Old penmanship and handwriting fonts
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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:

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


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Posts Tagged ‘Timothy Matlack’
Looking Back at Texas Hero
Sunday, October 21st, 2018
Stephen F. Austin’s prison diary.

Stephen F. Austin’s prison diary.

Last February I released Austin Pen, my 14th typeface simulating real historical handwriting—and my 33rd overall. Soon after, I decided it would be my last original type design. Making a modern font takes hundreds of hours over a span of several months. At least for me it does. Probably I’m slow, or overly painstaking, or merely perfectionistic (considering I’m never entirely satisfied with the end result).

But I’ve reached an age where I feel compelled to spend time creating other things I’d like to make while there’s still time. Which is no doubt why I haven’t polished off a new Antique Penman post since February. I apologize for that.

Thomas J. Rusk’s lament on the death of his son.

Thomas J. Rusk’s lament.

Just yesterday I got to looking back at Texas Hero, my very first old pen font, which I started working on pretty much exactly 25 years ago. Texas Hero was, I’m pretty sure, the first typeface designed to replicate the look of genuine old handwriting, warts and all. I was new at the font game back then, having made three eclectic faces earlier in 1993. Didn’t know what I was doing at first, and certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I recall one day hunting around for a font that looked like 18th century handwriting—and finding none. For not the first time, I decided to fill a void. My indispensable partner in this enterprise was my late ma, Jeanne R. Willson, a historical librarian who then worked at what is now the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas (my alma mater). I knew she had long studied historical letters and documents and would certainly be able to supply examples of old cursive script.

Emily Austin Perry’s hand.

Emily Austin Perry’s hand.

And she did. I got photocopies of letters from several famous Texans (naturally) dating back to the time of the Republic. I got to see the handwriting of folks like Sam Houston, Mirabeau B. Lamar, Stephen F. AustinEmily Austin PerryDavid Burnet (I think), and Thomas J. Rusk. All their hands were distinctly different—fancy, flowery, bold, intricate, and/or a bit messy—but one had just the balance of legibility and period authenticity: Rusk’s.

When people think of Texas heroes, they don’t usually think of Thomas Jefferson Rusk. But he served as a general at the Battle of San Jacinto, as the fledgling Republic’s first Secretary of War, and in 1846 was elected one of the new state’s first U.S. Senators (the other being Houston). He died in 1857, at age 53, by self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Frederick Douglass’s penmanship.

Frederick Douglass’s penmanship.

I remember vividly having to look extremely closely at Rusk’s handwriting, getting intimately familiar with his loops and curves, reading and rereading several of his official letters—and one sad, oft-folded lament of the death of his two-year-old namesake son. It was the first of many times I found myself both deeply moved and somehow changed by the words and penmanship of a person who’d died more than a century ago.*

Over the next two and a half decades, I’d go on to replicate the hands of Stephen Austin, his sister Emily, Lamar, and Houston—along with such other famous pen-wielders as Abigail Adams, her son John Quincy, Frederick Douglass, Timothy Matlack (engrosser of the Declaration of Independence) and a few lesser-known writers of old. It all still seems implausible and crazy and sort of wonderful.

And still I think often of the closeness, familiarity, and nuance we stand to lose in this era of keyboards and texting and speech-to-text. We might even end up communicating like we did before the age of literacy: verbally or visually or via smoke signal.

I hold out hope, though, that writing by hand will remain a thing—even if only a sort of calligraphic art form.

*So moved, in fact, that I wrote this novel.


» Handwriting the Constitution: Hand-copying produces “an intimate connection to the text and its meaning.”

» Royal Archives, Hamilton, and King George III: “Pieces of paper with old handwriting on [it].”

» Big Trouble in Canada: “‘I can’t read writing. We didn’t do it in school.’”

» The Magic of Handwriting: I’m truly sorry I missed this exhibition at The Morgan Library & Museum.

» A Tribute to the Fountain Pen: “No one writes like Abraham Lincoln anymore.”

» Apple Patents Handwriting Recognition System: This just seems so wrong.

» The Tragic Death of the Handwritten Message: Survey shows people age 25–34 prefer emojis to words.

Button Gwinnett
Saturday, January 24th, 2015
Button Gwinnett signature.

Button Gwinnett signature.

It’s been two months since I’ve posted any musings here. (My apologies.) That horrifying fact occurred to me this morning—after several weeks of distracting, time-consuming work on a wholly different project—when I realized I’d missed National Handwriting Day, celebrated on the birthday of John Hancock, who was born 278 years ago yesterday.


And in that stream-of-consciousness way my brain works, I found myself soon thinking about Button Gwinnett, of Georgia, perhaps the least conspicuous signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration.

Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration.

I spent dozens of hours staring at a copy of the Declaration of Independence while working on my American Scribe font back in 2003, yet I have no memory of seeing the signature of a man named Button.

Not until I listened recently to a Radiolab podcast [aside: if you haven’t listened to Radiolab, you must] that featured Gwinnett did I have any recollection of his name at all.

And yet—as Radiolab explains—his is the most valuable signature of them all. That’s because he died in a duel soon after the Declaration was signed. And rich people like to collect all those signatures.

No more than fifty-one of Gwinnett’s are documented, two of them at the Houghton Library at Harvard.

Stream-of-consciousness took me then to those fifty-six Declaration signatures, and the early American leaders who wrote each other letters in longhand—it seems just about every day. And their handwriting, which I’ve looked at from time to time.

Letter from George Washington to the Ministers of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church at Kingston, New York, November 16, 1782.

George Washington to the Ministers of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church.

Thomas Jefferson’s, for instance, which doesn’t seem very distinctive, rather a small, utilitarian hand. In fact, I found this quote of Jefferson’s, from a letter he wrote to his grandson:

[T]ake pains at the same time to write a neat round, plain hand, and you will find it a great convenience through life to write a small & compact hand as well as a fair & legible one.

Of course Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration contrasts sharply with the famous, finely engrossed version by Timothy Matlack.

I visited the Library of Congress website and tracked down some examples of George Washington’s penmanship, which is frankly rather handsome. As it should be, I suppose, all things considered.

And I looked again at John Adams’s, a script I glimpsed a lot while designing the Abigail Adams font—the Massachusetts Historical Society has copies of the amazing correspondence those two carried on—and one that is none-too-fancy but surprisingly legible.

Let’s see, who else? How about James Madison? Not a Declaration signer, but an early leader and president. Well, again, nothing too fancy—his handwriting seemingly dashed out in a hell of a hurry, and not overly legible, much like Benjamin Franklin’s.

John Hancock, extract from Journals of Congress, 1776.

John Hancock, extract from Journals of Congress, 1776.

Hancock himself definitely rocked a stylish brand of cursive, even when he wasn’t sending a message to the King of England: bold, dark, with a confident flourish.

As for Button Gwinnett—not much of his penmanship survived the destruction of Savannah in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Still, he had a neatly stylish signature.

Stream-of-consciousness now carries me away to thoughts of our current crop of movers-and-shakers. Just how many of them write by hand at all?

A couple hundred years from now, what subtle clues will people of the future have into the personalities of our long-dead generation? Must they simply go by YouTube videos?

One thing’s sure: there’s a lot more than written communication going on as we manually string letters and words together, applying subtle pressures with a pen.

Button Gwinnett signature and seal.

Button Gwinnett signature and seal.

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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