flourish by h.s. blanchard
Even though most of us spend the majority of our day banging away at keyboards, there’s nothing quite like a handwritten note. We seem to be far removed from the time when that ornamental penmanship, now reserved for weddings, was once a common characteristic of an educated individual. But even if most of us can’t write with those elaborate flourishes, we can see have a little piece of flourish design – named for the elaborate flourishes of pen. Flourishes have become a popular design motif for everything from tattoos to pillows.
image above via slang from chaos
The link between handwriting and individuality is a modern one. A second modern assumption is that reading and writing are intrinsically connected. For 17th century Americans, the two skills were completely divorced. Children learned to read first by memorizing letters, then syllables and finally complete words. The end result was the ability to read the printed word but not to write and not to read handwriting. Nearly everyone would learn to read, but only the educated few would learn to write.
how to hold a pen while flourishing from iampeth
script by francis b. courtney (1867-1952), a graduate of the spencerian business college in cleveland, ohio
For many children during that gap between learning to read and learning to write in cursive, handwriting seems like an elusive secret language. Today, most of us learn a stripped down version of the real thing. The moment to learn penmanship in America would have been in the 19th century – when the “father of American handwriting” was born.
CLICK HERE for more on flourish art and a roundup of flourish art in contemporary design!
flourish by francis b. courtney (1867-1952)
Gems of Flourishing Charles Paxton Zaner, 1888
Platt Rogers Spencer was born in 1800 near the Hudson River. His family was too poor to afford paper so Spencer practiced on whatever was handy – leaves, bark, snow and sand – everything was a canvas for handwriting.
example of spencerian script from iampeth
Spencer was only 15 when he began instructing other in the art of penmanship. He worked on perfecting his own script, which was filled with flourishes and meant to be rhythmic and comfortable. He loved nature and carried river rocks, which he’d bring out to demonstrate the perfect oval shape.
flourish by l.m. kelchner via the spencerian study group
After Spencer’s death in 1864, the popularity of his script soared as Spencer’s family (he had 11 children!) created an industry around teaching the script. Through a series of popular textbooks and business colleges throughout the United States, Spencerian became the style of penmanship. So what happen to the flourish? Modern life and the Palmer method.
That ornate pictorial calligraphy created by those fluent in the Spencerian script? That took time. The Palmer method was about speed. Rather than lift the pen as required by the more ornate scripts, such as the Spencerian method, the Palmer method was built around never lifting the pen from the paper. Like Spencer, A.N. Palmer began teaching penmanship when he was only a teenager. While working in Cedar Rapid as a clerk and bookkeeper, Palmer realized that the Spencerian script took a lot of time and was hard on the muscles. Palmer quit his job and went back to teaching penmanship and in 1894 his book Palmer’s Guide to Business Writing became a success.
In 1912, one million copies of Palmer’s book were sold. (The textbook was a huge hit in Catholic schools.) The International Association of Mater Penmen and Teacher of Handwriting estimate that by the time of Palmer’s death in 1927, over 25 million Americans had learned writing from the Palmer Method of Penmanship.
Facts to Know
The most well-known use of Spencerian script is, arguably, the Coca-Cola logo. The logo was designed in 1880s by the company’s bookkeeper, Frank Robinson. As a bookkeeper, Robinson was likely trained in business and penmanship at a Spencerian school.
Books to Read
Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting by Kitty Burns Florey – I found this little book to be a lot of fun. The author weaves the stories of her own experiences with handwriting in with a historical look at the subject. Highly recommended!
flourish tags by sesame letterpress
from sesame letterpress