Students used it, teachers used it, and business people used it; in fact, anyone who could write used it. Even today Spencerian Script is all around you. Just drive on any road or visit a grocery store, and you’ll find an example of it.
When everything was handwritten, Spencerian Script was king. First developed in 1840 by Platt Rogers Spencer, Spencerian Script was a script style used in the U.S. from the 1850s until the 1920s when the typewriter gradually replaced it in business letters.
Remember when handwriting was a subject in school? Well, I do. But to become more familiar with the Spencerian Script System, I purchased a theory book and five copybooks similar to these, and started reading. Wow! I soon discovered that learning Spencerian Penmanship was more stringent than the timed cursive drills of my day that left a big knot on the inside portion of my right middle finger.
It was not just about forming letters in a hurry. Spencerian penmanship was an art form that needed to be studied and practiced. Students learned seven principles that were applied in their writing, which consisted of straight lines, curves, loops, capital Os, reversed ovals, and capital stems. Oh, my! And none of the letters were taught in alphabetical order but rather according to the principle that applied to them. There were other rules as well. From proper sitting positions, and correct pen holding to well-exercised hand and arm movements, students learned a system of writing that would take them from the classroom to the workplace. In fact, the style was so common that companies such as the Ford Motor Company and Coca-Cola used it in their logos.
In Dear Maude, Emily Stanton studies Spencerian Script as part of her orientation. Imagine a modern girl, who is a wiz with two thumbs on a cell phone, having to handwrite everything using an inkwell and pen with her inexperienced fingers, hands, and often her whole arm. It's no wonder that her Maude journal becomes a useful place to practice her handwriting while recording her life and all its secrets.
She addresses her frustration in this excerpt from the Prologue of For the Love of Maude:
THE BLANK PAPER begged to be covered in words, but the more I stared at its nakedness, the more it teased me, reminding me of my lack of focus. I wanted to crumple it and remove the challenge of filling its space. A paper shredder came to mind, a pair of scissors, a match; but I was alone in a white room, filled with only a metal desk, gray office chair on wheels, and the paper.
I opened the solitary drawer, extending across the front of the desk, and found among its contents a pen and pencil, a gum eraser, an inkwell, a fountain pen, and a blotter—modern and antique side by side, just like my life.
I scooped out the contents of the drawer and deposited them in a pile on the desk.
In need of inspiration, I separated the pencil from the other objects and placed it on the paper. It was orange, sharpened to a fine point and lacking the teeth marks my collection of pencils was known for in college. Unsanitary, but it guaranteed that no one would want to borrow one and forget to return it. I graduated with all my pencils intact—a small victory for a girl who lost everything else.
I ran my fingers across the paper, wishing the words would just appear, the ones that would tell my story from the beginning. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten where that was. I was lost somewhere in the middle, flailing around while everyone else went on with their lives.
I moved on to the tortoise-shell green fountain pen with a slight chip on the tip. ‘It needs a new nib.’ I closed my eyes and shook my head. ‘I shouldn’t even know what that means—no one born in 1990 should.’ With a quick swipe, I relocated the pencil and fountain pen, along with the ink bottle, blotter, and gum eraser into the drawer and slammed it closed.
And, as Emily soon discovers, being able to identify a nib is the least of her worries.
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Sources: Although this post is based on my opinion and/or experience, I did consult this article for historical details.
Next time, I’ll explore the diseases and illnesses mentioned in Dear Maude