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Emily Austin 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™, 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
   info@oldfonts.com

 

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Posts Tagged ‘history’
Handwritten keepsakes
Sunday, August 9th, 2020
Penmanship of Timothy Matlack (the Declaration of Independence).

The other day I had a thought about handwritten keepsakes. It started as a recognition of how unique are the times we’re living through. And how, to record our story, future historians will be poring over source material—that is, contemporary accounts of what’s happening. Used to be, contemporary accounts came from folks putting pen to paper. In our modern digital world, of course, putting pen to paper doesn’t happen very often anymore.

In just my lifetime, written communication has gone from thoughtfully hand-penned (or -typed) letters dropped in the mail to quick, scattershot batches of electrons in the form of email, texts, emojis, memes. And that’s just written words. In recent years, communication has trended toward the digital, the immediate—streaming multimedia, smartphone videos, TikTok. Just now, as humanity grapples with the novelty of social-distancing during a pandemic, even good ol’ face-to-face spoken language happens online via Zoom and Skype and FaceTime.

Our very signatures—once our personal mark, our brand—are in jeopardy. (I rarely even sign checks anymore.) Nowadays, we’re most likely to find pages filled with cursive script in boxes of memorabilia, collections of old letters, books of grandmas’ recipes.

Since future generations will surely view this time with fascination and remembrance, why not take advantage of our stay-at-home predicament to create a few handwritten keepsakes?

An easy way to do this? Write a letter. Perhaps a long, mindful letter to a loved one, a letter that—if mindful enough—might well get tucked safely away and passed along to future generations. Another way might be to keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Even simply an account of what you’re up to, maybe a diary of your dreams. If you happen to be a birding enthusiast (as I am), make a daily list of birds.

I think, for instance, of the daily diary my father kept as a young man. While in the Army after World War II (stationed at Fort Hunt, Virginia, as part of the top secret operation code-named P.O. Box 1142), he wrote these lines on March 7, 1946, the day he and a buddy caught a ride with some ladies in a Cadillac on the way to Washington D.C.

The ladies asked where we were from, and when we evaded answering, the middle wanted to know the reason for such secrecy now that the war was over. Arno said something about having tried to reach General Eisenhower for an answer to that, but that he had had no luck in finding out. We rode on very pleasantly into Washington where the rain began coming down. A the capitol building the lady driving stopped to let us out, turned and dropped her own atom bomb. “What would you boys say, if I told you that you had been driving with Mrs. Eisenhower?” What followed is rather hazy, but we thanked her for the ride, caught our train, laughed over the surprising incident all the way to New York City.

I must say, reading Dad’s contemporary account of this classic family story in his familiar, legible cursive truly enlivens a moment from nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

Consider the power of handwritten keepsakes. Chances are not only will the contents of what you pen today prove memorable one future day, your own distinctive hand will, like a fingerprint, add a personal touch to history.

(I write so little by hand these days—let’s see if I can take my own advice!)

Abigail Adams (letter to John Adams, 1789, via Massachusetts Historical Society).

Miscellanea

» Seems I’m not the only one who had the handwritten-notes idea.

» A related idea, in fact, might be to spend a little time with your own handwritten keepsakes from days gone by.

» A quarantine could even turn out to be the perfect chance to help your kids brush up on their handwriting skills.

» I mean, after all, writing by hand is good for the brain.

» On the other hand, all this sheltering-in-place time won’t necessarily ensure improvement of a person’s cursive penmanship skills.

» Then again, not every notable person from history had handsome handwriting—check out this guy’s illegible scrawl.

» By contrast, look at the lovely hand on the original Juneteenth order, recently discovered in the National Archives.

» Finally—have you ever heard the phrase “handwriting happiness”?

Sharpening the Penknife: A Letter from 1837
Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Portrait of a Man Trimming His Quill (Rembrandt, 1632).

Portrait of a Man Trimming His Quill (Rembrandt, 1632).

Do you know the term “penknife”? Did you know that a penknife—far from the small folding pocketknife we might think of today—once had a razor-sharp, fixed blade and was used for shaping (or reshaping) the tips of quills into nibs for dipping in ink? In fact, a number of artists through history thought this small task of writers and record-keepers noble enough to preserve on canvas.

But mostly the sharpening of pens happened much as the pruning of fingernails—a small, routine, uncelebrated chore peripheral to important business at hand.

