Old penmanship and handwriting fonts
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The text face used here (as well as elsewhere) is Broadsheet™. The home page letters are set in Emily Austin™ & Lamar Pen™. All typefaces referenced on this website—Abigail Adams™, American Scribe™, Antiquarian™, Antiquarian Scribe™, Attic Antique™, Bonsai™, Botanical Scribe™, Broadsheet™, Castine™, Douglass Pen™, Emily Austin™, Houston Pen™, Lamar Pen™, Military Scribe™, Old Man Eloquent™, Remsen Script™, Schooner Script™, Terra Ignota™ & Texas Hero™—are the intellectual property of Three Islands Press (copyright ©1994–2015). For site licensing contact:

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The Antique Penman
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Archive for the ‘Historical Figures’ Category
Looking Back at Texas Hero
Sunday, October 21st, 2018
Stephen F. Austin’s prison diary.

Stephen F. Austin’s prison diary.

Last February I released Austin Pen, my 14th typeface simulating real historical handwriting—and my 33rd overall. Soon after, I decided it would be my last original type design. Making a modern font takes hundreds of hours over a span of several months. At least for me it does. Probably I’m slow, or overly painstaking, or merely perfectionistic (considering I’m never entirely satisfied with the end result).

But I’ve reached an age where I feel compelled to spend time creating other things I’d like to make while there’s still time. Which is no doubt why I haven’t polished off a new Antique Penman post since February. I apologize for that.

Thomas J. Rusk’s lament on the death of his son.

Thomas J. Rusk’s lament.

Just yesterday I got to looking back at Texas Hero, my very first old pen font, which I started working on pretty much exactly 25 years ago. Texas Hero was, I’m pretty sure, the first typeface designed to replicate the look of genuine old handwriting, warts and all. I was new at the font game back then, having made three eclectic faces earlier in 1993. Didn’t know what I was doing at first, and certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I recall one day hunting around for a font that looked like 18th century handwriting—and finding none. For not the first time, I decided to fill a void. My indispensable partner in this enterprise was my late ma, Jeanne R. Willson, a historical librarian who then worked at what is now the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas (my alma mater). I knew she had long studied historical letters and documents and would certainly be able to supply examples of old cursive script.

Emily Austin Perry’s hand.

Emily Austin Perry’s hand.

And she did. I got photocopies of letters from several famous Texans (naturally) dating back to the time of the Republic. I got to see the handwriting of folks like Sam Houston, Mirabeau B. Lamar, Stephen F. AustinEmily Austin PerryDavid Burnet (I think), and Thomas J. Rusk. All their hands were distinctly different—fancy, flowery, bold, intricate, and/or a bit messy—but one had just the balance of legibility and period authenticity: Rusk’s.

When people think of Texas heroes, they don’t usually think of Thomas Jefferson Rusk. But he served as a general at the Battle of San Jacinto, as the fledgling Republic’s first Secretary of War, and in 1846 was elected one of the new state’s first U.S. Senators (the other being Houston). He died in 1857, at age 53, by self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Frederick Douglass’s penmanship.

Frederick Douglass’s penmanship.

I remember vividly having to look extremely closely at Rusk’s handwriting, getting intimately familiar with his loops and curves, reading and rereading several of his official letters—and one sad, oft-folded lament of the death of his two-year-old namesake son. It was the first of many times I found myself both deeply moved and somehow changed by the words and penmanship of a person who’d died more than a century ago.*

Over the next two and a half decades, I’d go on to replicate the hands of Stephen Austin, his sister Emily, Lamar, and Houston—along with such other famous pen-wielders as Abigail Adams, her son John Quincy, Frederick Douglass, Timothy Matlack (engrosser of the Declaration of Independence) and a few lesser-known writers of old. It all still seems implausible and crazy and sort of wonderful.

And still I think often of the closeness, familiarity, and nuance we stand to lose in this era of keyboards and texting and speech-to-text. We might even end up communicating like we did before the age of literacy: verbally or visually or via smoke signal.

I hold out hope, though, that writing by hand will remain a thing—even if only a sort of calligraphic art form.

*So moved, in fact, that I wrote this novel.


