Writing By Hand Matters! Benefits (& History) of Penmanship

Writing By Hand Matters! Benefits (& History) of Penmanship

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Welcome back to the Gentleman's  Gazette. In today's video,   we'll discuss why the art of penmanship  seems to have faded in recent history,   but why we believe this gentlemanly  pursuit still has a place today. [Gentlemen's Gazette theme plays] Fountain pens are a regular topic of discussion  for us here at the Gentleman's Gazette as   evidenced by this playlist. But, a true gentleman  knows that not even a fancy fountain pen like a   Waterman can compensate for poor handwriting. So, a gentleman often endeavors to make sure   that his handwriting is as clear and beautiful  as the ideas he's attempting to put on the page.   For centuries, from the illuminated manuscripts  of the Middle Ages to the florid, personal   correspondence of the 18th and 19th centuries,  the ability to produce writing that was not only   legible but also beautiful was a sought  after and highly vaunted skill. Over the  

20th and into the 21st centuries, however, cultural and technological changes have   many people convinced that handwritten  correspondence is a thing of the past, and as such, an emphasis on good handwriting has  also declined precipitously in recent decades. [An example of bad handwriting] [Horror music plays] [Horror music intensifies] Printed script is used only when  filling out forms or scribbling notes,   and, for many, cursive has become  consigned exclusively to signatures. So, to find out how this all occurred, we're going  to investigate the recent history of penmanship   with a special emphasis on the fountain pen and  try to uncover the various factors that led to   its decline. And, for the sake of brevity, we  will be focusing on penmanship from a largely   Anglophonic perspective and looking only at fairly  recent history. The modern history of penmanship   begins in the middle of the 18th century when a  culture of written correspondence through letters   proliferated in Europe and North America. It was  considered a mark of intelligence and good social   standing for one to be able to write beautifully  and legibly, so handwriting was taught in both   public and private institutions. In fact, some  special schools arose that catered exclusively  

to teaching penmanship. Guide books were also  offered, and the first North American volume   entitled "The American Instructor" was published  in 1748. While there came to be many methodologies   for proper handwriting and penmanship, one  of the most influential arose in 1809 from   Joseph Carstairs, a British educator. He believed  that writing ought to be formed smoothly and made   up of one continuous stroke rather than having  letters formed from multiple individual strokes as   had been done previously. The result was a broad  and fluid script that could be written quickly and  

efficiently utilizing the movement of the entire  arm to maintain speed and control without cramping   in the wrist or in the fingers. This fluid style  was particularly useful when writing in cursive.   Penmanship courses during this period covered both  cursive and printed script, but because cursive   allowed one to write quickly as the pen didn't  need to be removed from the pages often, it was   favored for most handwritten documents. And, as  cursive was the favored script beginning around   the middle of the 19th century, the fountain pen  became the favored writing instrument. We won't   delve fully into the fountain pen and all of its  intricacies today. But, for an extensive analysis   including how it works and its history, you can  find our comprehensive guide on the subject here. For now, suffice it to say that by the end of  the 19th century, the fountain pen had become   the almost universal instrument for written  correspondence and for good reason; the   fountain pen's nib allowed for a multitude of fine  detailing and precise strokes, as well as for the   even distribution of good quality ink that easily  maintained a consistent flow, and, in particular,   the internal ink reservoir of most fountain pens  eliminated the need to return to an inkwell or   inkpot to refill the pen as one had to do when  using a dip pen or its antecedent, the quill   pen. As the 20th century began, penmanship was  considered fundamental to elementary education,

and the fountain pen reigned supreme among writing  instruments. Armed during grammar school with   sharpened pencils, students of good handwriting  in the 19th and 20th centuries would dutifully   copy out individual letters and later phrases,  sometimes filling up entire copy books as they   practiced. While dozens of different writing  manuals were employed in North America at this   time, the most popular of which were the Palmer  and Zaner-Bloser methods; nearly all of them   assumed that students were preparing to write with  fountain pens. Even later, writing systems like  

the D'Nealian method that was developed in 1978  maintained norms established by the Palmer method, such as the suggested writing grip that were  more suitable to fountain pens than ballpoint   pens. As students in the mid to late-20th  century rose through the schooling ranks and   entered the working world, however, many  of them began to write with ballpoint pens;   again, for their low cost and perceived  convenience. Indeed, ballpoint pens also   came to be distributed in schools for this  same reason. And, as you might expect,  

because there was a discord between  the tools used and the methods taught,   penmanship in schools did decline somewhat. Despite these impediments, cursive handwriting   continued to be taught in American schools well  into the 1990s, though it was increasingly seen as   archaic. In addition, to the many drawbacks we  already mentioned, many teachers thought that the   method of teaching cursive handwriting, which  relied on rote skills and repetitive practices,   amounted to simple drudgery. Other schools  de-emphasized cursive handwriting or removed   the course entirely, perhaps to focus on  increasing amounts of standardized testing that   were coming into vogue around that time. Today,  the vast majority of American schools do provide  

rudimentary instruction in basic penmanship, but  cursive is exceedingly rarely taught. In Europe,   meanwhile, courses on cursive and penmanship  are still somewhat more widely taught,  and some students are even instructed on how to  use a fountain pen. But, all of this instruction   is somewhat in decline in Europe as well. Speaking  personally, I was taught the D'Nealian method for printing in elementary school and was also  instructed in cursive as a third grader in 2003.  