Important business at hand (moving house and office) has kept me from updating this little penman’s journal for several weeks. My apologies. But I’ve thought of something you might like to read: a letter from 1837, written by Emily Margaret Austin Perry—after whose hand I made the font Emily Austin. In particular, a letter she wrote home to her husband, James Franklin Perry, on 19-21 June 1837, while away from Peach Point Plantation, Texas.

Emily Margaret Austin Perry.

Emily Margaret Austin Perry.

Below are scans of her letter’s four pages, each followed by a literal transcription of the words it contains.

Emily’s letter gives a snapshot view of Texas and the South in that year. Her penmanship gives a hint into the kind of focused, determined woman she was. (Like most letter-writers of the period, Emily cared less about spelling than about getting her point across.) And despite the startling evidence that the Perrys were slave-owners, her words do tend to support the assertion of Rutherford B. Hayes (who visited Peach Point Plantation in 1848) that Emily was “an excellent motherly sort of woman, whose happiness consists in making others happy.”

Note: The “B” in “E. M. B. Perry” stands for “Bryan,” after her first husband, James Bryan, who died in 1822.

 

Page 1 of a letter from Emily Perry to her husband, James, from 1837.

Emily Austin Perry’s letter, page 1.

Lexington June 19th 1837

My Dear Husband

I have just received your truly welcome letter, which was a source of great pleasure to me by 7 June N. Orleans—for I had began to feal great anxiety to hear from you; I hope long before this comes to hand, you will have arrived safe at home; my Health is very much as it was, but think it will improve, when my mind is more at ease; about the Children; Eliza gives me a great deal of Trouble, she is so very rude and impolite; that she keeps me in a Fever all the time; and with all; so very hard to manage; —I shall start her to School to morrow; to a Mr. Ward; (on trial) he is an Episcopal Clern he, several years ago resided in St. Louis. I know his Correcton very well; and he is well calculated to manage such a Disposition as Eliza’s it is uncertain wheather he will receive her as a Boarder If I can git her into Mr. Wards Family for a year Mrs Holly thinks that it will be the best School in the State, he has agreed to receive her, on trial; for a short time; and if Eliza Should happen to please him, prohaps I may prevail on him to Board her, for a Year—, She has taken one Lesson in Dancing, & I have Spoken to a musick-master to teach her in that branch I find that Eliza will require so much attention; (for her Head is not well) and is in want of so many articles of Clothing; that I have concluded to remain with her un till I go to Missouri, & have given up my trip to Pennsylvania; for indeed, I am tiard of travling & long to be at Home

Page 2 of a letter from Emily Perry to her husband, James, from 1837.

Emily Austin Perry’s letter, page 2.

Guy will leave in a Week for Kenion Collage; in Company with a Mr. Waddel and two other Young Lads, that are going to the Same School. Mr Waddell is a Gentleman that I became acquainted with on board of the Steam-Boat; he is going on to Washington City. I have consented to let Austin go with him; he leaves his Family in this Place; he expects to be gone Six Weeks; I think the Journey will be of great advantage to Austin; besides having an oppertunity of travling with a Gentleman of information & Talence—the greatest wish that I have in this world, is that my Children should have every advantage that I have the Power of giving them—I am Sorry that Col. Bees Draft was not paid, but am not disapained; for their never was the like Seen, nothing taulked of but the Hard Times; the Clergey are proclaiming from the Pulpit the distress of the Country—&C.&C.—I have by me at this time a bout Seven Hundred Dollars; Austins & Guys expences will have to come out of it—their is still five Hundred Dollars to draw on the Letter of Credit; in Louisville; If you can sell any of my land, do so; for I wish very much to Buy me a Negro Girl, when I return I shall remain hear un till the first of September; but you will know of my movements, for I shall write every Week—and you must do the same, and in the meantime; if their is no likelihood of the Countrys being invaded again, make every exertion to have the two Rooms Put up by the time I return, for I expect to bring quite a Family back—I hope you will have the Garden well attented to, & the Yard inclosed as we spoke of—do not neglect having the Graves Poled in & let Simon White-Wash them; if you do not have them painted I also wish you to make a trip into Coles Settlement, and attend to the Land in that part of the Country—You must be very industrious and have every thing under way as fast as possible; for I wish you to meat me in New Orleans, by the first of November—for I wish Austin to spend a Winter in that City in Some, business House; before he

Page 3 of a letter from Emily Perry to her husband, James, from 1837.