Miscellanea

» Handwriting the Constitution: Hand-copying produces “an intimate connection to the text and its meaning.”

» Royal Archives, Hamilton, and King George III: “Pieces of paper with old handwriting on [it].”

» Big Trouble in Canada: “‘I can’t read writing. We didn’t do it in school.’”

» The Magic of Handwriting: I’m truly sorry I missed this exhibition at The Morgan Library & Museum.

» A Tribute to the Fountain Pen: “No one writes like Abraham Lincoln anymore.”

» Apple Patents Handwriting Recognition System: This just seems so wrong.

» The Tragic Death of the Handwritten Message: Survey shows people age 25–34 prefer emojis to words.

My Cursive Handwriting Sucks
Sunday, September 17th, 2017
My cursive handwriting test.

My cursive handwriting test.

A confession: my cursive handwriting sucks. I write by hand so rarely these days, and when I do, it tends to come out as a sort of stylized printing I forced on myself thirty or forty years ago. So I just tried writing a few short cursive sentences on an index card to see what it looks like.

Yeah, it sucks. In fact, I couldn’t even remember how to write a capital “T.”

Alas, I’m not alone. What got me testing out my cursive today was a recent news item about how Cambridge University educators are considering dropping their handwritten exam requirement—after more than 800 years. The problem being that the faculty is having trouble reading students’ handwriting.

18th-century penmanship from Kentucky County, Virginia.

18th-century penmanship from Kentucky County, Virginia.

“There has definitely been a downward trend,” says history lecturer Sarah Pearsall. “It is difficult for both the students and the examiners, as it is harder and harder to read these scripts.”

Bummer.

A Need for Speed

But I’ve long predicted this. Our smart digital devices are feeding our need for speed when it comes to all forms of communication. I mean, let’s face it: it takes a lot longer to write a thank-you note by hand than to tap out a text with your thumbs. Sure, taking the time to learn cursive might be good for your brain, your manual dexterity, and your memory, but first-world humans just prefer living in the fast lane these days, apparently.

The handwriting of Meriwether Lewis

The handwriting of Meriwether Lewis.

This got me wondering (not for the first time) how things might change if the grid goes down. Say a computer virus, an asteroid, a natural (or nuclear) disaster, solar flares, or Siri Personified takes us all offline in an instant. How will we communicate over long distances in such a post-apocalyptic scenario? Well, I reckon we’ll have to go back to scribbling out notes using charcoal on birch bark and handing them to a courier, who will deliver them to our remote recipient in person. And I can imagine the dismay on the face of our correspondent who can’t read a word we’ve written.

“Return to Sender. Illegible.”

Learn by Doing

Perhaps at the very least it’s worth practicing—if not your cursive—your hand-printing every now and then. Maybe by jotting down a grocery list, composing a thank-you note by hand, or authoring an actual letter, inserting it into an envelope, and dropping it in the U.S. Mail. I daresay pen makers and the U.S. Postal Service will appreciate it, as will your recipients. So long as they can read your writing.

The irony is that, during the decades of the decline of my penmanship, I’ve taught myself to decipher various styles of cursive handwriting from centuries gone by. And you can bet there’ll be someone with similar skills to help us out centuries from now:

“Siri, read me that old cursive letter.”


Miscellanea

» Cursive makes you smarter: a wonderful essay about all this stuff.

» Another articulate argument for not scrapping handwriting instruction.

» To heck with handwriting recognition: recognizing handwriting is a moving experience.

» Geneva, Ohio, honors the master penman who created Spencerian Script.

» Yes, truly exercising the brain sometimes takes a little time.

» On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, a graphologist reveals a few secrets.

» Finally, Darick “DDS” Spears has released a new hip hop album called “Penmanship.”

 

Designing Austin Pen
Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
painting of Stephen F Austin

A painting of Stephen F. Austin (courtesy Texas State Library and Archives Commission).

I am remiss for having ignored The Penman for the entirety of spring. Partly my absence had to do with—well, spring! But partly it had to do with my decision to juggle two type-design projects at once for the first time. Turns out, there’s a lot to keep track of.

Lucky for us both, one of those projects is perfect for a discussion here.

