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American Cursive


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Well I tried to solicit this stuff obliquely in a couple other threads, but since I've gotten little response I decided to research it myself. :P


None of the following is original to me. This is just the result of my online research, since I didn’t want to commit to a particular style of everyday script penmanship without seeing the available options. Hopefully this is a helpful, pin-worthy reference for others. Please correct me where wrong, and feel free to add entries, information, and links which I’ve missed.

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The Roots of Penmanship (200-1850)



Roman Script

Old Roman cursive, also called majuscule cursive and capitalis cursive, was the everyday form of handwriting used for writing letters, by merchants writing business accounts, by schoolchildren learning the Latin alphabet, and even by emperors issuing commands. New Roman cursive, also called minuscule cursive or later Roman cursive, developed from old Roman cursive. It was used from approximately the 3rd century to the 7th century, and uses letter forms that are more recognizable to modern eyes; "a", "b", "d", and "e" have taken a more familiar shape, and the other letters are proportionate to each other rather than varying wildly in size and placement on a line.

sample: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7d/Hocgracili.jpg

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penmanship




Carolingian Minuscule

At the end of the eighth century, Charlemagne decreed that all writings in his empire were to be written in a standard handwriting, which came to be known as Carolingian minuscule.[12] Alcuin of York was commissioned by Charlemagne to create this new handwriting, which he did in collaboration with other scribes and based on the tradition of other Roman handwriting.[13] Carolingian minuscule was used to produce many of the manuscripts from monasteries until the eleventh century and most lower-case letters of today's European scripts derive from it.[14] Carolingian miniscule was designed for maximum legibility and featured lowercase letters, word separation and punctuation.

sample: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/Minuscule_caroline.jpg

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penmanship




Insular Script

By the 7th century common minuscule scripts in Ireland had developed to a state mature enough to be used for luxurious codices. At the same time a majuscule form, going back to the uncial script introduced in England in the 6th century, spread over Britain. Both scripts account for a separate writing phenomenon known as Insular script. Some of the masterpieces of medieval book production have been written in these bookhands. The highlight of Insular script fell between the 7th and the mid-9th century, although it was practiced up to the 19th century locally.

sample: http://www.mmdc.nl/static/media/1/88/KB%2073%20B%2024%20-%20fol%2013%20-%20detail%20S.JPG

source: http://www.mmdc.nl/static/site/palaeography_scripts/241/Regional_scripts.html





Gothic or black-letter script evolved from Carolingian in the later middle ages, circa 1200 AD, became the dominant handwriting from the twelfth century until the Italian Renaissance (1400–1600 AD). This script was not as clear as the Carolingian, but instead was narrower, darker, and denser. Because of this, the dot above the i was added in order to differentiate it from the similar pen strokes of the n, m, and u. Also, the letter u was created as separate from the v, which had previously been used for both sounds. Part of the reason for such compact handwriting was to save space, since parchment was expensive. Gothic script, being the writing style of scribes in Germany when Gutenberg invented movable type, became the model for the first type face.

alphabet: http://chestofbooks.com/architecture/Cyclopedia-Carpentry-Building-4-6/images/Fig-36-English-Gothic-Text.jpg

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penmanship





Italian humanists soon revolted against the heavy Gothic look by reverting to a more Carolingian script and inventing a cursive form of it, known as Italic. The first illustrated writing manual, La Operina, was published in 1522 by Ludovico. Elegant handwriting emerged as a status symbol, and by the 1700s penmanship schools had begun educating generations of master scribes.

alpha: http://luc.devroye.org/LaOperina1522-Page26.gif

sample: http://luc.devroye.org/LaOperina1522-Page28.gif

Source: http://luc.devroye.org/fonts-41212.html

La Operina free download:




English Roundhand & Copperplate

While Renaissance and Gothic cursive scripts continued, Italic developed for speed and clarity into Italian Copperplate and the extremely similar (?) English Roundhand which used a flexible nib, to enable shading. Written slowly, lots of finger motion. Writing models were from England, and were engraved by means of copper plates. The forms, however, were based on circular shapes, made laboriously with disconnected strokes, and hence, the style was slow and difficult to learn. By the mid-1700's, there were special schools established to teach handwriting techniques, or penmanship.


