Old penmanship and handwriting fonts
 OLD MAP FONTS:
Antiquarian
Antiquarian Scribe
Terra Ignota
 HISTORICAL PENS:
Abigail Adams
American Scribe
Botanical Scribe
Douglass Pen
Emily Austin
Houston Pen
Lamar Pen
Military Scribe
Lamar Pen
Remsen Script
Schooner Script
Texas Hero
 ANTIQUE TEXTS:
Attic Antique
Bonsai
Broadsheet
Castine
Order Handwriting Fonts
 CREDITS, &C.
Order Historical Fonts Online
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:

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

 

The Antique Penman
     H O M E  
  F A Q  
Posts Tagged ‘old letters’
Long Live Longhand! The Upswing in Cursive Handwriting 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.


Miscellanea

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

» Appreciation of a good signature, and the history of penmanship.

» 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?

Deciphering old handwriting
Monday, May 2nd, 2016

I am remiss for not having posted an entry here in so long. The fact of my finally finishing up the first true serif text-type family I’ve ever made is no good excuse (unlike, perhaps, my propensity to enter The Type Design Zone and not emerge for weeks at a time). Anyway, apologies.

But I have something to share today that I hope will make up for the delay: a dive deep into the quirks and peculiarities of 19th-century penmanship—or at least one man’s peculiar, quirky penmanship—that should give you an idea of how to go about deciphering old handwriting.  Or at least how I do it.

Address page of the Ruggles letter.

Address page of the Ruggles letter.

The penmanship in question appears in a digital scan of a three-page letter (see below) sent to me by an acquaintance who has an enviable collection of historical records and documents from the days of the Republic of Texas. I’d transcribed a handwritten narrative for him already, one whose puzzles were mostly problematic words and short phrases. But this new letter—despite its bold and graceful pen strokes—caught me off guard for its first-blush illegibility. I’ve had plenty of trouble deciphering old handwriting, but at first glance I can usually get a fairly good idea of who had written a thing, or what was being written about. The scan of this letter, with its alluring greenish tinge, seemed more or less inscrutable.

Eventually, though, I managed to puzzle out every word. Here’s how.

An important clue was the destination address on the outside of the folded letter. I’d already looked at the first page, at the date and salutation, but all I could quickly read in the author’s sweeping script was a date that looked like “May 21st, 1838,” the country of origin, “Mexico,” and a town that might’ve been Guadalupe. The outside address was stamped VERA CRUZ MEXICO and had an old notation in pencil that offered two quick corrections: 1) the date was in fact 1848, and the town was Tacubaya (a far cry from Guadalupe!). Upon close inspection, the address appeared to be:

Mrs. Richd Ella M. Ruggles
Fredericksburg, Virginia

Another puzzle. Was this a woman named Ella who was married to a man named Richard Ruggles? At least by now I had determined that the writer’s lowercase “a” looked like an “o” followed by an extra “i”-like stroke. And that the “d” had a very short ascender. After staring for a while I noticed a seemingly random horizontal stroke that told me her name likely wasn’t Ella after all—but Etta.

Daniel Ruggles.

Daniel Ruggles.

I took a peek at the last page of the letter, which the author had stylishly signed with the just his initials, “D.R.” So if this was a husband in Mexico writing a wife back in Virginia, his given name was clearly not Richard.

I pored for a while over the salutation, which—now that I could identify a few odd-shaped letters—I managed finally to work out: “My dearest Etta.” (I was now confident that was her name, from the way the cross of the “t” in “dearest” nearly missed the letter altogether, as did the cross of the double-“t” in Etta.)  I soon also had the first paragraph deciphered. Not that it held a lot of clues. Further on I could read a few words and phrases, among them “prospect of peace,” “treaty,” “the 19th inst. Friday,” and what appeared to be the phrase “Chamber of Deputies.” I saw that the author made peculiar “r”s that had a sort of extra squiggle at the end, figured out that those tiny, two-line shapes were ampersands, grew accustomed to his open, unusual “I”s—and realized he was likely in Mexico because of war.

It was time to poke around online.

