• “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Suess

Sunday, November 30, 2014


This semester I am studying handwriting -
         especially old handwriting and scripts.

First we studied the whole idea of writing. How it developed and some of the history. Remember my clay tablet? That was a bit of fun to start the semester.

We learned about things to write with, and things to write on, and even the mediums used such as impressing marks in clay or wax, painting on rice paper with different brushes and inks, or perhaps a reed pen on papyrus, and all the ways pens and inks have evolved. Some in the class even made their own quill pens and inks. Here is a how to link from Youtube with lots of fun pictures of real old stuff .

We began with some fairly modern 'hands,' or 'scripts' as they are known, and are working our way back in time. Week by week we study the many different ways people learn to write.

It was easy to recognize Palmer and Spencerian scripts. These hands are fairly familiar to us in our time, and even when we tell someone their writing looks like "chicken scratching" we can usually make out some sense of what they wrote.

Famous examples of the flourished Spencerian Script are the Ford and CocaCola logos.

Copperplate Roundhand
 Next we learned Copperplate-Roundhand. That was more intense and required some attention to detail. Most difficult is to be presented with images of various hands and need to identify them by only looking at them, and define them, and state the years they were used - yes, stressful but fun, nevertheless. I still must look very carefully to discern the difference between such hands.

Our lessons have many hints about how to write each script, provide alphabets, and lined practice sheets like I used in elementary school.

The hints are generally of the following nature: "A fast way to learn copperplate script is to write the capital and lower case letters one hundred times each with a ball-point pen. Once that is done, you should have each letter imprinted into your brain, hand and eye; then you may find it easier to use a quill or flexible steel nib when you begin emphasizing the downstrokes by slight pressure increase" (because the main way to tell Spencerain and Copperplate apart is the heavier, wider down stroke in Copperplate).

Did I write letters EACH 100 times?
Are you kidding me?
I did one line each, game over!

Secretary Hand

We moved on to a variety of scripts and I actually enjoyed Secretary Hand (above). Great-Grandpa Henry Bohne wrote in a similar hand and Aunt LuRay, his daughter, taught me how to read it.

The class as a whole complained a bit. It is a difficult script for many to learn. The National Archives Paleography website has wonderful and fun tutorials and we get to spend time 'playing' there. I thought it was great fun to read some of an English Queen's personal correspondence.

My best 'Court Hand' practice sheets - as submitted.

Then we moved on to Italic and Court Hands.  I swear half of the letters in Court Hand look like the letter b or B.  Random Latin had been fun but suddenly it was in every record along with Roman numerals, Regnal year dates, and Julian versus Gregorian calendars, not to mention Feast Day Calendars. Did you know that 1752 was the shortest year because it is missing 72 days? True fact!  1 Jan 1752 - 24 March 1752, and then 2 Sept - 13 Sept 1752 never existed!

Court Hand from the National Archives Tutorials

I didn't think anything could be more difficult than Court Hand. I wondered sometimes if I were reading English, but I did well on most of my work in Court Hand. It was doable.

This coming week we study Kurrent Hand.
It's German!

I don't speak German, but my teacher does!

So I began.
Then the fun started! 

If you laugh too hard I will not be blamed for consequences. 

I am having quite an experience with Kurrent Script. I went through and printed most of the scripts near the beginning of the semester so I pulled out those practice sheets and began reading the study material. After glancing through it last week I took a screen shot of an alphabet, enlarged it to be a full sheet and printed it, hoping to study the letters and compare them while traveling. I wasn't able to, however, I do have the printout to look at.

(And please understand that the process below was all happening in a matter of a few minutes and seconds.)

I started looking at the print out and couldn't understand it or see letters in it at all! I decided to be more methodical and read about the history etc first and then examine the script. When I started reading I was puzzled. I couldn't see the letters they were showing and thought maybe I hadn't been diligent in examining them, so got the sheet again and started looking very carefully at every single letter.

I scanned the letters across the top, and then went down the first row and then the second row in the left hand column trying in vain to see any similar or familiar letters. Why, I wondered, was this writing so very different and how could I possibly learn it.

Last week Court Hand was frightful, but when I got looking at documents I could figure it out in context. It was a relief to see lots of crossover letters between the Court, Italic, and Secretary hands - they almost seem mixed together on most documents, with some documents seeming to be more one way and some seeming more distinctly another. It even has a nice title - Mixed Hand.

In Kurrent, when I got to the 3rd row in the column, with English letters, I realized they were upside down! WAIT a minute!! The whole thing was upside down!! No wonder it seemed so difficult! Reading will likely be harder in real handwriting instead of idealized writing, but now this doesn't seem too bad, after I turned it right side up. DUH!! My husband laughed out loud when I showed him. 

Ironically I have picked up the script alphabet and practice sheets upside down, several times even knowing I do that, and not realized it until I encounter an English letter upside down. And next week it gets worse - we start reading Scandinavian records.

Wish me luck - what an adventure!