Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Dying Art of Penmanship

There was a time when beautiful penmanship was considered a true art form, with lessons created by master pen men and exercises in motor-control, pen placement, and proper line and curve methods.  Because there was a desire to create in society a standardized penmanship, the lessons were incredibly elaborate and detailed. Artistic calligraphy of today was once the penmanship of small schoolchildren. Penmanship has such a lovely history.

By the 1700's penmanship was being taught in earnest in the United States. At that time, your age, gender, profession and societal rank would be revealed by your penmanship. 

English copperplate, also known as English Round Hand, became the standard writing style upon the publishing of George Bickham's copybook, The Universal Penman, in 1743.  It was the script of the upper-class colonist.

With the publishing, in 1791, of The Art of Writing, by John Jenkins, English Copperplate gave way to American Copperplate.  Its distinct American style was based on English Copperplate and became the writing style from the colonial to the antebellum period.

By 1840, American Copperplate was on the decline as it was replace by a modified round hand known as Duntonian Script; created by Alvin R. Dunton.  It was a style that well suited for young children, which coincided with the increase of regular school attendance. 

The Spencerian method was created in the early 1820's and, while it was taught during the same time period as the Duntonian Script, it's popularity would eventually make it the longest taught of the American writing styles.  Created by Platt R. Spencer, it broke down letter forms into easily reproduced elements, which could be combined to form individual letters.  While the Spencerian method was fairly easily learned, it was also beautifully ornate. 

A. N. Palmer would, in 1890, create the handwriting system that would eventually replace the Spencerian method in schools and businesses.  The Palmer Method, as it was known, did away with the majority of the ornamental flourishes previously seen in the early writing styles.  It was a much plainer script and could be written quickly; it was considered business writing style.

Unfortunately, penmanship has fallen by the wayside as computer use has become more prevalent.  It was a sad day indeed when many public school systems decided to drop cursive instruction altogether, as increased testing takes more time and resources.  My own daughter has said that, in her high school, teachers prefer students to print their homework rather than use script.  One result of this absence in education is young adult who are unable to sign a check or a legal document because they simply do not have a signature...cursive was deemed obsolete.

So much of our history has been documented only through cursive script; if this decline in penmanship continues, a large part of our cultural history will be lost and the ability to read important historical documents or even letters from ancestors long past.  Children will grow up never knowing the sense of achievement after finally working their way through each and every letter of the alphabet.

I, for one, long for a return to a life of thoughtful beauty and wish for a society based on requirements in excellence.  I believe traditional penmanship standards fulfill a functional need while, also, focusing on excellence and beauty.  Cursive script provides us with a link to our past, a connection with our present, and a portal to our future.
 Master Penman Jake Weidmann...can he save his artform?

"Writing is, of all arts, universally admitted to be that which is most useful to society. 
 It is the picture of the past, the regulator of the future, and the messenger of thought."
     ~ Motto of the International Association of Master Penmen,
 Engravers, and Teachers of Handwriting

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