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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Penmanship before the (ballpoint) pen ...

In recent news stories we read that many consider the teaching of cursive writing to be passé. After all, no one actually writes anymore. Today's discipline leans towards the acquisition of keyboard skills, not pen skills, and children are expected to learn the layout of the keys at an early age.

Title page of Compendio del gran volvme dell'art del bene & leggiadramente scriuere tutte le forti di lettere e caratteri (Venetia: Appresso Aluise Sessa, 1588).

Of course this was not true in earlier ages, when writers and scribes used quills, pens (ballpoint and otherwise), pencils, crayons, lumps of charcoal, etc., for communicating their ideas. Handwriting of some sort has been a vital mode of communication across all societies and cultures since the first use of cuneiform in the third millenium B.C.E. The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library focuses especially on the preservation of written materials, as well as teaching of basic skills to undertake research with these materials.  To that end, the Library has acquired a large collection of books on handwriting over the past few decades, with works in most western European languages, as well as several works on written languages elsewhere in the world.

Tools for handwriting from the Compendio.
 In today's post we find four examples of early books dedicated to the teaching of proper handwriting from the HMML collections.  These books were digitally photographed over the summer of 2011 as part of a larger project to make HMML resources available worldwide through its online image collection, Vivarium (  These books are not yet in Vivarium, but will be soon.

At the same time, HMML is preparing these books for presentation in its online manuscript studies reference library, which will be available at: Check back periodically to see how we are doing.

Note that some of the writing samples were prepared from woodcuts and others from metal plates.  Often those from metal plates became so "flourished" that the text got lost under the flourishes! Later such "facsimiles" were produced with lithography, chromolithography, photography, and now digital photographs. But interest in studying and teaching handwriting (and penmanship) date back at least to the sixteenth century.

 To see any of the images below in large size and to view a slide show of the pictures, click on an image.

The author of the Compendio, Giovanni Battista Palatino.

A sixteenth-century rebus in Italian, from the Compendio.

A close-up of the rebus - the first line starts: "Dove son ..."

Hebrew characters in the Compendio.

Other character sets and alphabets, including Ethiopic.
Title page from Johann Gottfried Weber's Allgemeine Anweisung der neuesten Schönschreibkunst (Duisburg am Rhein, [1780]).

From the Allgemeine Anweisung: "Bemühe dich eine deutliche, gründliche und vollständige Erkenntniss deiner Pflichten zu erlangen." [i.e., Endeavor to achieve a clear, fundamental and complete understanding of your duties. -- of course, first you must be able to read this instruction in order to follow it ...]

How to cut your quill and hold it properly. From the Allgemeine Anweisung.

More elaborate writing examples from the Allgemeine Anweisung.

The Arte de Escribir, by Francisco Javier de Santiago Palomares (Madrid, 1789).

A grid pattern from the Arte de Escribir, demonstrating the proper angle of the letters.

More instructions on posture from the Arte de Escribir.
Court Hand Restored, by Andrew Wright (London: Printed for Benjamin White, 1776).

Examples of English court hands, from Court Hand Restored.

Examples of common written abbreviations from Court Hand Restored.
Examples of "running Courthand," from Court Hand Restored.

Finally, a reading test for those who have studied the previous images.

 Sic transit scriptura!