Designing Austin Pen has proved enjoyable, puzzling, challenging, satisfying. It’ll be my fourteenth historical penmanship font—and the fifth member of what I consider my Texas Heroes Collection. It’s modeled after the handwriting of famous empresario Stephen Fuller Austin (1793–1836), the “Father of Texas,” from whom the Lone Star State’s capital got its name.

Stephen F. Austin did not live long, so he didn’t leave reams of handwritten material. But he did keep a diary while imprisoned in Mexico for virtually all of 1834. Austin Pen is my interpretation of Austin’s secret scribblings in this miniature journal (now in the collection of the wonderful Dolph Briscoe Center for American History).

Cover of the Austin Prison Diary.

Cover of the Austin Prison Diary.

Unlike the source materials for the other fonts in this collection—Lamar Pen (based on the hand of Mirabeau B. Lamar), Emily Austin (modeled after the hand of Austin’s sister, Emily Austin Perry), Houston Pen (inspired by the letters of Sam Houston), and Texas Hero (which replicates the script of Thomas Jefferson Rusk)—the diary Austin smuggled into his prison cell is hardly cut-and-dried. For one thing, it had very small pages, which couldn’t have been easy to fill. For another, he had to keep the little book hidden, so he ended up writing much of it in a pencil he also managed to hide.

But perhaps most interestingly, nearly 30 years later, Austin’s nephew Moses Austin Bryan (Emily’s son by her first husband) traced over most of the fading pencil lines in ink. Bryan made this entry on a blank page in his own fine hand:

Note by Moses Austin in his uncle’s diary.

Note by Moses Austin Bryan in his uncle’s diary.

I, Moses Austin Bryan on this day the twenty fifth day of December Eighteen hundred and seventy one have finished tracing the pencil marks or writing of Genl. Stephen F Austin which were made by him in this book whilst he was a prisoner in the cell No 15 of the Ex. Inquisition in the City of Mexico from the 18th day of February the day he was put in the cell No 15 till he was taken out at the end of three moths [sic] by order of the President.

Given all this confusion, I thought at first I might go for a hybrid script between Bryan’s and his Uncle Austin’s. But I soon saw that Austin’s pencil scribblings were large and strange (no doubt because of the difficulty in using an early 1800s pencil on tiny pages), and Bryan’s  ink tracings were similarly peculiar—nothing at all like his fine script in the note above. I decided to focus on the original author’s hand.

Pages showing Austin’s penmanship in ink.

Pages showing Austin’s penmanship in ink.

And I’m happy to report that, on either side of its pencil entries, Austin filled out many of the diary’s pages in ink. And his penmanship on those pages, while fairly unkempt (understandably, considering the size of the book), had a strength and surety I admired. Those are the pages I used.

One last challenge sprung from the fact that Austin kept most of his diary in Spanish. Whereas this was fortunate in that it gave me samples of letterforms often missing in English (like Q and x), others (like K and w) are absent entirely from the Spanish alphabet. Further—not being fluent in Spanish—I occasionally had to puzzle over certain words and phrases to make sure exactly what characters I was looking at.

By now I’ve finished the entire lowercase alphabet, though, and I’m happy with the result. And from my desk in distant Maine, far from Mexico, I hope to finish Austin Pen by early August, when it’s time for the blueberry harvest.

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. —Henry David Thoreau

Note: Check this website occasionally for news on the second of the two fonts I’m working on.


Miscellanea

» Will thank-you notes—even signatures—soon be a thing of the past?

» Schools in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Florida want to keep on teaching penmanship.

» I really like this editorial call to keep putting pen to paper.

» Well, here’s a problem with poor penmanship I hadn’t thought of.

» Seventy-four percent of young Brits would rather get a handwritten note than an email.

» And I’d like to give a special shout-out to the Campaign for Cursive—yes, cursive is cool!


Abigail Adams American Scribe Botanical Scribe Douglass Pen Emily Austin Houston Pen

Lamar Pen Military Scribe Old Man Eloquent Remsen Script Schooner Script Texas Hero

Antiquarian Antiquarian Scribe Bonnycastle Geographica Terra Ignota

Attic Antique Bonsai Broadsheet Castine

Full Library Historical Pens Antique Texts Old Map Fonts Modern Hands

Handwritten History Bundle


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