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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™, Austin Pen™, Bonhomme Richard™, Bonsai™, Botanical Scribe™, Broadsheet™, Castine™, Douglass Pen™, Emily Austin™, Geographica™, Geographica Hand™, Geographica Script™, Houston Pen™, Lamar Pen™, Military Scribe™, Old Man Eloquent™, Remsen Script™, Schooner Script™, Terra Ignota™ & Texas Hero™ (as well as all other fonts in the Handwritten History™ Bundle)—are the intellectual property of Three Islands Press (copyright ©1994–2015). For site licensing contact:

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   P.O. Box 1092
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Posts Tagged ‘Cedar Street font’
Path of Least Resistance: The Bane of the Ballpoint
Friday, September 18th, 2015
“No Fuss, No Muss” (1901 ad)

“No Fuss, No Muss” (1901 ad).

Humanity seems hellbent on following the path of least resistance. Quick and easy is what we’re after: fast food, convenience stores. Our technological trajectory aims for comfort, cleanliness, speed.

This is nothing new—the words “no muss, no fuss” (or vice versa) go back at least to an ad in the May 1901 issue of The Conservative, published in historic Nebraska City, Nebraska. We’re a species in a hurry, most obsessed with “saving time.”

Time cannot, of course, be saved. But in an age when you can buy shoes without leaving your armchair and have them delivered to your feet within the hour, why bother with the hassle of writing, say, a birthday card by hand? Why not just send email? Or, better yet, tap out a quick text message with your oh-so-nimble thumbs? “HB 2 U!”

Sheaffer cartridge pen from the 1960s.

Sheaffer cartridge pen from the 1960s (courtesy www.sheaffertarga.com).

So a sense of irony struck me the other day when I happened upon this excellent article in The Atlantic about the bane that is the ballpoint pen.

I remember back in grade school—i.e., sometime in the ’60s, when we still learned cursive writing—having a Sheaffer cartridge pen, a sort of fountain pen with a built-in, changeable ink supply. (No more messy refills!) But cheap, disposable ballpoint pens soon replaced that Sheaffer. My entire experience writing with a nib couldn’t have lasted but a couple of years.

What I didn’t recall until Josh Giesbrecht pointed it out in his piece in The Atlantic is how much easier it was to wield that old Sheaffer pen. Thin ink flows fast from a pen with a nib (speed, ease, efficiency), requiring barely a flick of the wrist to apply. A ballpoint forces you to press down hard to keep its thick ink flowing. A ballpoint takes a load of effort. There’s a lot less hand-cramp with a fountain pen.

This led Giesbrecht—who, like me, took to hand-printing after high school—to a conclusion on why he abandoned cursive writing:

“Fountain pens want to connect letters. Ballpoint pens need to be convinced to write, need to be pushed into the paper rather than merely touch it.”

Page from the 1835 journal of Mirabeau B Lamar.

Page from the 1835 journal of Mirabeau B. Lamar, which inspired Lamar Pen.

Somehow, we’ve diverged onto a path of more resistance.

I want to imagine a time when old-style fountain pens become popular again, and that handwriting won’t seem such a chore. When people will choose again to take the time, to reap the benefits to brain and dexterity, to pause mid-sentence to gaze out the window, to spend a moment in thought, to ruminate. Maybe even pay a little attention to spelling and grammar.

It won’t make up for the entirety of the loss of cursive writers—you can’t stop progress, however, ill-considered—but it might preserve a beneficial talent we humans have.

In my closet is a box of family keepsakes dating back nearly a century. It’s full to the brim with letters, cards, and notes—all kept because of what had once been recorded there by hand. Such a treasure only exists because someone had funneled a sort of magic from their brain, and through their moving fingers, and onto a scrap of paper seen by the eyes of another, to be processed by another’s brain.

What’s on that scrap of paper is different from the contents of an email message. What will our keepsake boxes be filled with a century from now?

From my grandparents to my great-grandparents, 10/22/1943.

Postcard from my grandparents to my great-grandparents, 10/22/1943.


» The Australian Broadcasting Corporation considers whether the end of handwriting is near

» …and offers up a quiz proving how diverse and distinctive it is.

» But back-to-school days here in the U.S. reveal hope for a reversal of this trend.

» Meanwhile, ChicagoNow blogger Brett Baker gets it: handwriting is personal.

» And check it out—handwritten keepsakes seem to be a thing.

» The Saugus, Massachusetts, school district is contemplating handwritten homework assignments.

» And how lovely to think of handwriting as “an irreplaceable tactile pleasure”.