By searching for “Mexico,” “war,” and “1848,” I confirmed that the Mexican-American War ended in that year. A treaty was signed in February, but U.S. troops didn’t entirely evacuate until August. So I searched for “Ruggles” and “Mexican-American War”—and first on the list of results was a Wikipedia entry for Daniel Ruggles (1810–1897), a Brigadier General for the Confederacy in the American Civil War. I learned that, before that war, U.S. Lt. Col. Ruggles had served in the Texas Campaign, and later, after a long life, had died in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

A search for “Daniel Ruggles” and “Richard Etta” got me genealogical records showing that Richard Etta (or “Richardetta”) was in fact the wife of Daniel Ruggles. I learned that Etta’s maiden name was Hooe, that her middle initial stood for Mason, that she and Daniel were married in Michigan in 1841, and that she died in 1904. I even got a look at the the Ruggleses’ headstone in Virginia.

Armed with this additional background info (which helped also with the seemingly incongruous mention of “Saut on Ste Marie”) and a sense of context, I set to work transcribing Daniel Ruggles’s letter home to his wife, Richardetta. It took nearly two hours, but I got it done.

Deciphering old penmanship can be a puzzle, for sure, but a puzzle that—thanks, ironically, to the digital technology that might ultimately doom handwriting altogether—often promises a circuitous journey through interesting times gone by.


Below are the scans of the three pages of Ruggles’s letter, each followed by my transcription of that page. (Click any page image for a larger view.) I hope and expect you’ll find its contents surprising and fascinating.

The Ruggles Letter, page 1.

The Ruggles Letter, page 1.

Tacubaya, Mexico
May 21st 1848

My Dearest Etta,

I have an opportunity to send you a line tomorrow morning early and write you, although I sent day before yesterday one with most things of importance noted.

Today however I can confirm in some measure this report in relation to the prospects of peace & it is therefore I write so soon again— as I am well aware that you are looking for every peaceful sound or show of hope as well as myself.

We have a well authenticated rumour that the Chamber of Deputies confirmed the Treaty 54 in favor to 32 against on the 19th inst. Friday last & sent it to the Senate at 8 o.c. p.m. on that day—this comes from Genl. Butler & is believable.

There is no doubt about the favorable actions of the Senate—and if our information is correct peace is certain.

The Ruggles Letter, page 2

The Ruggles Letter, page 2.

Every preparation has been made for the marching of our Troops towards the coast.

I shall write you now almost daily as I have means of sending letters.

There is some excitement here about a tragic affair of robbery and murder for which Lieut. B. P. Tilden of the 2d Infantry and two volunteer officers from Pennsylvania. Lieuts. Hare & Dutton, have been sentenced to be hanged on the 25th inst. This is the same Lieut. Tilden we saw at the Saut on Ste Marie.

It is said that another officer of the 2d Infy is suspected as an accomplice. The details will soon be published & ring throughout the Union like a bolt of thunder.

Here in the midst of great events these trials have not excited so much interest as was anticipated.

The particulars are voluminous & I must therefore refer you to News as they will appear in the papers. All feel sad for Tildens poor wife, & friends.

The Ruggles Letter, page 3

The Ruggles Letter, page 3.

Well I have nothing more to write nor have I time if I had.

Love to all the Family—kiſs Ed & Tip for me & Roy & Beſsie & all the children do write me very often.

Particular remembrances to all our friends & kind remembrances to the Servants.

Remember me in your prayers—dream of me & kiſs me in your heart.

Ever thine
D.R.

To/ Mrs. Richard Etta M. Ruggles
Fredericksburg
Virginia

[Note on the last page Riggins’s use of the old-style long-s (“ſ”) in the words “kiss” and “Bessie.”]


Miscellanea

» Turns out 400-year-old handwriting is even trickier to read—and can result in surprises.

» Speaking of transcriptions, Norfolk County, Mass., has digitized 250,000 old deeds—including a few historic ones.

» For its 500th anniversary, The Royal Mail is urging UK residents to dig out old handwritten correspondence.

» Going back way farther: handwriting from 600 B.C. suggests widespread literacy—and an older Old Testament.

» And although it might be delaying the inevitable—the teaching of cursive penmanship ain’t dead just yet.

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.


Miscellanea

» 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”

» …although I wonder how altruistic is Bic’s Fight for your Write campaign.


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


Subscribe to Our E-Newsletter

( See our full range at 3IP Type Foundry. )

Three Islands Press

Copyright ©1993–2016 Three Islands Press.
info@oldfonts.com

                             

The Antique Penman is powered by WordPress.

Your OldFonts.com Shopping Basket
 ANTIQUE PENMAN:
Inkblot Font
Historical type from Three Islands Press