Monday, July 14, 2008

Indexing Tips: 1900's American Handwriting

To the young person attempting to read cursive handwriting for the very first time, or after only a brief study in school, indexing cursive documents can be difficult. In this and subsequent articles, I present handwriting styles from different eras.

Twentieth Century Handwriting Samples

First, here are several popular handwriting styles of the twentieth century. Because these are printer fonts, they don't show if some letters have multiple, acceptable forms.

  • 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 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.

    Classic Palmer (shown below) is slanted with large and small ornamental loops. New Palmer has slight variations such as a large loop around the vertical stroke on the B. Q looks like a 2. The F is one looping stroke. (New Palmer F matches the T.) T has a full vertical stroke across the top. Unlike M, N, U and V, W is pointy. Classic Palmer allows the r illustrated as well as the r used by most cursive scripts today.
    Classic Palmer script illustration courtesy Educational Fontware, Inc.
  • Zaner-Bloser script was designed by Charles Paxton Zaner (1864-1918) and was initially taught at the Zanerian Business College. Zaner-Bloser accounts for about 40% of handwriting texts in America today. Traditional Zaner-Bloser (shown below) is slanted with little ornamental loops on many uppercase characters like C, E, H and K. Q looks like a 2. F and T have full, vertical top strokes. W is pointy. (Simplified Zaner-Bloser has few loops. Q looks like a printed Q. W is rounded like M, N, U and V.)
    Traditional Zaner-Bloser script illustration courtesy Educational Fontware, Inc.
    Please excuse the poor connectors between some letters such as lmn uv and others. 
  • D'Nealian script was introduced in 1976 and already accounts for 40% of textbook sales. It is named after its inventor, Donald Neal Thurber and 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.
    D'Nealian Script illustration courtesy Educational Fontware, Inc.
  • Harcourt-Brace is slanted and curvy but has few ornamental loops. Q looks like a 2, the vertical top strokes of F and T extend only to the left and W is rounded rather than pointed.
    Harcourt-Brace Script illustration courtesy Educational Fontware, Inc.
    Please excuse my poor connectors between some letters such as lmn and yz.



  1. I'm a new member to this blog and want to start by saying how greatful I am to see such wonderful and detailed information. I am somewhere in between a professional genealogist and a dabbler, so some of the things on your blog have helped me focus more on being a serious researcher.

    Anyway, the reason I am writing is to comment on this blog about various styles of script writing. This has always fascinated me. For example, who decided that Q's should look like 2's in the first place? :-)

    I think my interest started with a story my mother told about going to a new elementary school where she got into trouble the very first day for writing in "cursive" when asked to write an essay.

    Aparently they hadn't learned to write in script at her new school and her teacher got angry at her. As far as my mother was concerned, "writing" meant cursive, while "printing" meant, well, printing! So much for apreciating advancement in children by educators. Though it was in the 1950's. :-)
    Thanks for the interesting blogs.

    1. The human frailties of elementary educators haven't changed it seems. In 2nd grade my teacher told me my father was a liar during class, because he'd explained negative numbers to me (my parents had words with the principal). They were covered in the standard 3rd grade curriculum at that school. Though that was in the 1990's... ;-).

  2. I always found it interesting that the handwriting of my parents' and grandparents' generations looked the same. It's like they were taught to "draw" their letters, because their handwriting was so similar to each other. I have a letter from my grandmother and one from her sister as well as one from my aunt (grandmother's daughter) and the handwriting is so much alike. It looks very much like the Palmer style except for the F's and T's. In my generation (Baby Boom or Gen X, I'm on the cusp), we were taught the Zaner-Bloser style (as far as I can tell) but none of us have the same handwriting. I just thought it was interesting and wanted to learn more about how the older generations could have such similar handwriting styles while the rest of us have more unique styles.


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