Old penmanship and handwriting fonts
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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™, Bonhomme Richard™, 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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   P.O. Box 1092
   Rockport ME 04856 USA
   (207) 596-6768


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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen F Austin’
Designing Austin Pen
Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
painting of Stephen F Austin

A painting of Stephen F. Austin (courtesy Texas State Library and Archives Commission).

I am remiss for having ignored The Penman for the entirety of spring. Partly my absence had to do with—well, spring! But partly it had to do with my decision to juggle two type-design projects at once for the first time. Turns out, there’s a lot to keep track of.

Lucky for us both, one of those projects is perfect for a discussion here.

Designing Austin Pen has proved enjoyable, puzzling, challenging, satisfying. It’ll be my fourteenth historical penmanship font—and the fifth member of what I consider my Texas Heroes Collection. It’s modeled after the handwriting of famous empresario Stephen Fuller Austin (1793–1836), the “Father of Texas,” from whom the Lone Star State’s capital got its name.

Stephen F. Austin did not live long, so he didn’t leave reams of handwritten material. But he did keep a diary while imprisoned in Mexico for virtually all of 1834. Austin Pen is my interpretation of Austin’s secret scribblings in this miniature journal (now in the collection of the wonderful Dolph Briscoe Center for American History).

Cover of the Austin Prison Diary.

Cover of the Austin Prison Diary.

Unlike the source materials for the other fonts in this collection—Lamar Pen (based on the hand of Mirabeau B. Lamar), Emily Austin (modeled after the hand of Austin’s sister, Emily Austin Perry), Houston Pen (inspired by the letters of Sam Houston), and Texas Hero (which replicates the script of Thomas Jefferson Rusk)—the diary Austin smuggled into his prison cell is hardly cut-and-dried. For one thing, it had very small pages, which couldn’t have been easy to fill. For another, he had to keep the little book hidden, so he ended up writing much of it in a pencil he also managed to hide.

But perhaps most interestingly, nearly 30 years later, Austin’s nephew Moses Austin Bryan (Emily’s son by her first husband) traced over most of the fading pencil lines in ink. Bryan made this entry on a blank page in his own fine hand:

Note by Moses Austin in his uncle’s diary.

Note by Moses Austin Bryan in his uncle’s diary.

I, Moses Austin Bryan on this day the twenty fifth day of December Eighteen hundred and seventy one have finished tracing the pencil marks or writing of Genl. Stephen F Austin which were made by him in this book whilst he was a prisoner in the cell No 15 of the Ex. Inquisition in the City of Mexico from the 18th day of February the day he was put in the cell No 15 till he was taken out at the end of three moths [sic] by order of the President.

Given all this confusion, I thought at first I might go for a hybrid script between Bryan’s and his Uncle Austin’s. But I soon saw that Austin’s pencil scribblings were large and strange (no doubt because of the difficulty in using an early 1800s pencil on tiny pages), and Bryan’s  ink tracings were similarly peculiar—nothing at all like his fine script in the note above. I decided to focus on the original author’s hand.

Pages showing Austin’s penmanship in ink.

Pages showing Austin’s penmanship in ink.

And I’m happy to report that, on either side of its pencil entries, Austin filled out many of the diary’s pages in ink. And his penmanship on those pages, while fairly unkempt (understandably, considering the size of the book), had a strength and surety I admired. Those are the pages I used.

One last challenge sprung from the fact that Austin kept most of his diary in Spanish. Whereas this was fortunate in that it gave me samples of letterforms often missing in English (like Q and x), others (like K and w) are absent entirely from the Spanish alphabet. Further—not being fluent in Spanish—I occasionally had to puzzle over certain words and phrases to make sure exactly what characters I was looking at.

By now I’ve finished the entire lowercase alphabet, though, and I’m happy with the result. And from my desk in distant Maine, far from Mexico, I hope to finish Austin Pen by early August, when it’s time for the blueberry harvest.

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. —Henry David Thoreau

Note: Check this website occasionally for news on the second of the two fonts I’m working on.


» Will thank-you notes—even signatures—soon be a thing of the past?

» Schools in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Florida want to keep on teaching penmanship.