Emily Austin Perry’s letter, page, 3.

commences for himself—If Mr. Sumvill Should want lots in Quintonna, to commence business, I wish you to let him have them, I wish you to attent to the Mattegorda Property—do write to me often and let us have all the News; for their are dreadfull stories in the News-Papers about Texas; (I say Stories for I believe them all Lies.) it is stated that the Armey & Country is in a State of Starvation & confusion; no money; and that the Speculaters have taken up all the land in the Country that is worth having; and that their is no doubt but what the Mexicans will invade Texas this Summer; & all this does not give me any uneasiness, I mearly mentioned it to let you see that Lies are told about that Beautifull Country—I have heard from Missouri Mr S. Woodson is Dead, hes left Widdow & Seven Children, almost destitute—Alfred is doing very little—If I have any money to Spare, I should like to assist poor Marie; her eldest son, I named & called him after our lamented Brother; I am told he is a very Smart Sprightly Boy—I should like very much to take him to Texas; if his Mother is willing, & you approve of it; and think we can do, any thing for him; Mrs. Alfred has taken one of the Daughters & Honey Bates a Son—As to changing the names of our Son’s You know that I spoke of it last winter; that I wish’d Austin to assume the Name of his Grand-Father, & as Little S. F. Austin is now Dead, it would be the greatest Pleasure in the World for our Son to take the name of his departed Uncle; & I have the Vanity to think that he will represent his Uncle with much more credit that his poor Little neglected namesake would have done—I am living with Mrs. Holly, she is very kind indeed, & is very pleasantly Situated; Henery’s Daughters are Beautifull Girls, and do great credit to their Father & Texas; they are boath anxious to return to their adopted Country;—I hope in a few years our Wild Rude little Daughter will be as interesting as the Miss Austins—remember me affectionately to Cousin Henery, tell him we are all looking for him with much impatience the Children all join in love to you & Joel; tell Joel to write to me; do not neglect our Dear little Sons; O! how often do I think of Henery I hope you have been to see them; my Paper is full. Adieu God bless you all your Wife E. M. B. Perry—

Page 4 of a letter from Emily Perry to her husband, James, from 1837.

Emily Austin Perry’s letter, page 4.

June 21st
I hope you will have my Horses well attended to, also the two Poneys; for they will all be wanted when I return Home with the Girls & if Mrs. Holly visits Texas, she will want a Horse to ride—If you should have Carpenters, imployed, I wish you to have a Necessary House built; in the Back Yard, in the corner of the Fence by the Lane, and on a line with the Hen-House, it can set over the Dich; these City Dames will think it Horrible to run into the Woods.—You must examin the Draws in the Secretary & see that the Bugs does not cut every thing to peaces, also two Large Trunks in the little Bed-Room & the things that I left in the Band-Box’s—I told Milley & Clarissa about them, but you had better attend your self & see that they seen them all—in Building if you can find a place to Stick a Closset in do so for these are so convenient, and will do a way the use of Trunks, they are such a Harber for roches; I wish you to have a Safe made, it can stand in the little Passage where the rooler Towels, are have some throughs made to set the legs in to hold Water—I wish Clarissa to put up as many pickles as she can; she must make the Brine of raine Water; attend to my Vinegar Cask don’t let it all leak out—I hope you will be able to send me some more funds; If you could see Col Love, it would be a good opportunity for he will visit this place, his Daughter is living with Mrs. Holley & is quite a fine Girl; I should be highly pleased to have him for a Neighbour, prohaps Joel could sell his Lots in Brazoria to him—Their is a report that the Mexicans are marching on Texas with a large Force; & the greatest part of their Armey is composed of Forin-Troops; who are goin to Drive every Texan out of the Country—I wish you to send your Nephews a number of the Telegraph and Velasco Herreld; they know very little a bout Texas; and the Lies that are continually published does great injury to the Country;—Remember me to the Mr Borders I hope you will have the Town Plots Drawn off I wish very much I had braute one of Quintonna with me; Robert & Thomas Balding would be very glad to see one—if you should conclude to Sell any of the Lots this Summer send a Plot to New Orleans—; I also regret that I have not some Deeds of Land with me; for if I should run out of Funds I could sell Some Land—Adieu, One more for I expect your patience is exaused; remember me to Mrs. Henry & Daughter, & to all my neighbours Guy is in Town with me; Austin has gone out, to see Mrs. Blackwell she sent her second Brother in for him; a very Handson Smart Young man I expect to make her a Visit as soon as I git Eliza Fixed for School—Do not neglect writing to me, and let us hear all the News; so that we may know the trouthe—; remember me to all the negros; Old Mary & Sarah I hope to God you may all keep your Healths this Summer—that is all that gives me any uneasiness; —I wish to have the Frunt and Back Yard devided off—Dont show this Scrawl to any one for I am fearful that you will find some trouble in reading it—
Once more your truly attached Wife
Emily

