Saturday, January 12, 2008


Many a day in elementary school was spent in bored silence. I loved science and it showed. My high school science teacher, impressed with my enthusiasm for the subject, appointed me as her lab assistant. That meant I could skip study hall and help set up the class experiments.

Math held no interest for me, and conjugating verbs and picking apart sentence structure made my head hurt. My favorite subject in grade school?



This was back when penmanship was a subject unto itself. Whole classroom sessions were devoted to it and I would lose myself in the world of ovals and loops.

Anyone over the age of 50 probably studied the Palmer Method of handwriting. Penmanship was very important and Palmer created a business devoted to teaching the subject. This lovely old Palmer book shown above was a gift from my dear friend Ellen. The book is dated 1921 by it's owner, Esther Finck, age 9 of Aurora, Iowa.


It includes photos that demonstrate the proper body position. I remember having to place our hand across the top of the paper.

It's been many years since I wrote Palmer lettering. Last night I made a feeble attempt. Do they look familiar?


My mother recognized my interest and bought me a Chinese brush painting set when I was about 10 years old. I could barely put together a cohesive thought on paper but I could produce pages and pages of Chinese figures using brush and ink.

In the early 1970's calligraphy became popular and I jumped at the chance to study with Beth House and Tim Botts. There was no way I could even dream of becoming a master calligrapher like Botts, but I could learn to produce a decent italic hand.

It isn't difficult to learn and I've taught many basic classes myself. The most interesting was when a school district called me in to teach a handwriting boot camp class to students with illegible handwriting. The students responded well when they discovered the lettering could be easily broken down into geometric shapes. It became a sort of game. In the end their handwriting became downright beautiful.

Even the simplest card can be made special with a touch of calligraphy.


My favorite of all is the beautiful daily handwriting in Lincoln's time. Every seemingly mundane document was a thing of beauty created with dip pen and ink.


Here's my lovely Waterman fountain pen. I carry it everywhere with me.


I write checks at the store. I know a debit card is easier, but I just love to write every chance I get. And besides, I hate, hate, hate those etch-a-sketch screens you sign your name on when you're using a charge card. Just looking at the sloppy mess on the screen makes my skin crawl.

So....I'm in a grocery store at the checkout counter. I whip my Waterman out of my purse and start filling out the check. The young cashier is staring, eyes as wide as saucers.

"What IS that?" she asks.

"It's a fountain pen," I answer.

I hand it to her so she can have a closer look. She turns the pen over and over as if she's holding a precious ancient artifact.

"I think they carry a simple version of this in your office supply section. You should get one and play around with it," I said.

Yes, I'm the pied piper of writing instruments!

The contest is over and a winner will be announced tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, don't forget it's Sunday which means we're going in the way-back machine! Don't miss it.


Tina said...

I've always wished I could do that!It takes more that a wonderful Waterman fountain pen doesn't it? It takes a special talent, I think. It's beautiful!

Suzanne said...

Tina - You can do it!! I promise. The Waterman fountain pen is for everyday writing the calligraphy on the envelopes was done with a calligraphic fountain pen. All it takes is desire, someone to show you little secrets and lots of practice. It's just second nature to me now.

Tina said...

Oh! I've got to get a Waterman! lol! And I have the desire!! But, I don't know anyone to show me how...wish you were close! ; - (