Cursive wouldn't be emphasized in further years  of my schooling, however. I did stick with it, although I'm sure that some of my letterforms  have taken on unique shapes over the years. Although, I did notice that I was  one of a small handful of students   out of my larger class of 200 or so who did  keep up with writing in cursive. So, what  

then brings us to our current state of affairs  where penmanship is considered a dying art and   fountain pens are nothing more than an elegant  relic? One of the first causes for the decline   in penmanship came from the invention of new  pen technologies. For all of its many benefits,   the fountain pen wasn't without drawbacks.  In particular, the refilling process could   be time-consuming and indelicate handling  could lead to ink stains and spills. Also,   fountain pen nibs were very delicate and could  be easily damaged, especially on rough surfaces.  Massachusetts inventor John J. Loud attempted  to fix the delicate nib issue by creating,  

in 1888, a pen that dispensed ink via a tiny ball  at its point. That is to say, a "ballpoint pen."   Loud's pen, though, had difficulty maintaining  ink flow and its practical utility was severely   limited. He himself had only intended for it to  be used to write on industrial materials like   the rough leather used by tanners in the late  1930s. László Bíró, a Hungarian journalist,   improved on Loud's design by introducing a new,  more viscous ink developed by his chemist brother   György. This new more paste-like ink could still  be delivered through the ball at the pen's point,   but with a more consistent rate of flow that led  to more legible writing. Bíró's pen design grew  

in popularity and, shortly after the conclusion of  World War II, the design was sold to Marcel Bich,   the co-founder of the now-famous Bic pen  company. And, by the 1970s, a variation on the   ballpoint pen with a more smoothly flowing ink was  introduced this became known as "the rollerball"   or "gel rollerball pen." So, how did these newer  pen designs precipitate the decline of penmanship?   Well, remember first that the ballpoint pen wasn't  originally designed for fine writing. Loud wanted   a way to write on rough surfaces like leather,  and Bíró needed a pen that wouldn't need to be   refilled often and would be good for scribbling  out notes or editing newspaper stories. So,   the ballpoint is fundamentally a utilitarian pen.  It's good for writing things out in simple script, but it doesn't lend itself well to the more  beautiful art of traditional handwriting.  

The round tip, unlike a fountain pen's nib,   can't be used to create lines of varying thickness  and can't be finely controlled. And dispensing the   paste ink requires firm and consistent pressure  that can lead to a more uncomfortable experience   and indeed cramping of the hand, and also  doesn't allow for use of the whole arm. This   will affect not only comfort, but also speed  and will make it difficult to continue writing   for long periods of time. And, while gel  rollerballs have much-improved ink flow and do   address many of these concerns, they also  can't produce lines of varying thickness and,  like ballpoints, gel rollerballs also tend to be  more poorly balanced as compared to fountain pens.  One can certainly achieve fine handwriting with  a ballpoint pen or gel rollerball, of course, but   their designs aren't conducive to fine penmanship.  Ultimately, they're more of a convenient option.

But, even so, how did the new pen styles manage to  supplant the superior fountain pen so quickly? One   of the major reasons, as you might expect, is  cost. When the modern ballpoint pen was first   introduced in 1945, it sold at a price of $10,  which when adjusted for inflation would be about a hundred and twenty dollars  today. This was only slightly less   expensive than fountain pens of the time. But, to better compete with fountain pens,   ballpoint pen manufacturers found a way  to reduce costs by utilizing cheap labor,   materials, and manufacturing. In 1959, Bic debuted  its Cristal ballpoint pen, which retailed for just   19 cents or about $1.70 in today's money. And  today, of course, you can get a multi-pack of Bic  

Cristals for less than 5 cents per pen. Consumers  in the mid to late-20th century flocked to what   was cheap, convenient, and disposable,  so the ballpoint pen became ubiquitous.   But, as standards in both workmanship and ink  declined, the problems inherent to ballpoint pens   only became further exacerbated. The pursuit  of ever-cheaper prices advanced a pen that was   poorly suited to the art of fine writing and,  thus, negatively impacted the art of penmanship   overall. Ultimately then, quality penmanship best  requires a quality pen. And, as you might expect,  

quality has a cost to it. However, this doesn't  necessarily have to be a high cost. There are   excellent fountain pens available today that  cost not much more than what you would see from a   quality ballpoint pen. For example, the Pilot  Metropolitan, which retails for around $15,   is one of our picks in our roundup of inexpensive  fountain pens, which you can find here. But,  

if you're continuing on your fountain pen  journey and looking for a step up from the   base level models, you can find our guide  to intermediately priced fountain pens here   and our assessment of the Montblanc Meisterstück  and whether it's worth it here. A perfectly honed   instrument like a fountain pen is fundamentally an  investment then. And you should expect to invest   not only money but also time and practice.  Indeed, no matter the pen you choose to use, good penmanship requires time and  dedication to master. So, while it is  

true that mastering the art of fine penmanship  does require a considerable amount of work, one will typically find that putting in the  investment will give exceptional dividends and, indeed, a good deal of the strife and frustration  that some associate with practicing penmanship   can be alleviated simply by practicing with a  fountain pen instead of a ballpoint or rollerball.  On that note, this guide will teach a beginner  everything they need to know about writing with   a fountain pen, and also, be sure not to miss our  video on the most common fountain pen mistakes   here. Fortunately, learning to write  with a fountain pen is a skill that   a gentleman can easily master  in the comfort of his own home.  

