The Art of Penmanship is taken from "Barkham Burroughs' Encylopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information 1889", the introduction "How to Become a Handsome Writer" has been included as an indication of how times and thinking have changed over the last 100 years.

The Art of Penmanship

Art of Penmanship

How to Become a Handsome Writer.

Fancy T

The subject of the importance of good writing is as broad as its use. Reaching out in every direction, and pervading every corner of civilized society, from the humblest up to the highest employments, it is a servant of man, second only in importance to that of speech itself. In the world of business its value is seen, from the simplest record or memorandum, up to the parchment which conveys a kingdom. Without it, the wheels of commerce could not move a single hour. At night it has recorded the transactions of the Bank of England during the day; of London; of the whole world.

Through the art of writing, the deeds of men live after them, and we may surround ourselves with the companionship of philosophers, scientists, historians, discoverers and poets; and their discoveries, and reasonings and imaginings become ours. In the amenities of social life, through the medium of the pen, heart speaks to heart, though ocean rolls between. Thoughts of tenderness and affection live when we are gone, and words and deeds of kindness are not preserved by monuments alone. What fountains of grief or joy have been opened in the hearts of those who have read the records of the pen! The pen has recorded the rapturous emotions of love reciprocated. The pen has written the message of sadness which has covered life's pilgrimage with gloom. The pen has traced the record of noble and useful lives, spent in humanity's cause. The songs of the poet, the beautiful tints of his imagination, the flights of the orator in the realms of fancy, and the facts of history, would all perish as the dew of morning, without this noble art of writing.

As a means of livelihood, there is perhaps no other department of education which affords such universal and profitable employment, as writing. From the mere copyist, up to the practical accountant, and onward into that department of penmanship designated as a fine art, the remuneration is always very ample, considering the time and effort required in its acquisition.

Teachers, editors, farmers, doctors and all persons should possess a practical and substantial knowledge of writing, and should be ready with the pen. Business men must of course be ready writers, and hence, in a treatise on business, designed for the education and advancement of the youth of the country, it seems eminently fitting to first make the way clear to a plain, practical handwriting. Neatness and accuracy should characterize the handwriting of every one. Botch-work and bungling are inexcusable, as well in writing as in the transaction of business. No person has a right to cause a tinge of shame to their correspondent, by sending a letter addressed in a stupid and awkward manner, nor to consume the time of another in deciphering the illegible hooks and scrawls of a message. Every one should have the ambition to write respectably as well as to appear respectable on any occasion.


Having a suitable desk or table, arranged with reference to light, in order to learn to write, it is necessary to be provided with proper materials. Writing materials are so abundant and so cheap in these times that no excuse is afforded for using an inferior or worthless quality. The materials consist of Pens, Ink and Paper.


Steel pens are considered the best. Gold pens have the advantage of always producing the same quality of writing, while steel pens, new or old, produce finer or courser lines. Notwithstanding this advantage in favor of the gold pen, steel pens adhere to the paper, and produce a better line. The pen should be adapted to the hand of the writer. Some persons require a coarse pen, and some fine. Elastic pens in the hand of one writer may produce the best results, while a less flexible pen may suit the hand of others best. Pens are manufactured of almost an infinite grade and quality, in order to suit the requirements of all. About the only rule that can be given in selecting pens, is to write a few lines, or a page, with each of the pens on trial, and then compare the writing. If it be shaded too heavily, select a less flexible pen, if the hair lines are too delicate, select a coarser pen.


Black ink is always preferable. That which is free from sediment and flows well, should be selected. Use an inkstand with broad base as being less liable to upset. With persons in learning to write it is perhaps best to have a quality of ink which is perfectly black when put on the paper, in order that they may see the results of their labor at once. Business men and accountants prefer a fluid ink, however, which, although not black at first, continues to grow black, and becomes a very bright and durable black, notwithstanding the action of light and heat. Avoid the use of fancy colored inks, especially the more gaudy, such as blue, red or green, in writing all documents which you desire to command attention and respect.


