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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:

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The Antique Penman
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Posts Tagged ‘post cards’
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”?

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”.


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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