Old penmanship and handwriting fonts
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Antiquarian Scribe
Bonnycastle font
Geographica typeface
Geographica Hand
Geographica Script
Terra Ignota
Abigail Adams font
American Scribe
Austin Pen
Bonhomme Richard
Botanical Scribe
Douglass Pen
Emily Austin font
Geographica Script
Houston Pen
Lamar Pen
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Lamar Pen
Remsen Script
Schooner Script
Texas Hero font
Attic Antique font
Bonsai font
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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:

   Three Islands Press
   P.O. Box 1092
   Rockport ME 04856 USA
   (207) 596-6768


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Posts Tagged ‘cursive writing’
Long Live Longhand! The Upswing in Cursive Instruction
Monday, March 6th, 2017
A showing of Geographica Script font.

A showing of Geographica Script.

Are cries of “long live longhand!” being heard? Although I don’t dare declare it so—it’s starting to seem that reports of cursive’s demise are premature.

I am remiss, meanwhile, for not having at least dashed off a little update here on The Penman over the past few months. Instead, I had my head down, working to finish our latest font, Geographica Script, a replication of 18th century roundhand. The task of type design is, for me, a matter of sustained fixation—so many tiny tasks to complete over the course of hours, days, weeks, and (in this case) months. When it comes to font work, I just dive in and go.

Perhaps it’s because elsewhere in my life I tend to procrastinate.

Our Professor font, as it might appear on a blackboard.

Professor, our modern cursive simulation.

But the font is done, and delivered to distributors, and now’s a good time to sit back and ruminate over my odd mission to preserve and make accessible old penmanship styles. It’s a mission I question often. (Is my work in fact having the opposite effect?) But when an early licensee of Geographica Script mentioned his reason for ordering—he’s up in his 70s, has missed the days of longhand, and wants to ensure that his grandchildren can read and appreciate a cursive hand—I remembered one reason I’ve been keeping the discussion alive.

That’s when I ventured a quick scan of recent online mentions of penmanship and handwriting. Lo, there’s been a shift—and the news is encouraging.

For one thing, schools in a few U.S. states have begun requiring handwriting instruction again, instruction not required by the Common Core Standards adopted in 2010. A state rep in Ohio has recently introduced a bill to require students to be proficient in cursive by fifth grade. Arizona has similar legislation on the books already. Louisiana has also begun learn cursive from third through twelfth grade. Education officials in New York City, meantime, are distributing handbooks on handwriting instruction to schools—which have the final say on whether to teach it.

Google image search for “old letters.”

Google image search for “old letters.”

And support for a revival isn’t just coming from older folks lamenting how things used to be. A younger, online crowd is showing an interest in the “ancient” art of hand-lettering. Just google “old letters,” and you’ll get more than 300 million results, and scores of lovely images of vintage script. Ironically, it seems, easy new imaging technology is managing to preserve—perhaps even popularize—that old outdated longhand.

Current typographic trends also show a fascination with loopy cursives. Just check a graphic design site or two, and you’ll see what I mean. Never mind the science that describes cognitive benefits from manipulating pens and pencils—and their tendency to slow you down.

Of course, it’s never wise to underestimate the lament of a grandparent. Nor is it a bad idea to make sure new generations can still read their ancestors’ letters—or even becoming adept at writing that way.

Examples of Library Hand, from A Library Primer (1899).

Examples of Library Hand.

Cataloguers’ Hand

One interesting historical handwriting relic I stumbled over the other day is Library Hand, a style of lettering developed in the late 19th century expressly for card catalogs. At a four-day gathering in 1887, librarians and “cataloguers” sought to standardize what at the time were wildly varying writing styles—not all of them legible.

(“The handwriting of the old-fashioned writing master is quite as illegible as that of the most illiterate boor,” this article in Atlas Obscura quotes from a New York Library School handbook.)

Both near-typewritten and “joined-hand” styles emerged from the 1887 meeting, each painstakingly, nitpickingly standardized. Eventually, of course, typewritten cards took hold—and more recently card catalogs have more or less completely vanished. Lucky for us, reproductions of Library Hand were saved.


