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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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Posts Tagged ‘old handwriting’
Fancying Things Up: 18th Century Penmanship
Thursday, September 15th, 2016
Amerique Septentrionale (detail).

Amerique Septentrionale (detail).

It all began with my fascination with old maps. Long before I’d even designed my first font, in fact, my parents had given me a collection of printed maps of Texas from the 1500s to the 1900s called Contours of Discovery.

I marveled at the hand-lettered legends and place names and how they differed over the centuries—and years later modeled Terra Ignota after the lettering on one of these prints, Amerique Septentrionale, by French cartographer Nicolas Sanson d’Abbeville.

Cartographic work of Emanuel Bowen (detail).

Cartographic work of Emanuel Bowen (detail).

To date, I’ve released five typefaces inspired by maps and charts from the 17th through 19th centuries, most recently my first-ever serif text-type family, Geographica. My plan was to offer two kindred fonts—a script and a hand—that simulate the penmanship on Geographica’s source materials, the mid-1700s maps of English engravers Emanuel Bowen and Thomas Jefferys.

And in rounding out the character set for the first of these, Geographica Script, I stumbled on a fascinating phenomenon I’d never heard of: trade cards. In particular, British and Colonial American trade cards from the 1700s that, like cartographic prints from the period, demonstrated ornate 18th century penmanship.

Trade card for Spermacaeti Candles.

Trade card for Spermacaeti Candles (click for larger view).

The precursors of modern business cards, trade cards were designed, engraved, and printed for tradesmen, service providers, and salespeople to distribute to potential customers as introductions to (or advertisements for) their particular businesses. Not only were these cards covered in fancy, graceful round hand, but they usually also featured opulent floral designs and period illustrations of products and popular symbols—like anchors, crowns, doves, and lions rampant.

As soon as I laid eyes on 18th century trade cards, Geographica Script got a lot more interesting: it’ll come with many such ornaments.

William Hogarth illustration.

William Hogarth illustration.

A number of the images I found—in collections from such places as the British Museum, the Museum of London, and Yale’s Lewis Walpole Library—were the work of English printmaker William Hogarth, an artist and cartoonist credited with pioneering western sequential art. The prolific Hogarth was a master at reproducing the iconic symbols of the period.

And the round hand itself on these varied, intricate cards added a plethora of flourishes, swashes, and embellishments. Curls and loops, fancy ampersands. (My OpenType-features cup overfloweth.) Plus, I learned a few things, such as the meaning of the ubiquitous abbreviation “NB” (nota bene, or note well) and the fact that, as long as 250 years ago, we English speakers were fond of the phrase “all sorts of.”

Geographica Script is taking longer than I’d imagined, but I’m anxious to find out how it’s received. (There’ll even be a unicorn!) I dare not predict a release date, but keep your eyes peeled.

Geographica Script Unicorn rampant.

Geographica Script unicorn rampant.

* * *

A few trade card links:

Trade cards at the British Museum

Trade cards at the Museum of London

Trade cards at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Trade cards at Waddesdon Manor

Search the Lewis Walpole Digital Images Collection

Trade cards on Pinterest

 


 

Miscellanea

» Do this: take five minutes to listen to this TED talk by Lakshmi Pratury on letter-writing. (Just do it.)

» Here’s a transcript of the Ted Radio Hour podcast about Laskhmi Pratury’s talk (and a link to the podcast).

» Civil War amputees helped by left-handed penmanship contests

» …and Geneva, Ohio, students participate in a Spencerian handwriting contest.

» The power of cursive penmanship in the 21st century, in response to…

» …Anne Trubek’s opinion in the New York Times (that handwriting no longer matters).

» Japan’s prime minister wins praise for his handwriting’s “good-looking characters.”

Handwriting and Personality: Twelve Voices from the Past
Monday, August 1st, 2016
Rabbet (Welcome Images, Wellcome Library, London.)

Rabbet (Wellcome Library, London).