(My copy of this letter came courtesy of the Briscoe Center for American History, Barker Texas History Collection.)


Miscellanea

» These days if you want to write a letter with a fine ink pen, you could spend $1,000.

» That old library card catalog has pretty much gone extinct—and with it instructions to use legible cursive.

» Another argument about how handwriting is good for the brain.

» And the value of penmanship won rousing support in a Taunton School Committee candidate’s forum.

» On the other end of the spectrum, meanwhile, there’s some shaming going on.

» A century-old love letter with a “twirly” style of writing turns up under some Irish floorboards.

» Finally, here’s a little how-to—you know, in case you need to brush up on your handwriting skills.

Brian Willson: Preserving History through Fonts
Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

[Editor’s note: It feels funny putting my name in the title of a post here, but recently I had the great good fortune to be interviewed by The History Blog—an outstanding online destination if there ever was one—and the even greater good fortune to have received instant permission to reblog that interview here. I am highly, blushingly indebted to livius drusus, prolific keeper of The History Blog, for being such a talented, accurate, enthusiastic interviewer. I thought readers of The Antique Penman might be interested in how it all went down. (And a Nestler font might someday be in the cards.)—BW]


Brian Willson: Preserving History through Fonts
by livius drusus
(From The History Blog)

In a post earlier this month about the Teschen Table, I waxed lyrical about the gorgeous handwriting of Carl Gottfried Nestler, the Dresden engraver who Johann-Christian Neuber commissioned to write the booklet that identified every mineral inlaid in the table top. “Someone needs to make a Nestler font,” said I, “because that handwriting deserves to be immortalized.”

Nestler’s glorious handwriting in the Teschen Table booklet.

Nestler’s glorious handwriting in the Teschen Table booklet.

As it happens, I knew of a someone who might just be able to accomplish such a noble feat. I have long been an admirer of the historical handwriting and typeface fonts created by Three Islands Press (3IP). When I finally get around to upgrading this site, 3IP fonts will feature prominently because they’re a) beautiful, b) meticulous and c) a history nerd’s ideal playground. On the off-chance that Mr. Nestler’s elegant hand might be of interest, I sent 3IP a message with a link to the Teschen Table story.

Much to my delight, 3IP founder and designer of my favorite fonts of all time Brian Willson answered me. He was intrigued by Nestler’s lettering, so much so that he envisions creating an organic hand and a complete text typeface from it.

That project has to get in line, though, because Willson has other irons in the fire at the moment. Thankfully, he is extremely generous with his time and despite his insanely busy schedule, he agreed to sit for the second History Blog interview ever.

I told him that the first interview subject, the incomparable Janet Stephens, got famous a year after I posted her interview. Oh sure, it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her particular genius at decoding the Vestal Virgin’s incredibly complex Seni Crines hairstyle, but that’s no reason not to brag that I was there before the Wall Street Journal. The entirely unrelated correlation of interview and fame proved no incentive anyway. As it turns out, his work is already famous the world over, if not by name then certainly by sight.

* * *

Thomas J. Rusk’s handwriting, Texas Hero font.

Thomas J. Rusk’s handwriting, Texas Hero font.

Q: How did you first get the idea to create fonts from historical handwriting?
A:
Back in 1994, when I was doing a little graphic design and desktop publishing on the side, I had occasion for some reason to use a font that looked like old handwriting, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. So I decided to create one. At the time, my mom—a historical librarian—worked at The Center for American History at the University of Texas, so I asked if she could send me copies of any old letters she might find lying around. Within a week or two, she’d sent me photocopies of a whole bunch of letters written by famous early Texans like Sam Houston, Mirabeau B Lamar, Emily Austin Perry, and Thomas J Rusk. Rusk’s handwriting seemed the most legible and least peculiar of the bunch, so I chose to work with that.