There are almost as many grades of paper to be found in the stationery stores, as there are of pens. For practicing penmanship, nothing is more suitable than foolscap, which may be easily sewed into book-form, with cover of some different color, and thus serves every requirement. The paper should have a medium surface, neither rough and coarse, or too fine and glazed. Have a few extra sheets beside the writing book, for the purpose of practicing the movement exercises and testing the pens. Be provided at all times with a large-sized blotter, and when writing, keep this under the hand. Do not attempt to write with a single sheet of paper on a bare table or desk; there should be many sheets of paper underneath, in order to make an elastic surface.


Aimless, indifferent, or careless practice, never made a good writer, and never will. In order to succeed in this, as in other things, there must be will and determination to succeed, and then persevering and studious effort. Study the models until their forms are fixed in the mind.

Study gives form

No one can execute that which he does not clearly conceive. The artist must first see the picture on the white canvas, before he can paint it, and the sculptor must be able to see in the rough and uninviting stone, the outlines of the beautiful image which he is to carve. In writing, a clear idea of the formation of the different letters, and their various proportions, must become familiar by proper study, examination and analysis. Study precedes practice. It is, of course, not necessary, nor even well, to undertake the mastery of all the forms in writing, by study, until some have been executed. It is best that each form should, as it is taken up, be first measured and analyzed and then practiced at once.

Practice gives grace

It is the act which crowns the thought. After study, careful and earnest practice can hardly fail to make a good writer of any one. Some persons secure a good style of penmanship with less labor than others, and attain to the elegant, and beautiful formation. But it is only fair to presume that no greater diversity of talent exists in this direction than in the study of other things. All do not learn arithmetic or history with like ease, but no one will assert that all who will, may not learn arithmetic or history. And so, all who will put forth the proper exertion in study and practice may learn to write a good business style, while many of the number will attain to the elegant. The conditions of practice in writing are, Positions of the Body, Position of the Hand an Pen, and Movement.

Position of the Body


Sitting squarely fronting the desk, with feet placed firmly on the floor, and both arms on the desk, is, as a rule, the best position for practice in writing, or correspondence. The right side, may, however, be placed to the desk, with the right arm, only, resting thereon, and some persons prefer this position. Avoid crossing the feet, sitting on the edge of the chair, or assuming any careless attitude. The body should be erect, but slightly inclined forward, in order that the eye may follow the pen closely. This position will never cause curvature of the spine. The body should never be allowed to settle down into a cramped and unhealthy position with the face almost on the paper. By thus compressing the lungs and the digestive organs they are soon injured, and if the stomach lose its tone, the eyesight is impaired, there is such a close sympathy between these organs of the body. The practice of writing should be, and properly is, a healthful exercise, and injurious effects result only from improper positions of the body, at variance with good writing as well as good health.

When wearied by sitting and the effort at writing, lay aside paper and pen, arise from the chair, and take exercise and rest by walking about the room or in the open air. Then come back refreshed, and vigorous, for the practice of writing.

In general, the light should fall on the paper from the left side, thus enabling a writer to clearly see the ruled lines, and render the labor of writing easier and more rapid. If one writes left-handed, of course He will sit so as to get his light from the right side, or over the right shoulder.

Man Seated at Writing Desk


As a beautifier of the handwriting, by causing a diversity of light and shade among the letters, shading has its value; but in the practical handwriting for business purposes, it should, as a rule, be classed with flourishing, and left out. Requiring time and effort, to bring down the shades on letters, business men, clerks and telegraph operators find a uniform and regular style of writing, without shade, the best, even though it may not be as artistic.


A most necessary element in all good penmanship is uniformity. In the slope of the letters and words which form a written page there must be no disagreement. With the letters leaning about in various directions, writing is presented in its most ridiculous phase. Uniformity in the size of letters, throughout the written page; how greatly it conduces to neatness and beauty. All letters resting on the line, and being of uniform hight, adds another condition towards good penmanship. This essential element of uniformity may be watched and guarded closely and cultivated by any learner in his own practice.


