What does an Engrosser do?

Mary McMahon

An engrosser is someone who letters formal documents. This can include deeds, citations, diplomas, degrees, contracts, public records, and similar types of documents. Engrossers can work in a number of different settings, and increasingly their work includes the development of fonts which can be used to generate such documents on the computer, as the demand for handwritten documents is on the decline. However, there are still settings in which it is necessary for a document to be written by hand or in which there is a desire for a traditionally lettered document.

Engrossers can work with a variety of writing instruments, including quills.
Engrossers can work with a variety of writing instruments, including quills.

Engrossers can learn their trade in art school or by apprenticing to someone who works as an engrosser. This job requires excellent handwriting and the ability to generate neat, clear, even script. There are several script styles traditionally used for handwritten documents including copperplate and gothic scripts, and an engrosser may know several so that she or he can write documents in different styles for different clients. Engrossers can work with a variety of writing instruments including fountain pens and quills.

Engrossers need excellent handwriting.
Engrossers need excellent handwriting.

The engrosser is not responsible for drafting the language of the document. She or he simply writes out the text provided by a client. Engrossers work carefully to avoid errors, and usually they proof the document before they begin their work to check for obvious typographical errors and syntax problems. If problems are identified, they are brought to the attention of the client so that the client can correct them or confirm that something which looks like an error really is accurate.

These lettering professionals can also work as illuminators. Illuminators add decorative elements to finished written pieces. These include flourishes, borders, sidebars, and so forth. Illumination can be a complicated art, and may be done on documents prepared by someone else or personally added after an engrosser is finished with his or her work. Engrossers and illuminators can also generate blanks which can be filled in by someone else with relevant information.

Employment prospects for engrossers vary. To work as an engrosser, it is usually necessary to have a portfolio of work. This can include original copies of practice pieces done to develop and showcase skill along with replications of documents prepared for clients. Because engrossers sometimes handle sensitive material, they usually need to ask for permission from clients to use a piece in a portfolio, or to stick with public records which are not considered private when preparing a portfolio.

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