National Handwriting Day
“Put your John Hancock there.” In other words, put your signature on that line.
John Hancock’s signature will probably go down in history as the most famous, and I consider one of the most attractive in appearance. To honor that famous signature, National Handwriting Day falls on his birthday, January 23rd. I have to wonder, will the actual writing of one’s name on a document to make it legal, fade away?
When you type out a letter on your computer or mobile device, you are using a style of letter font that possibly millions of other people are using. When you write a letter on paper with a pen, you are using a style of letter font that only one person in the world has: that would be you. Your handwriting is very unique. That is why they have people who actually specialize in handwriting analysis.
Your computer spits out the letters in the same exact way each time they are typed. In contrast, your handwritten letters most of the time will come close to looking the same, but they won’t be. There will be subtle changes influenced by the pressure you exert on the pen, by the speed you are writing, your vision, your eye-hand coordination, the surface you are writing on, and your emotions at that moment. Computer equals same. Handwritten equals uniqueness.
The Artifact: The note my Grandfather wrote in my Mother’s autograph book when she was a little girl. Also, a great piece of advice!
An advantage of that uniqueness of each person’s writing style, is to allow one to easily figure out who has sent you a letter before you even open the envelope because of the appearance of the address. You would smile with excitement or frown with dread. A mechanically typed envelope does not evoke those same emotions, unless of course it’s a bill which we all dread.
Penmanship can be beautiful. Especially from the 1700s and 1800s. I have in my possession record books from that time period. We are talking simple agenda notes, yet, they are written beautifully! That tells me the person writing them was so well practiced in such elaborate letter making, he/she could do it quickly and under pressure. Now that is a skill!
I come from a family of journal writers, note takers, and letter writers. They felt the strong need to record their experiences on paper.
My Dad was neat and exact in his note taking. My Mom used flowing cursive that one had to learn to decipher some of the words. Their styles reflected their personalities. Dad was a technical guy and his notes were mostly collected data and references for future use. He had to be careful when he recorded this information. Mom was all about fast recall of experiences. With that in mind I look back at family letters from previous generations and I see a lot more “experience recorders.” Yes, we are a chatty family, and I am so happy for that. These letters and journals are a wonderful peek at the past. And the fact they are on old paper, with old ink, and handwritten makes my experience all the richer.
More Artifacts: Below are writings and letters from my family collection.
1797: The inside cover of an ancestor’s ledger book. Compare the fancy “punctuation” design with that of John Hancock’s signature. Must have been all the rage back then.
1799: A page from a small ledger that kept the schoolhouse records. Again, beautiful handwriting.
1849: Fifty years later and the penmanship for the school’s Record Keeper is still wonderful.
This signature from 1837 was on the outside of a piece of paper that was then folded up to become the envelope for this legal notice. Not sure how this person or the letter relates to my family, but it was among the collection.
A common inventory record for a farm, 1870. I wonder if my relative had any idea as he sat down with his pen and ink, that his lettering would last 146 years or more? Will our printed out spread sheets last that long?
Not only is handwriting unique, beautiful and in some cases long lasting, studies are finding writing down notes helps us and students retain information. By slowing down and creating the letters instead of typing them, the brain builds up memory. It also helps one to improve their creative and clinical thinking. These new studies also found children need to learn to form letters in order to grow important pathways in the brain. I bet as my relative was listing his farm goods, he was thinking about them, and planning ahead. He was firing many neurons during the act of writing. He was exercising his brain that was multi-tasking!
I sure hope we don’t loose the ability or need to form letters by hand. Granted, typing and being able to instantly edit is very helpful. When I was younger, I wrote all my stories down on paper and the editing was pretty challenging. I would note to myself, “go to page 50 c” in order to slip in a new paragraph! Typing the finished document/manuscript/post I will continue to do, but leading up to it, I prefer to jot down ideas on paper or in my journals. This way I can add fast illustrations to remind myself of the experience or build on the idea. As you can probably guess, I have many journals. On a recent trip to the Metropolitan Museum in NY with friends, one pointed to an ancient journal displayed, then to the one I had in my hand to take notes, and teased, maybe some day yours will end up in a museum. Yes, yes, I take my journals everywhere! That was pretty funny. I will be happy if just a future relative finds them and has fun trying to decipher them as I am trying with my Ancestors’ letters.
Wishing you a Happy Handwriting Day, and may we always practice the fine art of penmanship!