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The Context and History of Library Hand
Author's note: This article continues to be revised frequently, and any lapses, missing information, or mistakes are solely my own. The end of the article, in particular, is under heavy revision. I humbly request that you please send your notes, manuscript material, and corrections to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.The attempt in this long essay to intertwine the narratives has proven so difficult that I have spent years breaking this article into pieces and creating new articles that are more manageable to read and easier to understand. These new articles are not complete or fully edited, either, but they are an early look at material I have gathered and want to share with those interested.Articles on my wiki page:
http://davidkaminski.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_Library_Handwriting,_from_Carrie_F._Pierce_to_Melvil_Deweyhttp://davidkaminski.org/wiki/Sarah_Bliss:_A_Study_of_Handwriting_in_Librarieshttp://davidkaminski.org/wiki/A_History_of_American_Back_Hand_and_Backslant_Handwriting_and_Penmanshiphttp://davidkaminski.org/wiki/Telegraph_Hand,_or_Railway_Hand:_The_Writing_Style_of_Telegraph_Operators_in_Messages_Sent_and_Also_Received_in_Telegramshttp://davidkaminski.org/wiki/Joined-Word_Style_in_American_Handwriting_and_Penmanship:_Examining_Documents_Outside_the_Telegraph_OfficeThe history of "library hand" or "library handwriting," a distinct handwritten script used in libraries, does not begin, nor end, with Melvil Dewey, though he is at the center of its development, and it is he who most deserves credit for it. The history of library hand by necessity must be told along with the evolution of handwriting, pen nibs, ink, cast type, printing methods, and typewriters. Unfortunately, these topics cannot be fully addressed here in this article. However, this article does attempt to trace the origins of library hand as it emerged and as it still exists in the long and misunderstood history of American penmanship in all of its varieties and complexities.In this article, the focus is on the intertwining and related history of Thomas Edison and his writing style and inventions, members of the American Library Association, Melvil Dewey, Carrie F. Pierce, the history of type and typewriters, the tale and truth of John Jackson and European writing trends, the emergence of vertical and upright writing in America, manuscript writing, and the continued use of forms of library handwriting in libraries today.The full history of library handwriting is so vast that one needs to look at writing from before 1887 up through our own time today to truly understand it. While this is impossible to trace every variation that is both printed and practiced, the trends of library handwriting do seem to have some broad rules that evolve over these years, and from these we can make judgments about what elements remain in use.Introduced over 125 years ago, library hand and its variations is still being practiced and perpetuated by clerks, catalogers, librarians, and even patrons today. This is a staggering achievement for the ALA, Dewey, and the Cooperation Committee because library handwriting seems to have outlasted many of the writing styles in America.The elements that first created the need of the script were the huge increase in the volume of books being printed and collected, the rapid development and growth of the card catalog, and the need of it all to be managed more efficiently. The introduction of the script and its broad use in libraries was due to the development of the library schools by Melvil Dewey and by his dissemination of the letterforms through publications. In the library schools, the principles were well taught, dutifully learned, and enforced. These students became librarians. The small, carefully trained, and cohesive groups of librarians and clerks; the rigorous standards and rules of cataloguing and book arrangement; and the physically isolated and carefully maintained collections all served to develop and preserve this distinctive script known as library hand.As decades passed, the style persisted not only in library card catalogs but also on book spines, folders, and internal documents. Even now, items such as these that are more than a century old coexist and are intermingled with new ones. These physical objects are handled by and looked at daily by today's librarians and clerks. This has served to introduce and reinforce the style even for those working today who have no knowledge of library handwriting--and in fact, in many cases younger librarians have no knowledge they are even using it or that it is distinct from their own personal style of writing.As a way to understand this in a broader sense or to see it through a different lens, one might look to cultural shifts and trends, methods of learning and education, the evolution of the labor force, the changing nature of business tools and equipment, the