In Britain, Latin handwriting styles were popularized in the first writing manual in the 1570s. Early Victorians used a copperplate style with thick and thin strokes, but later in the 19th century, the "Vere Foster civil service" hand was most frequently taught in [England’s] schools. Only in the 1930s was the semi-cursive or joined-up style known as round hand developed.


During the United States’ infancy, master penmen were employed to copy official documents such as land deeds, birth and marriage certificates, military commissions, and other legal documents. Timothy Matlack was commissioned to write the final copy of the Declaration of Independence [in Copperplate], and Jacob Shallus penned the final copy of the Constitution of the United States of America. Among amateurs, meanwhile, signature handwriting styles became associated with various professions and social ranks; women and men were also expected to embrace flourishes unique to their sex.


more info on Roundhand: https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/index.php?/topic/7875-roundhand%3B-and-early-19th-c-english-writing/page__view__findpost__p__1198822

alphabet (Copperplate): http://luc.devroye.org/BenediktGrondal-Copperplate.gif

sample (Copperplate): http://societyofscribes.org/old/images/classes2011/fall2011/CopperplateInvitation-375.jpg

source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2006/feb/14/art



Edited by Desultor
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Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship (1850-1925)




In the mid-1800s an abolitionist and bookkeeper named Platt Rogers Spencer attempted to democratize American penmanship by formulating a cursive writing system, known as the Spencerian method and taught by textbook, that many schools and businesses quickly adopted. His writing system was first published in 1848, in his book Spencer and Rice's System of Business and Ladies' Penmanship. The most popular Spencerian manual was The Spencerian Key to Practical Penmanship, published by his sons in 1866. Ornate and sinuous, it can be seen in the original Coca-Cola logo. In contrast to English Roundhand, Spencer's system encouraged the more natural tendencies of the hand and arm muscles toward elliptical shapes and rapid, fluid lines. They were easier to produce than circular forms, and far more graceful as well. As years went by, his style of writing became more widely accepted than any other writing system, and from the 1850's into the 1920s was the standard writing system taught throughout America.

Texts on Amazon, $14: http://www.amazon.com/Spencerian-Penmanship-Theory-Book-copybooks/dp/088062096X/

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penmanship

further info: http://www.iampeth.com/lessons_spencerian.php

sample: http://www.iampeth.com/artwork/FlickingerSpec0001.jpg

alphabet: http://www.iampeth.com/lessons/spencerian/Real_pen_work/real_penwork_image9.jpg





Ornamental Penmanship / Engrossing / Engraver’s Script

In the years following the death of Platt Rogers Spencer, a number of his students continued their mentor's efforts in promoting the Spencerian System of Writing, and skilled penmen were in great demand. These first generation students of Platt Rogers Spencer not only perpetuated his legacy, but further developed the forms of Spencerian Script into a beautifully flourished style of writing called "Ornamental Penmanship". By definition, Engrossing is an art form where a body of text, usually congratulatory or memorializing in content, is designed and ornamented with elaborate border treatments and decorative words and letters. Engrossers tended to be a combination of master penmen, illustrator and designer. “This [engraver’s script] is not writing, it is drawing.” -Madarasz

example: http://www.iampeth.com/artwork/Coulter_OP.jpg

alphabet: http://www.iampeth.com/artwork/spencComp01.jpg

further resources: http://www.iampeth.com/lessons_ornamental.php

a ton of lesson links: http://www.zanerian.com/Lessons.html






Several of the penmen soon established writing schools of their own. George A. Gaskell (1845–1886), one of the most prominent, founded a school on penmanship. A student of Spencer, Gaskell authored two popular books on penmanship, Gaskell's Complete Compendium of Elegant Writing and The Penman's Hand-Book (1883).

