Handwriting of the Twentieth Century

Handwriting of the Twentieth Century

Handwriting of the Twentieth Century

Handwriting of the Twentieth Century


Illustrated throughout with examples from copybooks and personal handwriting from across the world, this wide-ranging book charts developments in the teaching and study of handwriting over the course of the 20th century.


The history of formal calligraphy has been thoroughly documented, and the demise of what people see as beautiful handwriting is frequently deplored, but the details of the teaching of this skill during this century have gone almost unrecorded. Everyday handwriting is ephemeral and school books soon disappear. It seemed important to write this history while those who learned to write at the beginning of the century, or taught the subject soon afterwards, can still tell of their experiences. the main purpose of this book is to create a historical record, however, techniques are illustrated that may be useful for teachers today, while the ever-changing views of the stylists provide examples, as well as a warning, to those who plan for the future.

An individual sample of handwriting reflects the writer's training, character and environment. Collectively, the handwriting of a population of any period is a reflection of educational thinking, but overall it is influenced and ultimately moulded by economic need, social habits and contemporary taste.

The intricate Copperplate of the eighteenth century writing master, Champion, shown opposite, reflects in one sense the skill training and leisure of those who lived and wrote at that time… the flowery decorativeness also speaks of the convoluted courtesies of the age, the gentleman's extravagant bow, the intricate yet controlled movement of the gavotte, the music of Handel, and the rococo tastes of the time. Like those social conventions, Copperplate hid under its deceptive air of grace and elegance a steely discipline. the writers were locked into a rigid movement. Only the unconventional and strongest characters broke away to develop an efficient personal hand.

Within the short space of the period covered by this present study, the changing educational policies, economic forces and inevitable technological advance radically altered the priorities and form of handwriting. These changes show in the models and examples throughout this book as an inexorable (though not entirely smooth) journey towards speed and efficiency. the downgrading of skill training and the freeing of children's creative talent have done the rest. You might say that at the end of the century we have the handwriting we deserve. That statement can be read several ways. It would be a pity to think that our students do not deserve to be taught strategies that enable them to write fast without pain. It might, however, mean that we are edging towards the flexible, efficient, personal handwriting needed to deal with the rapidly changing situation that is likely to face us in the next century.

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