Researching my subject, Nineteenth Century Penmanship, proved to be very interesting. My search was primarily on the internet, in the local library, and in the libraries of two colleges. I quickly discovered that my tendency to browse and go off on tangents, in my reading, was a serious problem. I found myself reading about the forensic uses of handwriting, handwriting analysis, and calligraphy. These were all very interesting, however, they were not helpful in my chosen subject. One of my first lessons was to stay focused on the subject.
I realized that within this broad subject, it would be necessary to narrow my focus down to a brief historical overview of handwriting during this time period and examine the impact of the culture on penmanship. As a former teacher, I became interested in the methods of teaching handwriting, in the 1800s, in comparison to the present day methods.
I started my search on the internet and found four articles that were informative and relevant to my subject. My search on the internet revealed an article reprinted from Country Living magazine which gave a history of the rise and fall of beautiful handwriting. Three other articles, A Social History of Penmanship, Period Penmanship, and A Brief History of Writing Instruments, were helpful in giving further insight into the 1800s and penmanship.
In the Newport News Public Library, I found the Dictionary of American Biography. It gave a biographical sketch of Platt Rogers Spencer (1800-1864), who was the creator of the Spencerian method of handwriting. Spencer had a college in Pennsylvania that specialized in commercial correspondence. He traveled around the country and taught the Spencerian hand. Spencerian was the leading method of handwriting taught in the 1800s.
The most informative book I found was in the William and Mary Library. It was A Handbook of Penmanship, published in 1870. It was a teaching guide for fine handwriting. The most striking thing about this book was the intricate instruction given for the posture and hand position of the writer. It clearly proved that handwriting, in this period, was a very physical exercise.
Another book I found at William and Mary was, The Whys and Hows of Teaching Handwriting, published in 1963. This book gives the modern philosophy and methods of teaching handwriting. The modern methods are psychologically based and focused on a more gradual introduction of handwriting. Modern methods begin with the childs own development and readiness for learning. Handwriting starts with manuscript and then moves into cursive. In the 1800s, there was no instruction in manuscript writing. Rather than the rote practice, used in the 1800s, the current practice is to have children write stories and other meaningful writing activities to practice handwriting.
American Copybooks, published in 1951, is a history of copybooks that were used in early America. I found this book at William and Mary, also. A copybook is a book that exhibits and teaches the art of alphabetical writing. It demonstrates by model and diagram how to form letters. I had planned to xerox some handwriting samples from this book. However, when I went to the machine, I realized it was only for card users, not coin operated. My plans were dashed.
I found my search fascinating. In fact, I think this subject would make an interesting article for an educational magazine. Of course, I think I just scratched the surface and to pursue it further would require more time and effort.
Summary of Findings:
Beautiful and elegant handwriting was essential for success in business, during the 1800s. This was the Victorian era, in America, when everything from china, iron grillwork, and homes were gilded and embellished. Beautiful handwriting was a part of this era. Businessmen spent hour after hour practicing and perfecting letter forms.
Pens were created from quills. The best quills were the five largest from either wing of the goose. Quill cutting was a separate skill in itself. To learn how to cut quill, the penmen had to watch an experienced quill cutter and then practice a lot to perfect the skill. Penman made their own ink out of various materials, including galls and soot. Other materials, used in penmanship, were pounce and sealing wax. Pounce was a powder used to prevent the ink from spreading. If the penman wanted his letter kept private, he needed sealing wax.
Bellis, Mary. "A Brief History of Writing Instruments." Inventors. 2000 About.Com
Malone, Dumas. Editor. Dictionary of American Biography Vol. IX. New York:
Charles Scribner, 1936
Mcdermott, Maura. "A Social History of Penmanship." 2000 Family.Com Disney
Online-New York. <http://family.disney.go.com/features/family-1997-06/dony
Mehelis, Lee. "Period Penmanship." Historical Reenactment. 2000 About.com.
Morrison, Stanley. American Copybooks. Philadelphia, Pa.: William F. Fell Co., 1951
Myers, Emma Harrison. The Whys and Hows of Teaching Handwriting. Columbus,
Ohio: Zaner Bloser Co., 1963
Seyfer, Eudora. "Penmanship in America." Country Living. November 1994. < /
Thompson, M. M. . A Handbook of Penmanship. New York: Van Antwerp, Bragg &
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