Immediately upon awakening this morning, August 1, I spoke the words “rabbit rabbit” to my dog. I can’t remember how I learned of this superstition—that uttering those two words first thing on the first of any month will assure you good luck for all its days—but I’ve remembered to do it nearly every month for years.

Of course I don’t believe it’s a guarantee of luck. It’s more of a memory test. Deep down I’m more of a rational sort of guy.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in magic—there are miracles everywhere. But they come in the form of the births of baby animals, the cries of northern loons, the emergence of plants from seed, or the rare and evocative aroma of petrichor. I don’t do pseudoscience, though. You won’t find tinfoil headwear on my hat rack.

Detail of a letter written by then–US. Liet. Daniel Ruggles from Mexico home to his wife.

Detail of a letter written by U.S. Lt. Daniel Ruggles from Mexico home to his wife.

The pseudoscience of graphology—a.k.a., handwriting analysis—has been around a good while. Supposedly a trained graphologist can, from simply studying handwriting samples, describe personalities, diagnose mental (or physical) illnesses, even tell the sex of a pregnant writer’s child. No. Nope. Uh-uh. That stuff’s just parlor games.

But having closely studied scores of the letters and journals and diaries of famous (and not-so-famous) people of the past, I do see in penmanship evidence of mood, of age, of temperament. There’s a connection between handwriting and personality. A thoughtful soul might write more neatly. A wallflower might write small. Older hands will tremble more. A hothead might write messily, an egoist large.

Below, for your consideration, is my brief appraisal of the penmanship of a dozen people whom, for one or another reason, I’ve come to know—and whose personalities and handwriting seem to agree. (Click on any image for a larger view.)

Obscure military clerk

Obscure military clerk (1775 Muster Rolls of His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot).

Obscure military clerk (1775 Muster Rolls of His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot).

Two hundred forty-one years ago, a tiny fraction of the planet’s population knew how to write, and many who did made a living at it—as did the scribe who kept records for the British military at a time of unrest in the American colonies. This particular clerk (whose hand gave rise to Military Scribe) was painstaking, scrupulous, neat, exacting. I imagine a man who spent a lot of time alone at a desk in The Penmanship Zone. Smart, disciplined, tidy. A person who was frugal with ink and paper, and who embraced the mission at hand: of keeping a legible accounting of important matters for future reading.

Timothy Matlack

Penmanship of Timothy Matlack (the Declaration of Independence).

Penmanship of Timothy Matlack (the Declaration of Independence, 1776).

From historical records we know that Timothy Matlack was a Quaker, an abolitionist, a judge, a soldier—and a master penman whose careful roundhand engrossed perhaps the most famous American document (and inspired American Scribe). He was hired to do the job, a job he clearly took seriously. From his straight, clean, legible script, its compact letterspacing and narrow linespacing, I imagine a serious person, a thoughtful person, a man with strength of mind and strong convictions. Matlack died at 99 years old.

Abigail Adams

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

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

Although our first second lady and second first lady had no formal education, her mother (a Massachusetts Quincy) homeschooled her on reading, writing, and ’rithmatic. From her voluminous writings (mostly in the form of letters to her husband, John), it’s clear Abigail Adams was highly intelligent, curious, engaged, insightful, and philosophical. I.e., she was a brilliant thinker, correspondent, confidante. She also had to take care of business back home while her husband was off doing political things. Mrs. Adams’s untidy, disconnected cursive (immortalized in our Abigail Adams font) was clearly dashed off in a hurry, which—along with her creative spelling (not uncommon in those days)—actually makes a lot of sense: here was someone with a message to get across, never mind insignificant details. Her hand suggests a doer, a talker, a communicator, one not so concerned about style as content.

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams (diary excerpt, 1809, via Massachusetts Historical Society).

John Quincy Adams (diary excerpt, 1809, courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society).

