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
     H O M E  
  F A Q  
Posts Tagged ‘handwriting in schools’
Our Flimsy Digital Words
Sunday, February 11th, 2018
From a letter from my mother as I was designing Texas Hero.

Page of a letter from my ma.

For decades I’ve ranked typing as the most useful class I took back in high school. I hated showing up for this particular summer school elective, my story goes, but by the end of the class I could type 40 words a minute. It was like magic. And now I can type 100.

Well, lately I’ve begun to regret my supreme keyboarding skills.

It took a good while to sink in. But just the other day, during my morning hike with Jack, my dog, the true ramifications hit me. Having somehow reached Retirement Age, I’d been ruminating on the written materials I’ve produced over the past 40 or 50 years, both personal and professional. And it occurred to me that—for the past 30 of those years, anyway—nearly all endure as but flimsy digital words. Many thousands of email messages, hundreds of letters in Microsoft Word, text files cram-packed with thoughts and notes and reflections. Intangible, ethereal. All stored, like thoughts, in memory.

A page from my dad’s diary.

A page from my dad’s Army diary.

Even the drafts and revisions of books I’ve authored abide only in digital form.

These things I’ve written exist on various hard drives, in cloud storage—even a few old Zip drives. Remember floppies? SyQuest disks? I’ve got a few of those squirreled away in boxes somewhere.

Projecting time forward a generation or two, I realized that the chances any of my stuff will stick around long enough to find its way into a historical museum somewhere (not that it should) are paper thin. Because none of it’s on paper. And the only way to get it there is to find a way to translate all those 1s and 0s into computer text and print it out. In any old font you want.

Boooring.

But project time backward a couple generations and, and you’ll find journals and notebooks and postcards and stationery filled with handwritten words. Whether cursive or printing, neat or sloppy, slanted this way or that—each style reflects the unique hand of its author. And none of it was put down at 100 words a minute.

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

Card from my grandparents to my great-grandparents.

I have handwritten letters from my mother, diaries written by my father, postcards from my grandparents. I recognize their familiar cursive styles on envelopes, on the backs of old photos—photos developed in a darkroom, I mean. There’s probably even an old handwritten recipe collection somewhere.

Yet where does my penmanship appear? On a few old love letters and poems perhaps, in a couple or three decades-old notebooks.

On that hike the other day I decided to pick up a pen more often, to write lists and notes, cards and letters, maybe even fill a notebook. My hand might not be practiced, or cursive, or neat. It might take me a while to get over the hand-cramp. But I expect it’ll mean more to the future reader than a bunch of digital words set in, say, Comic Sans.


Miscellanea

» See? “[A]ll that will be remembered of them is what they typed on a piece of paper from a computer.”

» Turns out this gang of fourth graders are diggin’ cursive these days.

» Some might even (like me!) become experts on deciphering old penmanship.

» But neatness counts: A doctor rediscovers the importance of a legible hand.

» The uniqueness of individual handwriting makes the news again (Roy Moore).

» Random aside: There’s actually a bull named “Penmanship.”

» And, hey, with Valentine’s Day coming, maybe it’s time to write a love letter—by hand.

 

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.”

 

Handwriting as a sense of self
Tuesday, March 8th, 2016
The Palmer Method of cursive script.

The Palmer Method of cursive script.

I have my hand, and I have my pen. That’s it. —Rev. Robert Palladino

A few days ago I listened to a fascinating Freakonomics Radio podcast called Who Needs Handwriting? In exploring the question of its title, the episode features an interview with Anne Trubek (@atrubek on Twitter),  a writer, editor, and former professor who knows a lot about writing by hand. Trubek, who is author of the forthcoming The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, essentially argues that kids don’t need to learn penmanship anymore.

It all started, Trubek says, when her son began having problems in second grade—strictly because of his poor handwriting skills. So she wrote an article for Good magazine with the bold and declarative title Stop Teaching Handwriting. It drew a lot of interest.

The Gregg Method of shorthand.

The Gregg Method of shorthand.

And she has a point: young people of today might well go far in our technology-driven world without so much as ever touching a pen. What use is it for us to continue to embrace what was originally a strictly utilitarian skill out of some romantic sense of self, a part of our individuality?

Then again, the Freakonomics podcast goes on to tell us, research shows that students who take notes by hand recall a lot more of a lecture than those who merely transcribe what’s said via keyboard. So should we perhaps be reviving shorthand (a skill my father practiced, much to my childhood incredulity and awe)? Not so much, turns out—it’s a lot closer to straight keyboarding.

Still and all, cursive script appears to be on the way out—other than as a fine art form. Fewer people over time will be able to read engrossed old documents. Who among us these days, after all, can interpret the early hand-scribblings of, say, a Sumerian skilled at cuneiform?

Rev Robert J Palladino (at Reed College).

Rev Robert J Palladino (at Reed College).