As said before, it matters not so much what angle of slant is adopted in writing, provided it is made uniform, and all letters are required to conform exactly to the same slant. Writing which is nearest perpendicular is most legible, and hence is preferable for business purposes. The printed page of perpendicular type; how legible it is. But for ease in execution, writing should slant. It follows then that writing should be made as perpendicular as is consistent with ease of execution. The slant of writing should not be less than sixty degrees from the horizontal.

Position of the Body While Standing


The practical book-keeper finds it advantageous to do his writing while standing; in fact, where large books are in use, and entries are to be transferred from one to another, the work of the book-keeper can hardly be performed otherwise than in a standing position, free to move about his office. Cumbrous books necessitate a different position at the desk, from that of the correspondent, or the learner. Since large books must lie squarely on the desk, the writer, in order to have the proper position thereto, must place his left side to the desk. The body thus has the same relative position, as if squarely fronting the desk with the paper or book placed diagonally. In other words, the writer, while engaged in writing in large, heavy books, must adjust himself to the position of the books. Should the correspondent or bill clerk perform his work while standing, he would assume the same as the sitting position—squarely fronting the desk.

Man Standing at Writing Desk


Children, in learning to write, are apt to sacrifice all other good qualities of beauty, regularity and grace, for the quality of legibility, or plainness. With some older persons this legibility is considered of very little consequence, and is obscured by all manner of meaningless flourishes, in which the writer takes pride. In the estimation of the business man, writing is injured by shades and flourishes. The demand of this practical time is a plain, regular style that can be written rapidly, and read at a glance.


By a careless habit, which many persons allow themselves to fall into, they omit to attend to the little things in writing. Good penmanship consists in attention to small details, each letter and word correctly formed, makes the beautiful page. By inattention to the finish of one letter, or part of a letter of a word, oftentimes the word is mistaken for another, and the entire meaning changed. Particular attention should be devoted to the finish of some of the small letters, such as the dotting of the i, or crossing of the t. Blending the lines which form a loop, often causes the letter to become a stem, similar to the t or d, or an e to become an i. In many of the capital letters, the want of attention to the finish of the letter converts it into another or destroys its identity, such, for instance, as the small cross on the capital F, which, if left off, makes the letter a T. The W often becomes an M, or vice versa, and the I a J. Mistakes in this regard are more the result of carelessness and inattention than anything else. By careful practice a person will acquire a settled habit of giving a perfection to each letter and word, and then it is no longer a task, but is performed naturally and almost involuntarily, while the difference in the appearance of the written page, as well as the exactness and certainty of the meaning conveyed, may be incalculably great.

While practicing penmanship, or while endeavoring to correct a careless habit in writing, the mind must be upon the work in hand, and not be allowed to wander into fields of thought or imagination; by thus confining the attention, any defect or imperfection in the formation of letters may be soon mastered or corrected.

Position of the Hand and Pen.


The right arm should rest on the muscles just below the elbow, and wrist should be elevated so as to move free from paper and desk. Turn the hand so that the wrist will be level, or so that the back of the hand will face the ceiling. The third and fourth fingers turned slightly underneath the hand will form its support, and the pen, these fingers and the muscles of the arm near the elbow form the only points of rest or contact on desk or paper. The pen should point over the shoulder, and should be so held that it may pass the root of the nail on the second finger, and about opposite the knuckle of the hand. An unnatural or cramped position of the hand, like such a position of the body, is opposed to good writing, and after many years of observation and study, all teachers concur in the one position above described, as being the most natural, easy and graceful for the writer, and as affording the most freedom and strength of movement.

Avoid getting the hand in an awkward or tiresome position, rolling it over to one side, or drawing the fore finger up into a crooked shape. Hold the pen firmly but lightly, not with a grip as if it were about to escape from service. Do not say, "I can't" hold the pen correctly. Habits are strong, but will may be stronger, and if you hold the pen correctly in spite of old habits, for a few lessons, all will then be easy, and the pen will take its position at each writing exercise, with no effort whatever. Everything being in readiness, and the proper position assumed, the writer must now obtain complete control of hand and pen, by practice in movement.