Abigail’s son, John—the sixth U.S. president—was an orator, a diplomat, from youth a traveler (who spoke numerous languages), a politician, a negotiator, an abolitionist, and a famous diarist. For nearly 70 years he kept a daily diary. You can flip virtually through its pages at the Massachusetts Historical Society’s highly engaging website, where right away you’ll notice Adams’s upright, bold, legible, loopy hand (Old Man Eloquent is our interpretation). I imagine John Quincy got some of his communication skills from his mother, but his handwriting seems far more disciplined, more plodding, more firm, more straight-and-narrow. I see some obsessiveness there (nearly 70 years, every day?), and a very slight slant. I see fairness, equality, conscientiousness, formality, and an almost classical attention to detail.

Samuel Clarke

Samuel Clarke (in a letter to his congregation, 1825).

Samuel Clarke (in a letter to his congregation, 1825).

Years ago I found a three-page letter in a local antique shop, a letter written by the pastor of the Congregational Church in Princeton, Massachusetts, appealing for donations for a family whose belongings were lost at sea. (The graceful script, in fact, compelled me to make Schooner Script.) I know of Samuel Clarke, the pastor, only from this single bit of history, now going on 200 years old—but from his handwriting’s consistent slant, its long descenders, its curly loops and airy linespacing, I gather Samuel was careful (i.e., full of care), generous, a little formal, perhaps, but also full of grace and attentive to decorum. I envision sermons partly down-to-earth and partly lofty, with a flourish or two. I can almost hear the music of the choir.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston (letter from 1830).

Sam Houston (letter from 1830).

Hero of the Battle of San Jacinto, first president of Texas, and one of the new state’s inaugural U.S. senators, Sam Houston is one of those larger-than-life characters from history. His handwriting, too, was large (see Houston Pen), with ample space between its lines and characters. Houston seems also to have written swiftly but with a certain grace and aplomb—in keeping with the self-assured leader that he was. (He’s the only person who served as governor of two states, Tennessee and Texas.) His script is forceful, declarative, almost principled. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that he was a friend (and blood brother) of America’s natives when many of his fellow Texans wanted to drive them out of the territory—or that, in vain, he opposed secession, while Texas joined the CSA. And it might be said he also wielded a noble pen.

Thomas Jefferson Rusk

Thomas Jefferson Rusk (remembrance of his infant son, 1834).

Thomas Jefferson Rusk (remembrance of his toddler son, 1834).

I modeled Texas Hero, our first historical penmanship font, after the handwriting of Thomas J. Rusk, unquestionably a heroic early Texan. I chose his hand because it was typical of the period, comparatively legible, not too fancy or plain. Similarly, Rusk himself seemed regular, dependable, and sober. He moved his family from South Carolina to Mexican Texas, joined his fellow settlers in opposing Mexican hostility, fought bravely under Houston at San Jacinto. Rusk served as the new republic’s first Secretary of War, got more votes than Houston as one of the new state’s first two senators, carried on through various personal losses until the end—when illness and his wife’s death drove him to suicide. A good font, a good man.

Mirabeau B. Lamar

Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar (journal entry, 1835).

Mirabeau B. Lamar (journal entry, 1835).

Perhaps the most popular face in our “Texas Heroes” collection, Lamar Pen is an interpretation of the stylish hand of a man with a stylish name, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar. Lamar grew up in Georgia as a reader and writer, a poet and newspaper man. He entered politics at an early age—but then lost his wife and brother, and set off to see the world to assuage his grief, arriving in Texas just in time to join Houston and Rusk at San Jacinto. He, too, fought bravely (famously even coming to the rescue of Rusk) and ended up first vice president under Houston. From there things went south, though, as he and Houston clashed on several matters: he ordered attacks against the Cherokee and Comanche, resulting in the massacre of women and children, and opposed the annexation of Texas by the United States. I read in Lamar’s strong, if stylish, hand a man both bossy and emotional, full of righteousness, used to getting his way—albeit someone who also valued higher education. (He is credited for alloting land for school development statewide.)

Emily Austin Perry

Emily Austin (letter home to her husband, 1851).

Emily Austin Perry (letter home to her husband, 1851).

