Monday, June 4, 2012

American handwriting, a practical skill

Most Americans don't devote much thought to their handwriting, except to frown over how much worse it seems to be nowadays.  American handwriting, however, is not some generic natural phenomenon but a distinctive American artifact.  How we write is just as arbitrary, and odd, as driving on the right, making pants out of blue denim, putting ice in drinking water, adding lemon to a cup of tea, or spelling "analyze" with a "z."  (Or calling z "zee" and not "zed" like a Canadian.)

American handwriting came from Copperplate, by way of writing masters like Spencer and Palmer.  New materials were emerging at the same time that an expanding American economy demanded a more efficient script.

Copperplate required a very flexible pen, which performs better on expensive rag paper or parchment, restricting the teaching and use of penmanship.   Hill's Manual, 1883.
Within a generation, Spencer and Palmer had stripped the thicks and thins from Copperplate to accommodate stiff metal pens and cheaper paper.  Palmer Method of Business Writing, 1917

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