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penmanship

example: http://www.iampeth.com/books/gaskell/gaskell_compendium_image21.jpg

further info: http://www.iampeth.com/lessons/practical_penmanship/Gaskell/gaskell_index.html




Madarasz Script

Besides being an accomplished master penman, Gaskell was also a businessman who recognized advertising opportunities. Madarasz, whose fame as a penman was fairly widespread by this time, also recognized the opportunity to further his own skills by being associated with Gaskell. It was a good association for both men, and soon the famous signature of Madarasz appeared on the advertisements for Gaskell's Compendium. Over the years, Madarasz never tired of traveling, working and teaching. He had incredible energy to devote to penmanship, and the quality of his work never faltered. His speed of execution was reputed to be faster than any penman, before or since. His style was unique, a dramatic, rather heavily shaded variety of ornamental writing. it has been said that Madarasz's penmanship style was copied by more penmen than that of any other.The Secret Of The Skill Of Madarasz, a book published by the Zaner-Bloser Company in 1911 as a tribute to the great penman.

sample: http://www.zanerian.com/MadaraszScr.JPG

Free PDF: http://www.iampeth.com/ADOBE_PDFs/Madarasz%20Book.pdf

source: http://www.zanerian.com/Madarasz1.html

more info: http://www.iampeth.com/golden_madarasz.php

even more info (search for Madarasz): http://www.iampeth.com/books.php




Palmer Method

The Palmer Method was developed by Austin Norman Palmer around 1888 and was introduced in the 1894 book Palmer's Guide to Business Writing. The Palmer Method emphasized arm movements over finger movements and used plainer, less elaborate letter shapes than the popular Spencerian script. It was a faster writing method than Spencerian, allowing it to compete more effectively with the typewriter — although it would eventually succumb just as Spencerian business writing did. The Palmer Method caught on quickly in primary schools because of both its simpler style and because its writing drills were believed to foster discipline and uniformity — though not necessarily better handwriting. It became the most popular handwriting system in the early 1900s. More than a prescribed set of glyphs, the method described the proper body, shoulder and hand movements as well as the proper teaching method. At the time of his death in 1927, over 25 million Americans had learned the Palmer Method of penmanship.

sample: http://palmermethod.com/wp-content/uploads/Page92ThisIsASpecimen.jpg

alphabet: http://palmermethod.com/wp-content/uploads/13SpecialStudiesOfTheCapitalsSmallLettersAndFigures.jpg

source: http://ancestryinsider.blogspot.com/2008/07/indexing-tips-1900-american-handwriting.html

further info: http://palmermethod.com/

further info: http://www.iampeth.com/lessons_cursive.php






In the late 1800's, Charles Zaner founded the Zanerian College of Penmanship, and later sold part interest to Elmer Bloser. Together, they founded the Zaner-Bloser Company, and created materials to be used in teaching good penmanship as part of a general education. In 1904, Zaner-Bloser published The Zaner Method of Arm Movement, a landmark text that taught the simplified style of writing learned by students at the Zanerian to children in elementary schools all over the United States. This book also applied the findings of psychologists who had discovered that young children completed manual tasks more easily if allowed to use the large arm movements that were natural to them at their early stage of motor skills development. Along with The Palmer Method it became quite popular in US schools. The Palmer cursive writing remained the standard for cursive writing into the 1950s, while Zaner-Bloser is still found in many US schools and favored in some homeschools [though probably the “continuous stroke” or “simplified” version that was introduced after D’Nealian].

