At the White House, calligraphy is used to create and address invitations, place cards, menu cards, escort cards, holiday cards, proclamations, programs, certificates, and pretty much anything that involves paper and a pen. There are three full-time calligraphers, who work out of a big room in the East Wing which has a nice eastern exposure for lots of natural light, and they rarely have a moment of leisure; along with all of the beautiful words they bring to life, they create stunning artwork which they design and hand color for special invitations and menu cards.
The calligraphers maintain the protocol of White House stationery. The presidential seal may only be used if the President is extending an invitation to an event. For an invitation from the First Lady, there is a special etching of the White House that is used at the top of an invitation. They know the correct size for a formal engraved invitation, what enclosures may be needed, what to do with that funny piece of tissue paper found in a fancy invitation, and how much the package weighs so that the postage will be correct.
The calligraphers not only have great imaginations, but also command the skill to create almost any invitation, usually in a very tight turnaround time. The Social Office rule was that invitations were sent out three weeks prior to an event. We worked backward from there, to allow for the time it takes to design an invitation, choose the color and weight of the stock, have it engraved (if it is a formal invitation), get the invitations back from the printers, and address them. And, crucially, there’s the proofing – there are lots of eyes on every draft invitation before it’s sent to be printed. One incorrect number on an invitation meant we could have people showing up on the wrong day or the wrong time – not to mention the unthinkable embarrassment of a typo in a presidential invitation!
The calligraphers are especially busy in late fall. At the holiday season we had 22 parties in the space of three weeks, and sent out about 20,000 invitations. That’s a lot of stamps to lick. So here’s a toast to the White House calligraphers! They bring joy and excitement to people all over the country with every beautiful invitation that they hand-address.
Some examples of their work:
Menucard for a St. Patrick’s Day Dinner:
Original artwork and invitation for a Cowboy Picnic for Members of Congress:
Menucard for a black tie dinner on Valentine’s Day