"Born to Please":

The Art of Handwriting Instruction

Introduction | Early Modern Handwriting Manuals | The Eighteenth Century | The Spencerian and Palmer Methods | The Early Twentieth Century | Variants and Unique Examples | New Office Skills, or, Post-Handwriting

The Eighteenth Century




Denis Diderot, 1713-1784, and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, 1717-1783, eds.
Encyclopédie, ou Dictionairre Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, par une Société de Gens de Lettres.
Paris: Briasson, 1751-77.
– Published in 17 volumes of text, followed by 6 volumes of illustrative plates, followed by 4 additional text and 2 plate volumes (and a 1780 2-volume index), the Encyclopédie was the largest authoritative compilation of recorded knowledge to date. These two plates, of several illustrating the entry for Ecriture(writing), show the proper equipment needed to write and the correct method of gripping the pen. The images of young ladies and men at their writing desks refer to the article’s text on the proper posture for writing while seated.


Andrew Wright.
Court-Hand Restored: Or, The Student’s Assistant in Reading Old Deeds, Charters, &c. With an Appendix; Containing, the Ancient Names of Places in Great Britain and Ireland; and Also, an Alphabetic Table of Ancient Surnames. A Work Not Only Useful to the Learned, But Absolutely Necessary For Young Students and Others, Who May Have Occasion to Converse With Old Charters, Deeds or Records.
London: Printed for the Author, and sold by Walter Shropshire, 1788.
– Wright’s handbook, as the title implies, is a late eighteenth-century aid, primarily for law students and historians, to properly understand the scripts used in earlier legal documents and court papers. The engraving shown here, one of several in the volume, reproduces examples of a medieval court hand along with its contemporary equivalent. A large portion of the book is devoted to appendices of Latin variants of British place and family names, which are as useful today by legal scholars as they likely were in the eighteenth century: Lutetia =  Paris; Ellandunum = Wilton; Wiltshire; de Curva Spina = Creithorne.



The Complete American Letter-Writer, and Best Companion for the Young Man in Business. Containing Letters on Trade and Merchandise, Expressly Calculated for the Youth of the United States. Also, Several Forms of Precedents Used in the Transaction of Business in America. To Which Are Added, Familiar Letters on Interesting Subjects.
New-York: Richard Scott, 1807.
– A later edition of a book first published in Philadelphia in 1793, the American Letter-Writer is a compilation of sample letters for every occasion, from the formal to the familiar. Its expressed purpose is to “supply the young tradesman with a small compendium of useful knowledge, as to the business of his profession.” The less business-inclined letters are included to provide instruction and moral guidance as well as aids to various newly-encountered social situations. This reference book, coupled with some level of instruction in handwriting, would allow any young clerk or skilled tradesman to successfully negotiate the growing commercial world of the New Republic. This volume, interestingly, also includes Essays on Love, Courtship, and Marriage, To Which is Added A Complete Letter-Writer on Those Subjects, also published in New York in 1807, in a contemporary binding.

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