» I really like this editorial call to keep putting pen to paper.

» Well, here’s a problem with poor penmanship I hadn’t thought of.

» And a special shout-out to the Campaign for Cursive—yes, cursive is cool!

Handwritten on my heart
Monday, December 21st, 2015

Snailmail My Email logo

Recently I stumbled upon  Snail Mail My Email, the website for artist Ivan Cash’s online community art project whereby hundreds of volunteers transcribe the email messages of strangers into handwritten letters, which then get dropped in the mail. A novel, fun-sounding idea, to be sure—especially once you realize that most of the letters get the sort of eye-catching embellishments you might find on a greeting card. But what struck me first was its slugline: “Handwritten Letters in a Digital World.”

The idea left me, confusingly, both encouraged and aghast.

My mother helped with Texas Hero.

My mother helped with Texas Hero.

Granted, there’s no little irony in the fact that I’m batting out these very words on the keyboard of a MacBook Pro—let alone the fact that I rarely ever send a handwritten letter these days. But if you’re a sighted person of a certain age, you’re sure to hold fast in your memory a small library of familiar handwriting samples.

Off the top of my head I can think of at least a dozen people whose penmanship I’d recognize in an instant: my parents, my siblings, my daughter, a grandfather and an aunt, two ex-wives, a couple old coworkers, a few good friends. And that’s not even counting more than a dozen others whose handwriting I’ve preserved in digital form—e.g., Abigail, Viktorie, and Marydale.

But what do you get when you open a letter in a stranger’s handwriting? There’s no flash of recognition at first glance at the hand-addressed envelope. No flutter in your gut as a face comes to mind. No proof that someone known and loved has reached out to you.

Envelope from my father as a young man

Envelope from my father as a young man.

It’s an art project, I get it. But the encounter reminded me that no more will I see envelopes freshly addressed by certain familiar pens—that of my dear mother, for instance, not even in her jiggly, Parkinson’s-induced scrawl. I can at least still revisit scores of her letters I’ve got in safe keeping. Although the flash of recognition lacks fresh brightness, it’s the work of her hand.

The power of familiar script is described with particular poignancy by Virginia resident Elsa Ann Heller, who was surprised to recognize her grandmother’s handwriting on a seventy-year-old postcard decorating a local restaurant:

“I know that sounds pretty old-fashioned, but that is how I know her. Her handwriting is written on my heart.”

Ornament from Geographica, a font I’m working on.

Ornament from Geographica, coming soon.

Then again I’m not the only one who’s neglected his penmanship lately. Some time after Heather du Plessis-Allan, a presenter with a New Zealand current affairs TV show, broke a story exposing a loophole that let her buy a gun online without a permit, police showed up with a search warrant looking for handwriting samples. In the wake of the search—which suggests whoever ordered the gun might face punishment for breaking the law—she realized she barely handwrites anything anymore.

“Nowadays, everything is done on my laptop, tablet or cellphone. Even the grocery list. I email that to myself on the way to the supermarket.”

Detail of Stephen F Austin’s prison journal.

Detail of S. F. Austin’s journal.

Me, meantime?  Well, I’m currently working on my first modern serif typeface ever—although it’s based on historical materials. In particular, I’m consulting the maps published by eighteenth-century English engraver Thomas Jefferys, known at the time as the “Geographer for King George III.” The neat lettering on Jefferys’s maps inspired me to give real type design a go for once.

But never fear, because after I finish Geographica, I’ll be making another old penmanship font modeled after the hand of Texas pioneer Stephen F. Austin (in his journal from a Mexican prison, circa 1834–35). And after that I’ve got a pretty cool modern handwriting font planned. Stay tuned!


» It seems letter-writing clubs are a thing, and the Wonder Fair Letter Writing Club looks like a good one.

» A frightening prospect: machines have been passing the Turing Test—of handwriting.

» An art exhibit called “Good Penmanship” bids penmanship adieu.

Abigail Adams American Scribe Austin Pen Bonhomme Richard 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

Geographica Hand Terra Ignota Attic Antique Bonsai Broadsheet Castine

Historical Pens Old Map Fonts Texas Heroes Set Geographica Set Antique Texts Modern Hands

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