By Peter Giblett
Writing Tools Yesterday and Today
Having looked at “Library Stacks,” it got me thinking about some of the books I have in my collection, currently being shuffled to a new home in my office. I was nosing again through a book in my collection, “Script and Scribble, the rise and fall of Handwriting” by Kitty Burns Florey. Not directly about the art of writing, but interesting, nonetheless. The tools we writers use are equally fascinating.
I’ve always had rotten handwriting and that is probably the reason I learned to type as early as I could. That said, I have always been fascinated by those who express themselves elegantly through the written word.
While my father was alive, Birthday and Christmas cards always brought pleasure, as he had an elegant script, but he learned in the day when elegance was a virtue.
He also loved to add those twirls which would have made the best of calligraphers proud. It is one of the things I have missed since his death.
Palmer Shows Us How to Write in Cursive
“I learned to write longhand – cursive – in third grade at St John the Baptist Academy in Syracuse, New York,” Says Kitty Burns Florey in her book. “Above the blackboard, there was a frieze showing the italicized script we were all aiming at, in both upper and lower case and lurking in each student’s beat-up wooden desk was a Palmer method workbook.” This her introduction to handwriting.
She talks about having to write with fountain pens in her younger school days. The only time I have ever found my handwriting even halfway presentable, was when I forced myself to use a fountain pen at an older age.
At school, we sadly were the first generation to use the biro, there were dry inkwells on the desk when I started in the first year at Freemantle Junior school in Southampton, England.
Within a year or two they were gone as rising through the ranks of school, the desk became newer and didn’t have inkwells. The desks were still used, with the initials of last year’s occupant crudely engraved inside the desk lid.
Stylus, Brush, and Calamus
Something is intriguing about writing, you know old-fashioned cursive writing, which is what probably drew me to Florey’s book. She takes us through the scripts used in history, the use of stylus, brush, and Calamus for writing.
The last one I had not heard of either, they were the pens used by Romans thousands of years ago, made of grass or reed. The development of letters through the ages is also fascinating. Today roman script still influences our writing, although it has changed much over the last 2,000 years. Even I, the hater of serif-add fonts, will concede that.
The implements we used probably influenced how people wrote over the years. I am certain the writers from the middle ages had their favourite pens and quills, just as we have our favourite apps and fonts today.
Italic, or secretary hand, emerged in the 15th century and has widely influenced handwriting since that time. According to Florey, “it became popular not only with clerks, but with educated writers of the time because it was more in tune with the humanist ideals of the Renaissance, part of the turning away from the barbaric extremes of Gothic sensibility.” It was the Italians who created the first handwriting manual. Typefaces through the ages are certainly a fascinating part of this book.
The first metal nib was patented in 1803, which encouraged the poet Wordsworth to start writing, with the fountain pen as we know it today following 50 years later.
The Pen is Mightier and Altered
It was in 1938 that Laszlo Biro, a journalist from Hungary, invented the ballpoint pen (which many believe to be the beginning of the end of well-cultivated handwriting).
Florey gives us a background in the golden age of penmanship, led by Platt Rogers Spenser, seen as the father of handwriting in the Americas.
The Spencerian script, regarded as the basis for modern handwriting is not limited though. It had a business impact with Coca Cola utilizing it for their logo, as have many other older companies. Computers do not include the Spenser script though.
A.N. Palmer created another influential writing method. This had the advantage that it could be used by left-handed people.
What I love about this book is that she includes a section called “writing by hand in the Digital Age.” That is so appropriate, yet who would have guessed that the fountain pen is making a comeback?
Your Favourite Writing Instrument?
When you’re not pecking away at the keyboard, what is your favourite writing instrument? Tell me in comments. Who knows, maybe my penmanship would improve.
Bio: Peter B. Giblett
Peter Giblett is a freelance editor and writer with a background in business and technology management. His current focus:
3) Community radio presenter on 4680Q’s Your City Your Voice, weekday lunchtime show in Downtown Niagara Falls.
He runs his own blog called GobbledeGoox, a blog about blogging, the name was inspired through moderating submissions and seeing the gobbledygook submitted. Provides thoughts on blogging, how to’s etc. About how to use your business blog to ensure commercial success.
Alumni of City University (London) and University of West London.
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