Hand With Pen and Ink Bottle


One of the essentials of a practical business style of writing must be rapidity of execution, in order to be of any avail in the necessities and press of a business position. The demand of the merchant is, that his clerk shall not only write well, but with rapidity, and the volume of letters to be answered, bills to be made out, or items to be entered on the books of account, compel the clerk to move the pen with dexterity and rapidity, as well as skill. While there is great diversity among persons as to the rapidity as well as quality of their penmanship, some being naturally more alert and active than others, yet by securing the proper position of the hand, arm and body, favorable to ease and freedom of execution, then following this with careful practice in movement, until all the varied motions necessary in writing are thoroughly mastered, the person may, with suitable effort, acquire the quality of rapidity in writing, gradually increasing the speed until the desired rate is accomplished.


In the handwriting, as in other things, beauty is largely a matter of taste and education. To the man of business, the most beautiful handwriting is that which is written with ease, and expresses plainly and neatly the thought of the writer. To the professional or artistic taste, while such a hand may be regarded as "a good business hand," it would not be considered as beautiful, because it conforms to no rule as to proportion, shade, and spacing. In the practical art of writing, it is not very unfair to measure its beauty largely by its utility.



Fancy F

Finger movement, or writing by the use of the fingers as the motive power, is entirely inadequate to the requirements of business. The fingers soon become tired, the hand becomes cramped, the writing shows a labored effort, and lacks freedom and ease so essential to good business penmanship. In the office or counting-room, where the clerk or correspondent must write from morning till night, the finger movement of course cannot be used.

What is designated by writing teachers as the Whole Arm, or Free Arm Movement, in which the arm is lifted free from the desk and completes the letter with a dash or a swoop, is necessary in ornamental penmanship and flourishing, but has no place in a practical style of business writing. The man of business would hardly stop, in the midst of his writing, to raise the arm, and execute an "off-hand capital," while customers are waiting.

But adapted to the practical purposes of business is the muscular movement, in which the arm moves freely on the muscles below the elbow, and in cases of precise writing, or in the more extended letters, such as f, is assisted by a slight movement of the fingers. The third and fourth fingers may remain stationary on the paper, and be moved from time to time, or between words, where careful and accurate writing is desired, but in more rapid, free and flowing penmanship, the fingers should slide over the paper.


Having everything in readiness, the student may begin his practice on movement exercises, the object of which is to obtain control of the pen and train the muscles. Circular motion, as in the capital O, reversed as in the capital W, vertical movement as in f, long s and capital J, and the lateral motion as in small letters, must each be practiced in order to be able to move the pen in any direction, up, down, or sidewise.

The simplest exercise in movement. Try to follow around in the same line as nearly as possible. Do not shade.

0 0 8

The same exercise, only with ovals drawn out and and slight shade added to each down stroke.


Sides of ovals should be even, forming as nearly a straight line as possible. Reverse the movement as in third form.


The following three exercises embrace the essential elements in capital letters, and should at first be made large for purposes of movement:

Capital O, down strokes parallel.


Capital stem. Down stroke a compound curve. Shade low. Finish with a dash.

d d d d d d d d d

Capital loop. Curves parallel. First curve highest.

 O O O O (double overlapping loops)

Having succeeded to some extent with these exercises, the learner may next undertake the vertical movement. In order to obtain the lateral movement, which enables one to write long words without lifting the pen, and move easily and gracefully across the page, exercises like the following should be practiced:

Down strokes straight. Even and resting on line.


In all movement exercises the third and fourth fingers should slide on the paper, and the finger movement should be carefully avoided. The different movements having been practiced, they may now be combined in various forms

u u u u u n n n n n

Lateral and rolling movement combined. Vertical movement and rolling movement combined.

Do not shade the circles. Lines should be parallel.

t t t

Movement exercises may be multiplied almost indefinitely by studying the forms used in writing and their combinations. Repeating many of the small letters, such as m, u, e, r, s, a, d, h and c, also capitals D, J, P, etc., forms an excellent exercise for the learner.