modern resource: http://www.zaner-bloser.com/

alphabet: http://www.iampeth.com/books/zaner_arm_movement/zaner_arm_movement_image17.jpg

source: http://www.iampeth.com/books/zaner_arm_movement/zaner_arm_movement_index.php

source: http://www.drawyourworld.com/blog/handwriting-styles.html





Louis Henry Hausam published the "New Education in Penmanship" in 1908, called "the greatest work of the kind ever published."

more info: http://www.zanerian.com/Hausam.html

text from the book as PDF: http://www.iampeth.com/text_docs/Hausam%20System%20of%20Plain%20Penmanship.pdf

Edited by Desultor
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The Decline of Penmanship (1925-2000)




Getty-Dubay is a modern version of Italic script developed in 1976 by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay to ease the transition to cursive. Other than strokes to join the letters, only the lower-case letter 'k' and a few upper-case letters have forms different from their printed equivalents. Reportedly, about one-third of American homeschoolers (and about 7% of USA schoolchildren generally) now learn Getty-Dubay rather than conventional manuscript-then-cursive handwriting styles.

alphabet: http://g.christianbook.com/g/cms/7/314397/gettydubay.jpg

Method book on Amazon for $16: http://www.amazon.com/Write-Getty-Dubay-Program-Handwriting-Success/dp/0982776225/





D'Nealian script was introduced in 1976 by Donald Neal Thurber. It uses slanted [manuscript] letters to teach printing, in order for children to transition more easily to cursive writing. It uses a slanted form with few ornamental loops. Q looks like a 2, F and T have a full horizontal top stroke and M, N, U, V and W are rounded rather than pointed. While some cursive scripts allow breaks between certain letters, D'Nealian is fully linked. This has also become a popular method taught in U.S. schools.

sample/alphabet: http://lh4.ggpht.com/AncestryInsider/SGXVGheYgEI/AAAAAAAAAcU/j7RWfJ-ZlhY/CurDNealian7.gif

resource: http://www.pearsonschool.com/

source: http://www.dnealian.com/index.html

source: http://www.drawyourworld.com/blog/examples-of-handwriting-styles.html

source: http://ancestryinsider.blogspot.com/2008/07/indexing-tips-1900-american-handwriting.html




Harcourt Brace

Harcourt-Brace is slanted and curvy but has few ornamental loops. Similar to Zaner Bloser with minor variations in style and teaching methodology. More information on Harcourt Brace handwriting can be found at: http://www.harcourtschool.com/

sample/alphabet: http://lh3.ggpht.com/AncestryInsider/SGXVGxMSB1I/AAAAAAAAAcY/YNYKLjfIwIY/CurHarcourtBrace2.gif

source: http://ancestryinsider.blogspot.com/2008/07/indexing-tips-1900-american-handwriting.html




McDougal, Littell

Similar to Zaner Bloser with minor variations in style and teaching methodology. “Almost indistinguishable from D'Nealian.”

resource: http://www.mcdougallittell.com/

alphabet: http://g.christianbook.com/g/cms/7/314397/McDoug.jpg




Peterson Directed

Peterson includes a transition between print and cursive: Slant Print. The cursive letters end without a curve, much like the Italic styles.

alphabet: http://g.christianbook.com/g/cms/7/314397/peterson.jpg

source: http://www.peterson-handwriting.com/index.htm




Handwriting Without Tears

Handwriting Without Tears was developed by an occupational therapist. This popular style is simplified, without a slant.

alphabet: http://www.drawyourworld.com/storage/lessonstips/styles/hwotcursive.gif?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1301255832533

source: http://www.drawyourworld.com/blog/examples-of-handwriting-styles.html


Edited by Desultor
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Very interesting. Appreciate all the time you spent on the research. Handwriting Without Tears did bring a tear to my eye. Worst example of cursive ever!

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Thanks for posting. You went from not getting helpful answers to contributing to the body of knowledge here on FPN. It's nice to see the different styles displayed chronologically.


That was a lot of work.

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Wow, thanks for posting! It's so much fun seeing all the different styles! :thumbup:

Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.