As you might gather from her eponymous font, Emily Margaret Austin Bryan Perry—sole heir of her brother Stephen F. Austin—was a brave, determined, spunky, busy pioneer woman. She was also one of the richest women in Texas, and plenty adept at managing her ample fortunes (never mind that men had to sign all contracts, and it’d be generations until women won the right to vote). From her small, distinctive script, which made good use of the margins of a page, you might gather she was frugal, thrifty, and meticulous. Spelling didn’t matter as much as accuracy and clarity. Traveling with her daughter, Mrs. Perry wrote many a missive home to Peach Point Plantation, essentially passing along fresh gossip and listing chores she wanted done. But she was reportedly a beloved matriarch to family and servants (i.e., slaves). And it’s not hard to find in her chatty scrawl a mother hen.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (letter from 1857).

Frederick Douglass (letter from 1857).

Orator, statesman, abolitionist, Frederick Douglass stands among the most distinguished of Americans. His gift of words, of communicating grand ideas and fostering great social change, is surpassed by few. As you might gather from his handwriting (simulated in Douglass Pen)—a neat, balanced, legible, utilitarian hand. You can see from the even spacing, from the letterforms dense but clear, that here was a person who placed importance on each sentence. The pace of the writing seems even, not rushed, but steady—stately, even. The script seems fair and controlled, neither tentative nor dashed off in anger. Here was someone who placed value on the written word (as he also did photography), and who expected his own to be read and heard and thought about. As they are still, nearly two centuries after he was born a slave on the Chesapeake Bay.

A. Leslie Willson

A Leslie Willson (my father, diary entry, 1946).

A. Leslie Willson (my father, diary entry, 1946).

Much closer in time—just 70 years ago—a young man named Leslie Willson kept a daily diary. Maybe not as obsessively as John Quincy Adams, but nearly so. His legible Palmer Method cursive has a consistent slant, with open loops and pointy “p”s. Even if you ignore the words, you can see a sort of artistic evenness in this handwriting style; there’s a clear attention to stroke and placement. The script easy to read and pleasant to look at—important factors when your mission is communication. It’s what you might call “nice handwriting.” This man was a nice man and a communicator. A writer, a poet, a teacher, a translator—and one who wrote pretty much exactly the same on into his 80s. I know, because Leslie Willson was my father. (Dad thought it a hoot that I modeled Professor after his hand.)

Jeanne Willson

Jeanne Willson (my mother, letter from 1993).

Jeanne Willson (my mother, letter from 1993).

Finally, here’s a sample of the handwriting of my mother, then in her late 60s. Mom was an inveterate letter writer, a correspondent extraordinaire. (John and Abigail Adams were among her heroes.) In fact, her handwriting looks a little larger than usual here: she filled pages of smallish stationery with compact lines of her distinctive curly script, although these seemed to loosen up as she grew older. They used to be straighter, too—you can see the sort of ups and downs of age. Mom’s handwriting, while meticulous, is not as legible as my dad’s. (I remember as a kid being unable to read her signature.) But it seems to be that way to encourage study, to ask for a commitment of time and attention. Perhaps written by a quiet-voiced person with a lot of big things to show and tell and say. The script, perhaps, of a historical librarian. (And my mother was a very good one.) I have no plans to make a font of it—perhaps because I love this handwriting most of all.


Miscellanea

» Handwriting in America: A Cultural History. (Penmanship used to be taught differently, depending.)

» Pen to Paper. A collection of the handwriting from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

» The Nuclear Regulatory Commission gets rid of a 54-year-old handwriting rule

» …but handwriting ain’t history yet—witness a Bengaluru-based calligraphist’s love of the pen.

» If computers have ruined your handwriting—can it be saved?

» Not everyone hates the idea of writing by hand(“That’s neat. I’d like to try that someday.”)

» How about calligraphy and crumpets? Handwriting and wine?

Handwriting as art
Sunday, June 5th, 2016
Old Dutch and Malabar scripts.

Old Dutch and Malabar scripts.