In order to enable the learner to examine, analyze and criticise his writing, the following principles are given as his standards of measurements and form. By combining them in various ways the essential part of all letters in the alphabet may be formed.

(eight common strokes)

The principles must be first carefully studied, and separated into the primary lines which compose them and the form of each principle well understood. The student may then form a scale like the one following, by [pg 14] dividing the distance between the blue lines on the paper into four equal spaces, with a lightly ruled line. The letters of the small alphabet should then be placed in the scale and the height of each letter fixed in the mind.

(lowercase cursive alphabet)

Notice that the contracted letters, or those which occupy only one space, as a, m, n, o, s, v, w and e, and that part of d, g, h, q and y, found in the first space, are all well rounded and developed. These letters and parts of letters, found in the first space, form the essential part of all writing, and therefore deserve especial care. Also notice that the loop letters, above the line, such as b, f, h, k and l, extend two and one-half spaces above the blue line, while the loop below the line, such as g, f, j, q, y and z, extend one and one-half spaces below the blue line, thus two and one-half and one and one-half making the four spaces of the scale, and the upper loops on one line will just meet the lower loops of the line above, but never conflict, to the destruction of neat body writing. Notice the type of the printer. The extensions above the shorter letters are quite insignificant, and are only used to save the letter from resembling some other letter of the alphabet. They never conflict, and how legible they are.

 The Types. A Resemblance. An Absurdity.
The Types. A Resemblance. An Absurdity.

Besides, to make long loops, requires more time, and more power with the pen, while shorter loops are in every way easier to acquire, quicker, and better. Telegraph operators, some of whom are among our best business penmen, make all extended letters very short, while accountants, and business men, favor the style of short loops, well developed letters, and small capitals.

(samples of writing)
(samples of writing)

In order to practice capital letters to advantage, as well as to study them, collect in a group or family all those letters which have some one form or principle as an essential part. Take first the 6th principle, or oval, and we group the letters as follows:

O. D. C. E. P. Q. R.

The excellence of an oval depends largely on its fullness and roundness. No corners or flat sides.

(samples of writing)

In the capital loop, or 8th principle, another oval may be made within the large turn at the top, but for practical purposes the letter is perhaps better without it, and may be simplified even more, as in the N below.

(samples of writing)


Make figures small, neat, and of form exact. Each figure must show for itself, and cannot be known by those which precede or follow it, as is the case with letters. The common tendency is to make figures too large and coarse. Mind the ovals in figures and have them full and round. The chief excellence of the zero lies in its roundness; the 3, 5, 6 or 9, without care in making the ovals, may degenerate into a straight line, or simply a meaningless hook, which it would hardly be safe to use in expressing sums of money, ordering goods, or the transaction of other business.

 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 $ ¢ # % a/c 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0



Having proceeded thus far in the study and practice of writing, and having obtained the proper control of the pen through the movement exercises, all that is necessary now in order to secure a good handwriting, is continued and well-directed practice.

$1100.00 Chicago, Jan. 10./80.
Due Henry Harrington, on order, Eleven
Hundred Dollars in Merchandise, value rec'd
No. 43. Newton P. Kelley, Sr.

Ornamental Penmanship.


Fancy C
Fancy Plant

Charming and fascinating are the graceful and harmonious curves produced, when, wielded by some trained and skillful hand, the pen becomes an instrument of beauty. As by the power of speech, men may pass from the common tone of conversation up to the melodious strains of music, or may soar in flights of oratory into the sublime, until the multitude is entranced; so the capabilities of the pen are not limited to the common uses of life, but may take on forms of beauty in elegant outlines of bird, or landscape, or graceful swan or bounding stag.

Ornamental writing is not a practical art, and has no connection whatever with the practical business of life. It is in the realm of poetry. The imagery of graceful outlines must first be seen by a poetic imagination. While the great masses may acquire a good style of plain, practical penmanship, few have the necessary conception of mind, combined with the skill and dexterity of hand to become successful ornamental penmen.

Various beautiful designs or pictures may be made with the pen, in the hands of one that possesses the skill of a penman and the eye of an artist.

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