"I don't wait for inspiration; inspiration waits for me." --Akiane Kramarik

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Thanks for this.


I can add that Zaner-Blosser has changed over time; the lower case letters look basically the same, but the capitals have changed a bit. Here is the current official Zaner-Blosser alphabet.



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Thank you Charles!

Fountain pens are my preferred COLOR DELIVERY SYSTEM (in part because crayons melt in Las Vegas).

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Ink comparisons: The Great PPS Comparison 366 Inks in 2016

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Thanks a lot for your research! Especially the Operina, I was looking for a think like this!

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This is really fascinating, thank you for sharing the results of your research. After seeing all of this, I think I'm going to work on D'Nealian (but without the weird Q).

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Thanks for your effort! Nice spin through the changes.


Now my head says, "Yep, now I'm going to spend the next thirty minutes practicing.

My notebook should be right here... oh look, I need to add more ink to my pen, or should I just use that one? No I'll use this one... and just refill with this... no wait... look, forgot I had this gorgeous color, and look at that one. But this nib is too fine to show off the shading. Maybe use that broad... but the bleedthrough might be a factor. What was it that SBRE Brown said about this? Hmm, better check."


"Hey there!" Oh man, he's got a Falcon with a Spencered nib! That's it... I can't wait any more I've gotta have it. Let's see John's web page is Nibs.com... OMG, somebody's selling a bottle of MB Hitchcock Red!" :yikes:


Welcome to my world.

If you say GULLIBLE real slowly,

it sounds like ORANGES.

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Thanks for posting this. I always wondered about the cursive I was taught in school. This brought back memories of the lined paper and the Husky pens and triangular slide-on grips...

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The local school district has removed cursive from the curriculum. Since, I believe that my children NEED to know how to read and write cursive...in fact, we are dooming a whole group to historical failure...I've been making my kids learn to write in cursive. We used the links and samples provided. Thank you!

Fountain pens are my preferred COLOR DELIVERY SYSTEM (in part because crayons melt in Las Vegas).

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Ink comparisons: The Great PPS Comparison 366 Inks in 2016

Check out inks sorted by color: Blue Purple Brown Red Green Dark Green Orange Black Pinks Yellows Blue-Blacks Grey/Gray UVInks Turquoise/Teal MURKY

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Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought engrossers looked like this:

But then there is another method used where all the 'strokes' are disjointed like this:

Are both rightly called engrossers?

What is the difference between engrossers and copperplate?
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Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought engrossers looked like this:
But then there is another method used where all the 'strokes' are disjointed like this:
Are both rightly called engrossers?
What is the difference between engrossers and copperplate?


The top one, technically is copperplate; and the bottom one, technically, is Engrosser's script. While the terms are more or less interchangeable, it's nice to use the correct terms. It's very much like the difference between "spencerian" and "ornamental penmanship". The Copperplate script can, theoretically, be written entirely in one dip per word. As in, it's a true cursive style. Notice how, in the first picture, the 'r' is formed in a way that is possible with only one pen stroke. While in the second image, such massive shades on the 'r' character (and others) dictate that it is impossible to write it "in a cursive style", and the letters are thus DRAWN and not WRITTEN.


However. In the first example, it shares many particular characteristics with Engrosser's script, showing the flexibility between the different "dialects" of the same script. It has several swells on the letters, and disjoints in the connections that could only have happened through pen lifts and a laborious drawing of the script. (In particular, the 'h' and 'l' letters don't have their loops connected to the base in a possible way. There's a disjoint where you can see it was drawn). Also, in the first, there are some slight swells on letters that could only have been formed on a downstroke, thus meaning it would have taken at least 2-3 pen lifts to make the letter 'h'. That's not a bad thing, but it's not "pure" copperplate.


Of course, saying it's not "pure" copperplate is rather pedantic, as it's much like saying that someone using an english accent is speaking a "truer" english than someone from texas.

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