I have in my possession a book published in Amsterdam in 1672. Its author is Philippus Baldaeus, a Dutch Calvinist missionary, and my copy is written predominantly in German. It’s a big book, whose title (translated into English) is A True detailed description of the famous East Indian Coasts of Malabar and Coromandel, and the island of Ceylon.

Baldaeus accompanied Dutch invaders to southern India and Sri Lanka and came back with a tale to tell. This volume—which my father (Germanic languages professor and literary translator A. Leslie Willson) used in researching a book of his own*—has a number of magnificent plates and a series of pages showing samples of the glyphs and letterforms then used in the ancient written language of the residents of Malabar.

Egyptian hieroglyphs (the British Museum).

Egyptian hieroglyphs (the British Museum).

The scripts are truly beautiful—both the exotic Brahmic glyphs of Malabar and the looping Dutch script that accompanies it. And they serve as just one example of handwriting as art.

The earliest writers of course used pictographs, then hieroglyphs (pictures representing sounds), which could certainly be considered art. As might the illuminated manuscripts created by Medieval scribes—but that’s not what I mean. I mean handwritten symbols, Latin and otherwise, whose shapes or execution or both represent art in a fundamental way.

Zapfino specimen.

Zapfino specimen.

By its very definition, calligraphy is a fine example. The pleasing, expressive sweeps of a calligrapher’s brush or pen can be admired for long moments, can conjure up moods or memories or magic. Calligraphy spans multiple language systems and cultures. In fact, some of the most popular fonts these days are essentially digitized calligraphy—from Zapfino, by late master type designer Hermann Zapf, to the work of contemporary lettering artist Laura Worthington.

Sign painters, poster designers, and graffiti artists also qualify—their hand-rendered letters and words are an unquestionably sincere form of accessible artistic expression. (I’ve received some wonderfully illustrated envelopes from such folks, which I have displayed prominently here and there.)

Detail from Mirabeau B. Lamar’s journal.

Detail from Mirabeau B. Lamar’s journal.

But leave it to me to carry the handwriting-as-art concept into an even broader realm: the shared experience of people who have written (and, in declining numbers, still write) routinely by hand. Those who have unique or fancy signatures, or who add special little extra loops or curls or flourishes to their regular script (or printing), or who take secret pride in the shapes of their Ps and Qs.

I have a strong appreciation for this kind of handwriting artist’s work. I know it when I see it. I’ve seen it amid the source materials for the pen fonts I’ve made of the scripts of historical Texans—the sweep of the D of Mirabeau Lamar (Lamar Pen), the little vertical cross Emily Austin Perry added to her H (Emily Austin), Sam Houston’s inimitable signature (Houston Pen). Another such font I’ve got cookin’ in the oven adds an interesting twist: the script in Stephen F. Austin’s prison diary, originally written in pencil, was later traced in ink by his nephew, Moses Austin Bryan (Emily’s son).

Detail from Stephen F. Austin’s prison diary.

Detail from Stephen F. Austin’s prison diary.

You’ve seen it, too, in the handwriting of certain friends or relatives. Perhaps they heard early on how neat their cursive was, so they took pains to make it more evocative. Perhaps they’re visual artists by nature, and it also carries over onto their notepads. Even sloppy scribblers have quirks curious and endearing. Witness the little crosses on the Zs of Viktorie.

Without question hand-done lettering communicates far more than mere words and sentences—e.g., the mind, age, mood, or proclivities of the writer. Perhaps, in this sort of innate expressiveness, all handwriting might stand as a form of art.

Note: If you know of an example of some particularly artistic penmanship, I’d love it if you’d comment with a link.

*A Mythical Image: The Ideal of India in German Romanticism (Duke University Press, 1964).


Miscellanea

» Award-winning penmanship doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with hands

» …and national penmanship competitions can also go to a lefty.

» And while were on the subject, here’s another young handwriting champion. Can there be hope for penmanship?

» Perhaps not, as some are editorializing against cursive requirement in schools.

» Meanwhile, archaeologists have uncovered 2,000-year-old handwritten documents in the London mud.


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

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