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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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Posts Tagged ‘WWII’
Life Without the Written Word
Sunday, November 13th, 2016

We’re not just losing handwriting: written communication generally is going away.

Detail from the journal of Mirabeau B. Lamar (1835).

Detail from the journal of Mirabeau B. Lamar (1835).

I’ve mentioned here the little surge of emotion that comes when you recognize the writing of a loved one—or even, I suppose, the notes of a strict professor, or the scrawl of a stalker. In all cases, a lot more gets communicated by the slope of the letters, the look of the lines, than by the actual words and sentences themselves.

But imagine a world where those words and sentences themselves have gone missing. Imagine a virtual life in which everyone simply talks to each other, and any subtle hints to deeper meaning must come from the oldest nonverbal cues—tone of voice and facial expression. It’s where we seem to be headed in this digital age.

Detail of 1407 Bible by Gerard Brils of Belgium.

Detail of 1407 Bible by Gerard Brils of Belgium.

Thanks to smart devices, now within arm’s reach of most First World residents, the ease of capturing audio and video has increased a hundredfold. Podcasts are how we document change or predict the future, replacing magazine articles and newspaper columns. We listen to storytelling and standup comedy instead of going to the library to check out books to read. We’ve been suddenly thrust into a golden era of TV.

Never mind the loss of longhand—typing on a traditional keyboard has given way to hammering out txts and mssgs with just two thumbs. With autocorrect, who needs to learn how to spell? Heck, witness the sudden proliferation of emoji. Is it inconceivable that written literacy will, over not a very long time, diminish and fade?

Calligraphic font Zapfino (1998), by Hermann Zapf.

Calligraphic font Zapfino (1998), by Hermann Zapf.

Maybe I’m being pessimistic—after all, my very livelihood depends on the written word—but consider the spread of this: “tl;dr.

Short of an apocalyptic global catastrophe, I can think of no event that might reverse this slow extinction of reading and writing. Only if the grid goes down will we have to revert to lighting our own lamps, and making our own lampblack ink, sharpening our own quills, and pounding our own pulp into paper. I suppose that might be seen as a silver lining.

Excerpt from the diary of Leslie Willson.

Excerpt from the diary of my father, Leslie Willson.

I’m drawn again to a page of my father’s diary—this one from 07 August 1945, the day after the bombing of Hiroshima, when he was a 22-year-old serviceman—written in his familiar cursive hand:

“I cannot conceive of any harnessed force so powerful. Although no mention was made of the actual damage done by this one bomb, its potential effect is tremendous. It may well shorten the war to weeks or days—and it may well have been the death rattle of this round green earth.”

Well, here we are more than 70 years later, and no planetary cataclysm has occurred. So it might be up to our human eye for art and history to preserve our lovely alphabets—the beauty of calligraphy, the magic of an ancient inscribed scroll. Current type design trends, in fact, seem full of fanciful scripts.

Nope, I cannot abandon hope. I can’t conceive of life without the written word.




» Does the loss of cursive mean social devolution?

» Or have computers effectively taken the place of the pen?

» Have you ever noticed how your handwriting has changed over time? (Mine has.)

» Another argument why teaching handwriting to kids is a good thing.

» What do François Mitterrand and Steve Jobs have in common?

» More moving evidence of the timeless power of handwriting.

Letters Home
Sunday, June 21st, 2015
Envelope from Camp Maxey.

Envelope from Camp Maxey.

My father spent a lot of time writing, starting at a delicate age. Early on he aspired to be an author, kept a diary for many years, wrote poems and stories and at least one novel. And he had handsome penmanship, too: a standard, legible cursive with only a few peculiarities—including a “p” with a tallish upstroke and a formal “r.”

But my dad could also type like a maestro. I remember as a boy hearing the sound of his old manual typewriter clattering away in his study. I remember asking him to show me how he made that magical thing work. And I remember later thinking it impossible to type so fast (120 words a minute, as I recall). Then in high school I took a typing class, and before too long I could type nearly as fast as Dad.

Dad’s first letter home.

Dad’s first letter home.

Still, at least early on, my father tended to write all his personal letters by hand. Like the daily letters home he wrote from basic training in 1943.

After he died I discovered that at some point Dad had typed up all those 1943 letters—keyboarded them into his Mac, saved them to floppy disks, printed out all the pages, collected them into loose-leaf binder. The letters span a period from May 9th to July 31st and take up 212 typewritten pages. A cover page is titled “Letters Home.”

Some time later I found a box containing the original handwritten letters he’d sent home to Amarillo. Each page of U. S. Army stationery is completely covered with my father’s airy, twenty-year-old hand. Written mostly in pencil, his letters tell of every mundane event, list the books and magazines he’s reading, relate the things he’s thinking about. Some of his youthful observations are stirring, almost poetic. He writes, for instance, during a time of waiting:

When a day is with me, it stays so long. But when it is away from me, it seems to have lasted so short a time.

The circus comes to town.

The circus comes to town.

I also have here a journal for the year 1947, a year of uncertainty for my father—a summer home after college, a time of girl troubles—that includes a remarkable page devoted entirely to a visit to the circus. You can almost feel from the angle of the penmanship his delight with the event before even reading the words:

The show itself was furiously thrilling. From the opening act of wild animal trainers to the closing parade of wrinkled, dust-covered elephants, one could not catch the many thrills with the eyes and ears.

(Dad was a man of wonder.)

But perhaps the most touching thing I found earlier today while going through a box old family keepsakes: his handwritten description—in white ink on the black page of a photo album—of a picture he’d taken of his beloved dog Bill:

Snow and a beautiful day enabled me to get this splendid shot of Bill. I got Bill in 1930 when he could hardly walk. I snapped this the winter before he was 10. This is the once-in-a-lifetime picture that turned out exactly like you wanted it to. Bill could sit up, clap his paws, play hide and seek and do other things once, but now he can still sit up. He is a swell dog.

Photo of my dad’s dog, Bill.

Photo of my dad’s dog, Bill.

(At one point the angle of his writing changes, as does its vividness, where he’s paused to replenish his ink.)

Dad’s handwriting was so legible that in 1997 I modeled a font after it. I called it Professor, after his eventual distinguished career—a career that, sure enough, involved a lot of writing (and literary translation). Right away he installed the font on his Mac and took to using it to personalize his correspondences while still typing at breakneck speed. The relative popularity of Professor tickled him no end.

Until the end.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

* * *


Work continues on Military Scribe font, meantime, due for release on the Fourth of July. Since it simulates the troop rosters of the His Majesty’s Tenth Regiment of Foot (circa late 1770s), I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at its current state by list some actual regimental names.

A draft specimen of Military Scribe (coming July 4th).

A draft specimen of Military Scribe (coming July 4th).

Abigail Adams American Scribe Austin Pen Bonhomme Richard Botanical Scribe Douglass Pen

Emily Austin Houston Pen Lamar Pen Military Scribe Old Man Eloquent

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Geographica Hand Terra Ignota Attic Antique Bonsai Broadsheet Castine

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