All he needs to do is find a set  of letterforms that he likes, copy the upper and lower case letters, and  then get to work practicing them. Then,   once he's mastered the letterforms,  he can start trying sentences.  Pangrams like "the quick brown fox  jumps over the lazy dog" will ensure   that he gets practice with every letter and  multiple loop and ligature arrangements.

But, to return to the central  question of today's video,   improper pen usage, lower quality writing  instruments, and a decreased focus   on teaching penmanship in schools led,  somewhat, to the decline of penmanship.   However, this wasn't the only factor and  certainly not what delivered the death blow. While the widening distribution of typewriters in  the 1930s and 40s caused some to prophesize that   this would lead to the death of handwriting, these predictions were largely ill-founded. [Typewriter ad excerpt plays] "You know something? The minute   you get your hands on this wonderful portable,   you find yourself with an urge to express  yourself. Now, that can be mighty important,   not only in school but in later life." [Typewriter ad excerpt ends] Other than business and legal correspondence and  other professional applications, the typewriter   was too expensive and too impractical in most  circumstances for everyday activities like taking   notes or writing letters, and so, penmanship  persisted. But, all this changed at the close  

of the 20th century when access to cheap word  processors and desktop computers made it easy for   anyone to type almost anything. Schools that had  previously taught penmanship began to teach typing   and keyboarding, instead, and home printers made  it more convenient to print out rather than write   out school or work assignments and even personal  correspondence. And with the rise of email   and online chatting, handwritten letters were  dismissed as snail mail, and digital communication   was the preferred way to keep in touch for a  generation fixated on lightning fast speed, minimal effort, and the  latest technological trends.   Finally here, mobile phones and, especially,  smartphones provided a convenient, adaptable,  and omnipresent way to almost totally eliminate  even quotidian forms of writing like shopping   lists, schedules, and short personal notes through  specialized apps. Today, some schools have even   organized all digital curricula, outfitting their  students with individual laptops or tablets. Does   all this mean that we've finally reached the  last days of handwriting then and that soon, all   communication is going to be digital? In short, we  don't think so. Commentators have been predicting  

the death of handwriting for decades now and  while new technologies have definitely supplanted   handwriting in some areas and are easier and  more convenient, there are certain things that   digital communication simply can't do as well as  handwriting. It should be no surprise that here   at the Gentleman's Gazette, we often prefer to  do things the classic or old-fashioned way, and   there's nothing more classic (not to mention warm  and personal) than a handwritten thank you card to   a great client, a personal letter to a friend,  or even a humble postcard to one's parents.   We've discussed these types of correspondence in  this article here. It should also be reinforced   that penmanship is a valuable art in and of itself as it will allow you to create something unique   and beautiful. And for some, copying out letters  while practicing your penmanship or falling into  

the trance of writing a long letter can have  a relaxing and almost meditative quality.   And when you take into consideration that  studies have shown writing things out by   hand improves memory retention and speeds  mastery of new information, we think that   there's definitely still a place for focusing  on penmanship today. And after all, if there   weren't a place for focusing on penmanship, what  good would all these fountain pens we have be? [Animation of Raphael with  fountain pen as toothpick] So, if we've made one thing clear  today, we hope it's that penmanship   and the particular charm of a handwritten  letter are not bygone relics. But instead,   personal and beautiful mementos of a more  elegant age. We hope that you'll consider   taking up a fountain pen, practicing your  penmanship, and writing out more letters   and thank you cards soon. In today's  video, I'm wearing a more casual outfit,

good for sitting around the house and  writing out some handwritten correspondence.   It consists of a heavily-textured brown cardigan  sweater worn over an off-white shirt and navy blue   trousers with a subtle bird's eye pattern to  their weave. While the shirt is French cuffed,   I've just got simple black links in the cuffs  today, and they're configured in a barrel style   to fit more easily under the sleeves of the  sweater. My shoes are dark chocolate brown,   suede penny loafers to harmonize somewhat with  the sweater and my remaining accessories are from   Fort Belvedere. These include my pale  yellow knit tie in silk and my socks,   which are two-toned shadow striped  models in navy blue and yellow   to harmonize with both the trousers and the tie. You can find the tie and socks that I'm wearing,   as well as a wide array of other menswear  accessories in the Fort Belvedere shop here.

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2021-03-10 20:13

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