Spencer begat, you might say, George A. Gaskell, a student of his who published two popular books on penmanship in the 1880s. Palmer was in turn an acolyte of Gaskell, publishing his own Palmer’s Guide to Business Writing in 1894. Palmer’s approach, which one historian described as “a muscular, rugged script better suited to a commercial culture,” continued to be popular into the Baby Boom years. His A.N. Palmer Co. folded in the early 1980s, an early sign of cursive’s waning role in education. Palmer competed for schoolhouse dominance with the similar but entrepreneurially different Zaner-Bloser Script. Charles Paxton Zaner founded the Zanerian College of Penmanship in Columbus, Ohio, in 1888, to prepare students for employment as “penmen.” In 1891, he sold a share of the college to Elmer Ward Bloser, whom he’d met when both were themselves penmanship students and who was now a Spencerian instructor. Broadening the curriculum to include general education, the school soon grew beyond the three students enrolled at the time of Bloser’s arrival. In 1895, it became the Zaner-Bloser Co. and began publishing instructional materials. Its landmark text would be The Zaner Method of Arm Movement, published in 1904, which incorporated findings by child-development psychologists about children’s motor-skills development.
3,000 BC | Sumerians develop cuneiform (“wedge-shaped”) writing
2,800 BC | Egyptians first use hieroglyphics
1,500 BC | Phoenicians invent the alphabet
146 BC | Rome conquers Greece and gets its alphabet
400 | First lowercase letters are developed for Roman business transactions
600 | Irish half-unicals in Bibles resemble modern lowercase letters
781 | Alcuin of York standardizes handwriting for Charlemagne
1,500s | First penmanship copybooks appear in Italy
1848 | Platt Rogers Spencer publishes his first cursive textbook
1894 | A.N. Palmer introduces the Palmer Method
- The handwriting of the Declaration of Independence belongs not to Thomas Jefferson but to Timothy Matlack, a New Jersey-born Quaker who moved to Pennsylvania (or Pensylvania, as he twice spelled it in the Declaration) in 1744.
- Puritans adopted a plain handwriting, known as copperplate (after the engraving technique) or round hand, to set themselves apart from those using the “decadent” script of the 18th century.
- The alphabet contained only 23 letters, adapted from the Greek, until the 10th century, when u was differentiated from v. The letter w, also a spinoff of v, was added in the 12th century. The last letter to join the alphabet was j, which evolved from i in the 15th century.