» Praise of the good ol’ handwritten letter (a powerful gesture).

» Another feature of handwriting (as I’ve mentioned here): it can help diagnose illness.

» Of course it can also shed light on the personality of, let’s say, the POTUS.

» Robots are even trying their mechanical hand at, well, handwriting (good luck with that).

» With longhand making something of a comeback, how will you do in this cursive quiz?

Handwritten on my heart
Monday, December 21st, 2015

Snailmail My Email logo

Recently I stumbled upon  Snail Mail My Email, the website for artist Ivan Cash’s online community art project whereby hundreds of volunteers transcribe the email messages of strangers into handwritten letters, which then get dropped in the mail. A novel, fun-sounding idea, to be sure—especially once you realize that most of the letters get the sort of eye-catching embellishments you might find on a greeting card. But what struck me first was its slugline: “Handwritten Letters in a Digital World.”

The idea left me, confusingly, both encouraged and aghast.

My mother helped with Texas Hero.

My mother helped with Texas Hero.

Granted, there’s no little irony in the fact that I’m batting out these very words on the keyboard of a MacBook Pro—let alone the fact that I rarely ever send a handwritten letter these days. But if you’re a sighted person of a certain age, you’re sure to hold fast in your memory a small library of familiar handwriting samples.

Off the top of my head I can think of at least a dozen people whose penmanship I’d recognize in an instant: my parents, my siblings, my daughter, a grandfather and an aunt, two ex-wives, a couple old coworkers, a few good friends. And that’s not even counting more than a dozen others whose handwriting I’ve preserved in digital form—e.g., Abigail, Viktorie, and Marydale.

But what do you get when you open a letter in a stranger’s handwriting? There’s no flash of recognition at first glance at the hand-addressed envelope. No flutter in your gut as a face comes to mind. No proof that someone known and loved has reached out to you.

Envelope from my father as a young man

Envelope from my father as a young man.

It’s an art project, I get it. But the encounter reminded me that no more will I see envelopes freshly addressed by certain familiar pens—that of my dear mother, for instance, not even in her jiggly, Parkinson’s-induced scrawl. I can at least still revisit scores of her letters I’ve got in safe keeping. Although the flash of recognition lacks fresh brightness, it’s the work of her hand.

The power of familiar script is described with particular poignancy by Virginia resident Elsa Ann Heller, who was surprised to recognize her grandmother’s handwriting on a seventy-year-old postcard decorating a local restaurant:

“I know that sounds pretty old-fashioned, but that is how I know her. Her handwriting is written on my heart.”

Ornament from Geographica, a font I’m working on.

Ornament from Geographica, coming soon.

Then again I’m not the only one who’s neglected his penmanship lately. Some time after Heather du Plessis-Allan, a presenter with a New Zealand current affairs TV show, broke a story exposing a loophole that let her buy a gun online without a permit, police showed up with a search warrant looking for handwriting samples. In the wake of the search—which suggests whoever ordered the gun might face punishment for breaking the law—she realized she barely handwrites anything anymore.

“Nowadays, everything is done on my laptop, tablet or cellphone. Even the grocery list. I email that to myself on the way to the supermarket.”

Detail of Stephen F Austin’s prison journal.

Detail of S. F. Austin’s journal.

Me, meantime?  Well, I’m currently working on my first modern serif typeface ever—although it’s based on historical materials. In particular, I’m consulting the maps published by eighteenth-century English engraver Thomas Jefferys, known at the time as the “Geographer for King George III.” The neat lettering on Jefferys’s maps inspired me to give real type design a go for once.

But never fear, because after I finish Geographica, I’ll be making another old penmanship font modeled after the hand of Texas pioneer Stephen F. Austin (in his journal from a Mexican prison, circa 1834–35). And after that I’ve got a pretty cool modern handwriting font planned. Stay tuned!


» It seems letter-writing clubs are a thing, and the Wonder Fair Letter Writing Club looks like a good one.

» A frightening prospect: machines have been passing the Turing Test—of handwriting.

» An art exhibit called “Good Penmanship” bids penmanship adieu.

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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