bound, this exquisite volume will be the first of its kind from DUCKETT to be offered for sale. He hopes to carve a unique and memorable channel into the rare book market by producing handwritten books to order.

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