[Texas Hero was the result.]

Q: What was the first handwriting font you created and when was that?
A:
The first handwriting font I created was also the first font I created—and it was not at all historical. The year was 1993. I was working either in the production or editorial department (I spent time in both) at a company that published trade magazines, and one of our art directors had some of the coolest hand-lettering I’d ever seen. I had by then experimented briefly with (then) Altsys Fontographer making logos and such and proposed turning her handwriting into a font. She agreed and drew out the alphabet on a piece of poster board. A few weeks (months?) later, I’d finished my first generation of the Marydale family. It’s what got me started in this whole wacky enterprise.

Q: Fonts were only a decade old in the early 90s, the province of computer manufacturers, software companies and visionary traditional typesetters like Monotype. Did you have any experience in graphic design or typesetting? How did you go from curiosity to execution? What tools did you use? How long did it take you to make the first one?
A:
I had absolutely no training in typography at all. Up until then I’d worked mainly as a journalist—but that career had, by the mid- to late-1980s, put me in close proximity with early Apple Macintosh computers, and I couldn’t stop playing around most evenings with programs like Adobe Illustrator and (then) Aldus Pagemaker. Just fiddling. Exploring. Learning things. Soon I was offering to design newsletters for a couple of local non-profits I belonged to, and before I knew it I actually had some paying graphic design jobs.

I’d guess it took me a couple hundred hours to make that first version of Marydale. I would scan each character very large, hand-trace it with Illustrator’s vector tools, import the outlines into Fontographer, and finish things up there. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing at first, but when you have a perfectionist streak you tend to keep banging away until you arrive at that “Voila!” moment. I had a bunch of those moments along the way, but I’m sure my font-making methods remain roundabout and inefficient. This all happened a year or two before the Web exploded on the scene, but I figured I’d release those first few fonts as shareware on CompuServe and America Online. I was pretty dang stunned—albeit pleasantly so—when checks started arriving in the mail. Which is pretty much all the incentive you need to keep going in a capitalist society like ours, ha ha.

Emily Austin Perry letter home.

Emily Austin Perry letter home.

Over the years, as I’ve learned more about type design, I’ve repeatedly gone back and revised my early type designs—fixing inconsistencies, adding OpenType features, stuff like that. I now use FontLab Studio to create all my type.

Q: Did you think of it as a form of historical preservation from the beginning? Now that pen-to-paper writing has become increasingly rare as even the few remaining formal settings for handwriting like wedding invitations go virtual, has that added a sense of urgency to your work?
A:
Not at first. I thought of it as: 1) a really cool, fun, sometimes tedious form of play; 2) a way to provide new and interesting resources for graphic designers. But I couldn’t help becoming immersed in the content of the source materials—Emily Perry’s letters home, Sam Houston’s “talks” to his Native American compadres—and I began to understand and empathize with the kind of urgent devotion to communication that went into putting pen to paper back then. Ironically, of course, this whole crazy pursuit of mine quite logically coincided with a modern decline in the art of handwriting. Heck, these days cursive is rarely even taught in school. I never saw it coming, but in the past few years it’s dawned on me that my type work truly is a kind of an odd form of historical preservation.

Page one of Rev. Samuel Clarke’s letter, Schooner Script font.

Page one of Rev. Samuel Clarke’s letter, Schooner Script font.

Q: Do you deliberately set out to look for good font candidates or do you mainly stumble on them in the course of doing other things?
A:
Stumble. I stumble around a lot. I wander, I ramble, I play. The first few fonts, especially, came from random moments of, “Hey, cool!” Once I started getting interested in the historical stuff, though, I have tended to keep an eye out for interesting source documents—Schooner Script is the result of an off-hand query I made to the owner of a local antique shop, and Broadsheet came from some old newspaper pages saved by a dealer of ancient longcase clocks. While on a trip to England several years ago, I came upon a business specializing in antique maps and ended up buying a page of an early-18th century Atlas: Antiquarian Scribe.

