Friday, December 30, 2011

The Black Art of Palmer

Thanks for coming to read "The Black Art of Palmer" about learning Penmanship and handwriting.  

This post has been rewritten, expanded, and posted on our successor blog, Frugal Guidance 2 at

Please come and visit and comment. Thanks.


A spiritual pilgrimage to low tech

Several months ago I dove into a branch of knowledge and skill that I had ignored most of my life. It's a shadowy discipline that is scorned by most schools these days. Libraries have discarded the ancient tomes. It's more obscure than The Kabbelah. It may have fewer apostles than Zoroaster. The Rosicrucians find it too much of a black art to deal with it; even Dan Brown, of The Da Vinci Code, finds it too obscure to research. It's so unknown that <gasp> there is not a single LinkedIn group to discuss it! Nevertheless, I decided to delve into that sinister branch of knowledge known to the select as "cursive handwriting," or, to the alliteratively initiated, "Palmer penmanship."

On this pilgrimage, I was confronted with questions and obstacles: Is there a place for cursive handwriting in a world of computers, wireless technology, the internet, and instantaneous communications? Is it possible to find the ancient texts that hold the secrets for the proselyte?

There are people who emphatically answer, "YES!" These are not technophobes, Luddites, or hermits living in isolated cabins in rural Wyoming plotting revenge on society. These are people who see a good hand as an essential skill to personalize communications and stand out from the crowd of mail-merged, SEO'd, and instantaneously reproduced digitized communications. These communicators know that a neatly written envelope and letter stands a better chance of being opened and read than that crooked mailing-labeled or glassined business envelope. They know, also, that a well-penned Thank You note can be treasured for years while their digitized compatriots rot in the bottom of the wastebasket.

As a novitiate, I also learned, contrary to all expectations, that good handwriting actually makes it a pleasure to sit down and write an entry into a journal, or to take the time to write a letter, or just practice forming letters during commercials while watching TV. And, when you run out of things to say, traditional writing tutors will also improve your doodles!

Even for the Black (Ink) Arts, there are centers of knowledge. Ancient Egyptians had the Library of Alexandria. Medieval Pilgrims had Santiago de Compostela. The Knights Templar had the Temple of Solomon. Renaissance monks and priests looked to The Vatican. Masons have Washington, DC (at least according to Dan Brown). Penmanship scholars have IAMPETH.

What is IAMPETH? It is an obscure group of penmen and penwomen (it's too awkward to say penpersons), who belong to the gloriously and ornately titled: The International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting. The cathedral to their branch of knowledge is found at:

Once you click on the link, you find a website unlike any you have ever seen. To find the tutorials, click on "Lessons" from the small-printed menus at the top of the opening page.

In the following Table of Contents, select "Cursive Handwriting."

The most complete method is the PDF file of Palmer's Penmanship Budget by Austin Norman Palmer, printed in 1919 when he was nearly sixty years old--a summation of his teaching career. The Palmer Method, which is probably the most famous of the handwriting tutors, is no quick-fix method. If you were to begin in a class, you would spend weeks just drawing circles and lines before working on letters. (If you're like me, though, you can dive right in to the letters, but expect to practice for a long time.) One of the nice things about this book is the extensive use of handwriting samples by other writers, with alternate, creative letter forms that Palmer, himself, must have admired or, at least, tolerated.

If the Palmer Method seems too massive a mountain to scale, a bit simpler, and a bit plainer style is found in the "Champion Method of Practical Business Writing" by Mary L. Champion, which might be a good start before diving into the full Palmer Method.

If you want an alternative, you might also look at "A Complete Compendium of Plain Practical Penmanship" by L. M. Kelchner.

Of course, you should browse around all the other books and samples in the section, too.
If you want specially designed printed sheets to practice on, go to the "Guide Sheets" section.

Modern cursive was originally designed for business handwriting before typewriters and computers took over. Cursive style is probably the most adaptable to modern ballpoint and gel pens and pencils. For real calligraphy and older letter styles, you'll need to purchase the proper pens, nibs and inks to practice. It wouldn't hurt to own a paper company, too.

For a more florid and older American style, you might want to try your hand at Spencerian Script, and there's even a separate IAMPETH section for the even more ornate "Spencerian Ladies Hand."

Others might like to try their hand at the decorative but highly legible Copperplate/Engrossers Script.

For a more modern (and more expensive) look at handwriting, the Zaner-Bloser company still leads the charge for handwriting teachers with instructional aids. These are methods for teachers and classes, not so much for self-instruction, unfortunately. Check out

Another fascinating site for ornamental penmanship is

For more handwriting and notebook paper templates (mainly for younger students), go to

For a historic look at a few styles of lettering and calligraphy

A special blog post with Tips and Resources on Penmanship & Calligraphy

As you venture on the spiritual journey, you may suddenly have an urge to delve into even more obscure branches of knowledge about pens, paper, notebooks, note-taking, ink and related technology.

Fortunately, there are oodles of websites to learn about these topics, but it can easily grow into an obsession.

And then you may want to practice using those pens and papers in a journal, or start sending letters to people... and all of a sudden you're networking!

Finally, here are two commercial sites which have extensive blog lists for everything from writing to paper, journaling, ink and creativity:

You do not have to eschew your computer and digital technology to be a penman. There are ways to import your handwritten notes, lists, To Do's, and other ephemera into your computer. In fact, modern cell phones and their cameras make it a snap to import your notes (and all those Post-Its you had all over your computer monitor) into an organized file system, such as Evernote. But that's another post for another time.

Tags: cursive, Palmer, method, handwriting, penmanship, IAMPETH, Champion, writing