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How to Find /Acquire Examples of Everyday Handwriting by Year

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I'm making a separate post here with an answer to your question as to how to find examples of handwriting from the Spencerian era, as it might be of interest to others in the future and this makes it easier to find.

A great source of handwriting by ordinary people is, naturally, letters. After 1845 (in this country), any letter mailed required a stamp. All US stamps have a Scott number, which can be found in a stamp catalog such as this one (my favorite):

Look for a stamp made in the year you wish to see a letter from, for example Scott 65 (again, one of my favorites, as this was during Spencer's lifetime). Choose a stamp that is the cheapest to buy, you'll get more results this way in the search to follow.

Go to ebay, type in Scott 65. Refine search by choosing US stamps. Refine search further by going to Covers.
(Sometimes the search will immediately go to US stamps if you have done this search before, whereupon refine to US postal history covers)

This mornings search resulted in 223 hits. I didn't go through them all, but in the first 10 covers (envelopes), there were two with letters--great examples of everyday writing from the 1861-3 era. photos 1-4 attached). Save the images for future study, or, if you really like them, buy them to add to your collection.

Occasionally, you'll find examples of a master's work (see last photo--Flickinger) (This cover is currently for sale. These can be pricey, though, particularly if the stamp is rare. In this case, $500 or best offer. I sent a modest offer on it, but was rejected).

Erica McPhee:
Well arenít you the clever one! I never would have thought of that. Ingenious process! Thanks for sharing. And beautiful samples.  ;D

Wow! This is fantastic! Exactly what I was looking for. Very smart idea. I never thought of eBay as a source of knowledge  :)

Thank you very much.

Well, I have already started to play with my new eBay toy and definitely there is a lot of material there. If you just type "US letter" and the year, you get a lot of envelopes and letters. However, instead of calming my curiosity, this real material has put new questions in my mind. I have gone through dozens of letters from the period between 1850 and 1900, but very few seem to be written by a hand trained in Spencerian script. According to the big Spencerian revival in the calligraphic world nowadays, one may think that almost every American gentleman of the period wrote in a beautiful Spencerian way (at least, that is what I thought). But which was the real scope of the Spencerian script in those times? Was it taught in primary schools? Were there other concurrent scripts? I would appreciate if anybody knows a book or a website about this topic.

Once again thank you for sharing this fantastic tool. I have already found a couple of exemplars of the kind I was looking for: writers that surely had some kind of Spencerian training, but used the script in their own personal way (as everybody does with the system, he/she learned at school, except calligraphers  :))

Unfortunately I do not recall which rock star it was - but at my first IAMPETH conference, someone with an abundance of knowledge on the topic of penmanship explained to me that the percentage of people who are taught any of the various styles of penmanship and then end up with beautiful penmanship has remained the same over the years -- a very low percentage. With any system of writing, people end up on the bell curve - where a few people can follow the exemplar perfectly. Then the scale slides past those who do a pretty good job and eventually, tips over to those whose penmanship is functional and finally - at the other end of the curve - illegible.

As someone who has taught a lot of penmanship and had numerous conversations with others who teach - most of us agree that there has never been one system that works better than any other system. We notice that those who WANT to do better - do better. Many kids just see penmanship as torture. I've always wanted to work with a school that would allow students to choose their own style - Spencerian, Palmer, Getty-Dubay, D'Nealian (and others) to see if kids did better when they were given a choice rather than being forced into the same *box.*


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