But I’ve also made fonts on a whim or at the suggestion of a customer. An example of the former is Viktorie, modeled after the barely legible scrawl of a waitress in a local restaurant; an example of the latter is Douglass Pen, after I had my interest piqued by an actor who had portrayed—and therefore knew a heck of a lot about—the famous American abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass.

Q: What characteristics make for a good handwriting or historical typeface font?
A:
I’m not sure I know that answer to that, at least not generally. I’d say a modicum of legibility, for one. But beyond that I suppose just an interesting sort of look or flourish or expressiveness that strikes you, that at once (if subliminally) makes you wonder at the character and personality of the person who took pen to paper (or set the type) in the first place. For some reason I’m reminded of my Bonsai font, an interpretation of a flawed, topheavy letterpress job. I’ve often wondered if the printers noticed the problem and maybe thought, “Meh, it’s legible enough.” (I, for one, think it’s lovely.)

Q: You make a point of explaining where the font came from in all your descriptions. How important is the backstory—the author of the hand, the source of the writing—to you?
A:
Really important. Essential, to me—and, I think, to the folks who have licensed my fonts. I think humans generally have a keen curiosity about how things got the way they are and where things come from. Where we came from. Witness our interest in genealogy. Since we have fairly good memories, centuries of records at our fingertips, and brains that are prone to solving puzzles and imagining things, it’s no wonder that our thoughts turn to the preservation and illumination of the dim times that have gone before.

Emily Austin Perry.

Emily Austin Perry.

Q: Do you have a favorite or favorites among the fonts you’ve made? What makes it/them stand out to you as particularly compelling?
A:
I think Lamar Pen is perhaps the best of my old handwriting fonts—at least the most elegant and handsome. (Note, though, that I am certainly not a fan of Mirabeau B Lamar, the second president of Texas, whose hand it simulates.) But I have a special fondness for Emily Austin. I believe this has a lot to do with the spirit of the woman herself, her expressiveness in her letters, how she wore her personality on her sleeve, so to speak, in the words and sentences she strung together. Emily was a product of her time, and her extant portraits show a strict and proper pioneer woman, but from all I’ve read she was a loving, thoughtful, motherly presence in the many lives she touched. Her descendants still celebrate her birthday every year down Texas way.

Q: I didn’t realize that you immersed yourself in your historical sources to the point of developing an understanding of their characters and lives, although from your description of Abigail Adams it’s clear you’ve read extensively enough to be able to discern different phases of her handwriting over the years. How thoroughly have you read the correspondence of Emily Austin, Frederick Douglass, Abigail Adams, Mirabeau Lamar and the other figures whose writing you have converted to fonts? Has there been a widely varying range of depth for each personage?

Picking out Emily Austin’s letters.

Picking out Emily Austin’s letters.

A: I would say a fairly varied range. Ma sent me probably six or eight of Emily A Perry’s letters home from when she was traveling up East looking for a cure for her daughter’s spells and seizures. I had nearly that many of Lamar’s letters—and also a great reproduction of his journal on first traveling from Georgia to Texas in 1835.

I must confess: I didn’t read every page of that journal. Nor did I read all of Abigail Adams’s letters to John (or many of his to her) but rather found myself pausing every now and then while looking near at the shapes of letterforms and pulling back to find myself immersed in her words. Nor did I read every page of her son’s diary—which is no doubt a good thing, considering it spans some seventy years, because I’d probably still be reading!

Tweaking an E of Emily’s.

Tweaking an E of Emily’s.

I probably read about a half dozen of Frederick Douglass’s letters and a number of his written lectures. And come to think of it, I believe I only had three or four of Rusk’s letters on which to base Texas Hero. This is the first time I’ve actually gone back and reviewed this measure. Kind of funny how it all worked out.

Q: You eloquently describe the experience of becoming engrossed by the source material. Primary sources taught in school history classes are often transcriptions rather than images of the original documents. Sometimes the writing is hard to decipher otherwise, but if we posit legibility, do you think it would help draw students in if they had to read letters/reports/news stories the way they were read in their time? That might help keep the dying art of penmanship alive too, since forgetting how to read it is part and parcel of forgetting how to write it.

Emily Austin font comes together.

Emily Austin font comes together.

