"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

Variants and Unique Examples



Marion E. Lewry.
Noble’s Handwriting for Everyday Use.
New York: Noble and Noble, Inc., 1953.
– This manual, from mid-century, shows the changes occurring in handwriting instruction at this time, as manuscript printing is recommended for Grades 1 and 2, with the transition to cursive writing taking place in Grade 3.




Walter B. Barbe.
Zaner-Bloser Handwriting. Workbook: Manuscript.
Columbus: Zaner-Bloser, Inc. 1977.
– This 1970s elementary school workbook is for manuscript hand, or block printing, and notably recognizes the existence of both right- and left-handed students. Zaner-Bloser, which is still in business, began as the Zanerian College of Penmanship in Columbus, Ohio, in 1888. Elmer Ward Bloser, who had been an instructor of Spencerian penmanship, came on as a partner in the 1890s. The college was incorporated into a new corporation, the Zaner-Bloser Company, in 1895, and had a bestselling writing text in 1904, The Zaner Method of Arm Movement.



Donald Neal Thurber.
D’Nealian Handwriting, Book 1.
Glenview IL: Scott Foresman Addison Wesley, 1999.
William Savage Textbook Collection.
– After the Palmer method was replaced by teaching manuscript hand followed by cursive handwriting in much of the second half of the twentieth century, one alternative approach used was D’Nealian handwriting. A sloped manuscript hand that is a building-block to a cursive hand, D’Nealian was created to alleviate the sometimes difficult transition between “ball and stick” block printing and learning a brand-new cursive script. The method is widely adopted in schools and is not without its critics, who claim its approach adds an unnecessary “third step” in the transition from block printing to full cursive script.


M. T. C. Gould, 1793-1860.
The Art of Short-Hand Writing, Compiled from the Latest European Publications, With Sundry Improvements, Adapted to the Present State of Literature in the United States.
Philadelphia, 1830.
– There are numerous historical examples of complete symbolic writing systems, shortened wordforms, the use of ligatures, and other methods for saving time when capturing the spoken word on paper, or for saving space on the written page. Likewise, language code systems have long been employed by states and individuals for every use from diplomatic communications to diary entries. Modern shorthand (tachygraphy, or occasionally called brachygraphy) dates to several early seventeenth century English texts, with numerous systems and variants continuing into the present, and stenography is the act of writing shorthand. This system by Gould is an early nineteenth century system modified for and marketed (like The Complete American Letter-Writer in Case 2) to American audiences.




“Library Hand”
Melvil Dewey, 1851-1931.
Simplified Library School Rules.
Boston: The Library Bureau, 1904.
– Dewey, besides authoring the library classification system that bears his name, was the most influential library science theorist, publisher, and educator of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He founded The Library Bureau as a library supply company in 1876. Through its publishing arm, he supplied the textbooks that trained several generations of American librarians and influenced nearly every aspect of their work, down to the specialized “library hand” developed for writing legibly on catalog cards. Dewey was also involved in spelling reform efforts (hence the use on these pages of the words “disjoind” and “alfabets”) and in later life would spell his surname “Dui.”


Charles Paxton Zaner.
Blackboard Writing.
Columbus: O. Zaner & Bloser Co., 1911.
– For teachers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, writing on the blackboard was the most efficient way to communicate quickly to an entire class. Attendant handbooks for teachers on the theory and practice of writing vertically on the blackboard were published and are numerous enough to constitute their own subgenre. This example uses photographs of writing posititions and examples of text on the blackboard to especially good effect.


Sample Letters For All Occasions
Sarah Annie Frost.
Frost's Original Letter-Writer.
New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1867.

Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Literature.
– Guides for properly composing letters for all occasions had often been included in conduct manuals, or courtesy books, intended for young ladies and gentlemen. By the nineteenth century, as some forms of universal education became more common, cheap handbooks for letterwriting proliferated for the middle class audiences, like this guide that includes "three hundred letters and notes," "together with appropriate answers to each."


The Polite Letter Writer, Or How To Correspond On All Subjects, In A Refined and Elegant Style.
New York: H. J. Ivers & Co., 1882.

Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Literature.
- This short (48 page), cheap paperback letter writing guide for business and personal use also includes chapters on conduct, wedding etiquette, and quotations to use in speeches and toasts. Note the aspiratory language in the title.

Next Page: New Office Skills, Or, Post-Handwriting



Columbia Departments Campus Libraries
Columbia Libraries and Collections