On the other end of the handwriting spectrum, you have a celebrated scribe like Rev. Robert J. Palladino, who died a couple weeks ago. Palladino was a Trappist monk when he began learning the skills that made him a master calligrapher who, at Reed College, influenced Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’s design of the Macintosh computer. Jobs credited a Palladino calligraphy course he audited with helping inspire the whole idea of digital typography.

“[The Mac] was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

In a delicious twist of irony, of course, a master with a pen helped further our mass migration over to the keyboard. But there’s something to be said for Father Palladino’s own unwired life—replete with its long periods of thoughtful silence—and his having never once used a computer in 83 years.

[Hang on, time to check Facebookbrb.]

In keeping with my overarching theme here (i.e., handwriting as a sense of self), I’d like now to share another old handwritten document I’ve used as source material for a font I’ve designed. Below are page scans and a transcription of a two-and-a-half-page letter written 18 September 1825 by Samuel Clarke, then pastor of the Congregational Church of Princeton, Massachusetts, seeking donations for the victims of an accident at sea. Inspired by Clarke’s extremely distinctive penmanship, I designed Schooner Script back in 1996. [Note: the boat was in fact a sloop, but Sloop was a script already.]

The Schooner Script letter, page 1. Written by Pastor Samuel Clarke on 18 September 1825

The Schooner Script letter, page 1.

Princeton Sep. 18. 1825

Christian Brethren,

It is known probably to most of you, that several of our acquaintance and friends, in coming from the State of Maine to this Town, have been exposed to the most imminent danger, and also sustained a considerable loss of property. As their danger and misfortunes have excited much sympathy; and as it is believed to be a Christian duty to do something for their relief, it may be proper, for the correct information of all, to make a short statement of the peril to which they were exposed, and the extent of their loss.

On Saturday the 10. inst, at 12.o.clock, Messrs How, Fay and Cobb with the wives of the two last, and eight other persons, sailed from Camden for Boston in the Sloop Governor. Their passage was favourable until about 8.o.clock on Saturday evening, when the Sloop was struck by another vessel which was apparently in distress, and whose fate is not known. The Sloop was so much injured by the unknown vessel, that she very soon filled with water, which, communicating with lime in the hold, caused her to take fire. Being unable, by the greatest exertion, to save the Sloop, the Captain with his men and passengers was obliged to abandon her, and consign themselves to a small Boat only thirteen feet long and about five wide. our friends were compelled so hastily to leave the Sloop, that they had no time to secure their trunks and clothing—and had they been even able to do this, the smallness of the Boat to which they fled, would not have admitted any additional weight. In this small Boat thirteen feet long, thirteen persons

The Schooner Script letter, page 2. Written by Pastor Samuel Clarke on 18 September 1825.

The Schooner Script letter, page 2.

passed the whole of Saturday night on a boisterous, dangerous sea, some of them destitute of outer garments, and all of them in constant danger of immediate death. It is impossible for us to know, much more to describe their anxiety, their anguish. But a benevolent and merciful Providence watched over, and preserved them, when death appeared inevitable. After having been in this dangerous, distressing situation nine hours, they were discovered on the morn of the Sabbath by another Sloop which immediately came to their relief, and rescued them from impending destruction. In this Sloop they arrived in Boston on Tuesday morning, and on Wednesday were permitted to rejoice in again beholding this their native Town, and receiving the kind welcome and sincere sympathy of their acquaintance and friends.

They desire, with unfeigned gratitude, publicly to acknowledge the goodness and mercy of God which watched over and saved them in the season of extreme peril, which preserved them from the watery element, and which has again restored them to the arms of their brethren and friends—

It may be proper to state that Messrs How and Fay saved their money, with the exception of a small sum lost by Mrs. Fay—but they lost a considerable amount of property in clothing. Our young friends Mr. and Mrs. Cobb lost nearly five hundred dollars, about four hundred of which was in money, and the rest in new and valuable clothing.

There can be no doubt, Brethren, respecting our duty in relation to the misfortune of our friends. While we sympathize with them, we should also assist them in bearing the burdens which a wise Providence has seen fit to lay upon them. It has been suggested by several respectable persons that the easiest and most effectual method of rendering them assistance, would be to request a contribution in each of the religious Societies in this Town on the

The Schooner Script letter, page 3. Written by Pastor Samuel Clarke on 18 September 1825.

The Schooner Script letter, page 3.

next Sabbath. In accordance with this suggestion a contribution will be requested in this place in the afternoon of the next Sabbath, when it is hoped that our charity will correspond with our ability and the necessities of our friends, and manifest for us that we do truly sympathize with them in their sufferings, rejoice in their preservation, and are anxious for their future comfort and happiness—

Samuel Clarke
Pastor of the Congregational Church
in Princeton—


Miscellanea

» Lamentations continue over the decline of cursive—from pen companies, forensic scientists, and autograph collectors.

» Does playing with old-fashioned toys help kids learn better handwriting skills?

» Handwriting analysts go to town on a note left by a guy who found a wallet full of stuff—but didn’t return it all.

» It might be fading generally, but certain local school districts continue to find time for handwriting instruction.

» A thoughtful essay by Dolly Merritt about what penmanship used to mean.


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

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