A: I do certainly think it would help. There’s unquestionably more allure to original old—to a school kid, ancient—artifacts and documents than boring typeset transcriptions. In fact, I bet many kids would get a huge kick out of working to figure out how to decipher old handwriting. Trouble is, how many teachers would think it worth the bother? (It would so be worth the bother.)

Q: You’re read correspondence and diaries of notable figures, discovered obscure historical events like the dramatic destruction by water-and-quicklime fire of the Governor detailed in the letter that became Schooner Script, pored over antique maps, periodicals and rubbings of headstones. It seems to me that you’ve become a historian in the course of becoming a historical preservationist, all without remotely setting out to do it. Given how important the backstories are to you, have you considered writing more about them? I’m certain you have more than enough material for a fascinating book, a compendium of personal stories linked solely by great handwriting and texts.

A: I’ve recently started an occasional blog about the vanishing art of penmanship, and I have so far tended to dwell on my historical adventures. I hadn’t really thought of a book, a compendium. You’ve piqued my interest!

Terra Ignota with cartographic ornaments.

Terra Ignota with cartographic ornaments.

Q: One of the aspects I love the most about your fonts is your inclusion of graphic elements like the ink blots of Remsen, the cartographic ornaments of Antiquarian and Terra Ignota and the printer’s flourishes of Broadsheet. Have you thought about using them as the kernels of complete, stand-alone historical icon sets? Because I am in a position to guarantee you at least one very keen customer.

A: I sure enough have considered of this. A while back I even started work on an ink-blots-only font but then got sidetracked by somebody else’s handwriting. Pen-and-ink blots, antique cartographic ornaments, old printer’s flourishes—hm, it might just work!

Q: How is your own penmanship? Doctor scrawl, Palmer method roundness, John Hancock big, serial killer cramped? Would you ever make a font of your own hand?
A:
I already have, so check for yourself!

[Spoiler: It’s called Cedar Street and it’s phenomenal. I heart the small caps so much I’d marry them.]

* * *

Elves chapter from “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.”

Elves chapter from “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.”

Brian kindly sent me images of his font-making process using Emily Austin as the example. One of the pictures was a page from Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You which I realized with a start used Emily Austin in the chapter headings! This is when I finally understood that Brian Willson’s work was already crazy famous, so my boasting was as superfluous as it was unjustified.

I asked him how Emily had gotten such an illustrious gig; did he have a font agent or publicist or something? He replied:

I’ve never heard of a font agent or publicist, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. From nearly the beginning, though, I’ve stumbled on my fonts “in the wild”—used on book covers, signs, packaging, and whatnot. (Still seems highly implausible, but there you go.) With Arthur Spiderwick, someone bought a copy of Emily Austin on my website and, in the field on my checkout pages asking how people found us, mentioned that book by name. Turns out the publisher had listed the font name in the credits. (I have no idea where they bought it, but likely through one of my distributors.) I immediately ordered a copy, of course.

On my 3ipfonts.com site, there’s a “sightings” page where you can see a few examples. (I haven’t updated it in a while.)

Actually, many of my customers over the years have sent me photos or links showing my fonts in use. They’re really nice to do that.

Lamar Pen as the signature of the Half Blood Prince.

Lamar Pen as the signature of the Half Blood Prince.

That sightings page is AMAZING. From a boat name in Penobscot Bay, Maine, to a package of crackers in Switzerland to the side of a U-Haul van, Brian Willson’s fonts are ubiquitous. They make appearances in blockbuster movies, best-selling books and chart-topping records too. That’s totally Lamar Pen playing the signature of the Half-Blood Prince in the sixth Harry Potter movie, and the “Dear John” on the cover of Nicholas Sparks’ eponymous novel is written in Schooner Script. Attic Antique is on the cover of Dave Matthews Band’s first studio album, Under the Table and Dreaming. Even Jimmy Kimmel got in on the action, using Texas Hero for his parody of Ken Burns.

It’s a testament to Brian Willson’s great selective eye and flawless execution that his historical handwriting and typeface fonts have spread so far and wide. I love to imagine what Emily Austin or Mirabeau Lamar would make of their writing starring in a Spiderwick Chronicles book and the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie. Willson isn’t just preserving history by creating fonts from beautiful and unique period handwriting; he’s proving that great penmanship remains relevant in the era of keyboard dominance.


[Click here to read the original interview. And please do visit The History Blog—but you’ll want to clear away some time first!—BW]


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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