The Curse of the Keyboard
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

We’re all familiar with internal conflict. We want to move, we want to stay put. We wish to explore the new, we wish to stick with the familiar. We’d like to have the candy bar, we’d like to eat the candy bar. It’s a wonder we can function at all amid such inner turmoil.

First page of a letter written in 1825 by Samual Clarke

First page of a letter written in 1825 by Samual Clarke

But inside of me, for as long as I can remember, one conflict has overshadowed the rest: a battle between my love of Nature and my fascination with Technology.

As a kid, I went outside to play. I fished for crawdads in the neighborhood creek, pulled toads from storm drains, explored the woods out back of our house for long hours by myself. At night I succumbed to the allure of the miraculous firefly. But I also succumbed to the allure of the “real” world—a world of radio and television, rock-n-roll and fast cars, space flights and assassinations and crazy foreign wars. The “real” world was full of interesting people (e.g., girls). And the “real” world had a summer school typing class.

Little did I know it then—I truly dreaded going—but that typing class proved more useful than any other I took in high school.

Before long I had my own electric typewriter, was cruising along at sixty words a minute, then eighty, then a hundred. After college I moved to Maine—a place of woods and shores and birds and seasons—where I ended up a radio journalist, then a newspaper man, then a magazine editor wrangling a silent computer keyboard. Somewhere along the way, I lost my knack for writing by hand.

I recall spending long hours as a youth perfecting my penmanship. Eschewing the boring cursive I’d learned in school, I began to print my words in small, neat letters. I changed my “e” to look like a backwards “3” and gave my lowercase “a” a second story. And I wrote a lot—lists and journals and school papers and drafts of college essays. I wrote all my personal letters by hand. Occasionally I’d write so long and hard that I’d end up with a wicked case of writer’s cramp, a pain I well remember to this day.

Then the Apple Macintosh came along, and all that changed.

I just couldn’t quit that little Mac. I learned word-processing software, utility software, fancy page-layout software, even a few programming applications. And, OK, yeah, I played computer games. Of course I interspersed these computer sessions with outdoor hikes or birding excursions, or I’d go swimming or skating down at the quarry pond. (I have an inner battle raging, after all.) But invariably I’d return to the keyboard, whose magic connected me to a new kind of “real” world, a world offering fresh puzzles, instant telecommunication, and digital imaging powers I had no idea existed.

And that’s how—through what now seems an implausible series of events—I became a type designer.

Working on Emily Austin.

At work on Emily Austin.

In retrospect, it seems both the height of irony and perfectly appropriate that my specialty would be handwriting fonts, with a particular focus on historical penmanship. Because in the twenty years since, technology has streamlined written communication in such a way that we no longer have to hunt around for a pencil or pen. Cursive handwriting is rarely taught in schools anymore—heck, a lot of young people have plenty of trouble even reading it. New generations will become more proficient at thumbing the tiny screens of smart devices than writing a simple thank-you note by hand.

In those same twenty years, I’ve read countless letters and journals from the 1700s and 1800s. Much of the time I have handwriting on the brain. And I think a lot about what we’re losing as our ability to wield a pen fades slowly away.

First, there’s the guilt of hardly ever writing by hand myself anymore. (Hand-cramp seems to come in a matter of seconds these days.) Worse, I worry that my type designs might somehow be contributing to the loss of pen and ink. That’s silly, of course, because that loss is likely inevitable no matter what I do—but it’s also more significant than most people realize.

For one thing, recent studies suggest that learning to write in loops and curves is beneficial to our brains. But from where I sit, our greatest loss might be a certain miraculous insight the handwritten page gives us into the characters and personalities of the people who put those words there in the first place.

Detail of Col. William B. Travis’s letter from the Alamo.

Detail of Col. William B. Travis’s letter from the Alamo.

As graphologists will attest, a lot more gets communicated from a handwritten page than just thoughts put into sentences. In a flash we can recognize the hand of friends and loved ones—the little quirks and peculiarities of their scribbles. But beyond even these, if you look closely enough at the pressure and slant and size and flourish, you can see inside the minds and hearts and histories of the ones who wielded the pens. You can tell if they were angry or sad, determined or resigned, courageous or desperate or ill.

I think, for instance, of Col. William B. Travis’s famous letter from the Alamo, whose closing phrase “Victory or Death” he’d so deliberately underscored three times.

Alas, it seems that—barring an apocalypse—we’ll have only the past few short centuries of this intimate phenomenon to wonder at and admire.

Abigail Adams American Scribe Austin Pen Bonhomme Richard 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

Geographica Hand Terra Ignota Attic Antique Bonsai Broadsheet Castine

Historical Pens Old Map Fonts Texas Heroes Set Geographica Set Antique Texts Modern Hands

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