modes of business, and the preservation of knowledge. Most helpful, though, as a way of thinking about library handwriting might be to see it as a product of influences, variations, and ultimately isolation--libraries across the United States and many countries as their own archipelago of Galapagos Islands, diverse and yet distinct in their handwriting.UNDERSTANDING EDISON'S WRITING STYLE IN THE CONTEXT OF AMERICAN HANDWRITINGBorn in 1847, Thomas Edison grew up at a time when writing was continuing to evolve and to change. There were thoughtful penman as well as some less gifted who were publishing their writing books and developing their own styles. And perhaps, therefore, it should not be surprising that as an inventor himself, Edison, too, developed his own writing style. Yet, one must also understand how unique his style was, and how useful it was as an idea and a model for Dewey and the other librarians. But before we explore that further, first, let us turn to the milieu at the time, and briefly, to the confusion existing in some of the written history and in our present time.In these years of his childhood, much was occurring in the field of writing and penmanship. Many writing styles were being borrowed from earlier times or were introduced with variations; sometimes authors or penmen were stealing outright the work of each other. There were not only hundreds of different writing teachers, but more than a thousand--a reasonable number to arrive at, I believe, when one sees it noted in an 1849 business directory that there were 100 writing academies in New Hampshire and 272 in Rhode Island, as well as to understand that a teacher needed only to have completed a grade in order to teach it and that students themselves were often used as "ushers," as they were called, to help a master in an academy. There were writing classes held for the general public that were sometimes only lessons of a few hours; classes only for men, or only for ladies; writing taught in colleges and seminaries; public and private schools; and in classes where teachers who taught writing and penmanship were the same teachers who taught ciphering, arithmetic, drawing, book-keeping, vocal music, map drawing, ornamental needlework, and other courses. Also, authors and publishers were promoting and selling penmanship books, copy books, and writing books (some no longer in existence, and others preserved). Some teachers, penmen, and writing styles had broad appeal and influence, while others had little to none. And, for the most part, these writing styles had origins outside of the United States, though some Americans were creating styles that were either built upon these, or they created their own.Platt Rogers Spencer (born in 1800 and guilty of borrowing and stealing the work of others, but also an innovator in his own right) was a seasoned teacher and a penman who here wrote out ladies epistolary, and published his first book, Spencer & Rice's System of Ladies' Epistolary and Ornamental Penmanship, in 1848, the year after Edison's birth. Spencer is the most widely known and celebrated American penman in the years that follow. For young men seeking to promote themselves, learning such a writing style was valuable and important. Writers such as Spencer cultivated the imagination and spirit of many young people seeking to impress with their careful and practiced writing. Edison's early writing shows some initial flair and a desire to impress others, but his later teenage penmanship evolves to accommodate his own needs and purposes: to be efficient and productive, in the manner of his other inventions.Here, one can see an example to consider in contrast to Edison's style and library handwriting we will see later. Spencer celebrates the success of his style in 1856, though it is important to note that it is only one of many styles that he used and presented in books, as well as only one and that is promoted as Spencerian.Also, one should note that "Spencerian" is a term often misapplied by those who conflate the many earlier styles of penmanship either provided in books by many authors or taught in the 19th century by a great number of penmen, penwomen, writing teachers, tutors, etc., as noted on a timeline that I have begun to construct, and as mentioned in my short article "The Study of American Penmanship and Handwriting." As Albert Sherman Osborn notes in his 1910 book Questioned Documents on page 174, “The various systems of modern writing came finally to be described as a whole as Spencerian. This no doubt was due to the superiority of the system and, in large measure, to its able and energetic authors and advocates, several of whom are still living.” This confusion is also due to the fact that Spencer's sons and publishers promoted his style and many others that are not his own, yet still under his name; therefore, authorship continues to be assigned by libraries to Platt Rogers Spencer for styles he did not use nor invent for such books as Spencerian Penmanship: Vertical Edition, though its publication is more than thirty years after his death. At best, one could concede that perhaps it is credited to his son by the same name; however, cynically, one could say that it is a convenient mistake that the publishers or sons allowed to be perpetuated for the sake of profit and a greater volume of book sales. Regardless of any speculation, it is clear that both Platt Rogers Spencer and Platt Rogers Spencer, Jr. are conflated, and there is not proper disambiguation in catalog systems in libraries, as one can observe with the book Practical Writing, published in 1905, seen here in a link, and here in an image.As for Edison's early writing style, its roots are not clear, and it warrants further investigation, though it is interesting to note that Edison's boyhood penmanship does not represent the norm of a forward slanted joined script promoted by Spencer and others for centuries before him. Instead, Edison, at the age of 15, had a somewhat unimpressive mixed style of a backhanded cursive with some lettering. Save for the forward slant of the first line, the rest of the note to a friend is mostly backhand. For a reference as to what a formal backhand script looked like in this time period, one can see a left-handed writing sample from a Civil War veteran whose arm was amputated due to injuries. These veterans were not only taught to write in backhand but also in a forward slanting style. They even competed for sizable cash prizes for the best penmanship. Veterans of a number of wars missing one arm, or in some cases both arms, were sometimes very good penmen.As a growing man with an evolving writing style of his own, Edison wrote more neatly and consistently with a script that has exuberance and flair, but of no discernible origin, a vertical style, as seen here in 1866.Employed as a telegraph clerk trying to write faster and more legibly, Edison kept experimenting: writing smaller, removing the excessive flourishes, and refining and testing the upper limits of his skills until his speed could no longer be increased. The most important difference from the other writing of this time period, though, is that this style Edison developed had separated letters--not connected in a cursive manner.As we will see, inspired roughly two decades later, in part by Edison and stories of his success, Melvil Dewey and others from the American Library Association do in fact develop the first of a number of cursive and a non-cursive styles to achieve their goals: to create the most efficient (least expensive, fastest, and most legible) style of handwriting for the best possible cards in their catalogs.
Edison’s style of writing each letter individually is also used by him in business writing, such as in this letter to John Clark Van Duzer in 1868, as well as for his job as a telegraph operator.As noted on page 247 in The Medical Record, Vol. XV, No. 11, March 15, 1879, New York doctor George M. Beard, M.D., while examining writers for their ailments and style of writing, said of Edison:
When he writes slowly and with care--from fifteen to twenty-five words a minute--Mr. Edison's handwriting is phenomenally clear and beautiful, resembling copperplate printing; not in a flowing, but in a cramped hand, the letters often being separated as in print. When he rises to forty words a minute, the writing is still more cramped and less beautiful, though yet legible; with forty-nine words a minute, his writing is quite illegible.In Cassier's Magazine in December 1892, there appears a charming story of Edison being tested on his speed by other operators appears in an article by A. and W. K. L. Dickson, entitled "The Life and Inventions of Edison," in which Edison indicates he was "several words faster than any operator in the United States." In Theodore Dreiser's article "A Photographic Talk with Edison" in the February 1898 journal Success, Edison comments, "I had perfected a style of handwriting which would allow me to take legibly from the wire, long hand, forty-seven and even fifty-four words a minute," the same speed Edison claimed in the 1892 article.UNTANGLING THE SPECIFICS OF "TELEGRAPH HAND," "RAILROAD STYLE," AND "VERTICAL WRITING"Below are three differing accounts on telegraph hand and vertical writing. One must keep in mind that "vertical writing" arrived in schools and became publicly discussed in 1894, and these articles come afterwards, as part of the discussion about it.Here is an excerpt from page 151 of Joint Documents of the State of Michigan for the year 1894, in Five Volumes, Volume III, published in Lansing by Robert Smith & Co., state printers and binders in 1895:The editor of the Penman's Art Journal collected over fifty specimens of this kind of writing and found only one who wrote with as great a slant as that which we have been teaching. In any kind of business, the more speed required in writing, the nearer the vertical it will be. Journalists and telegraph operators furnish proof of the above statement, for they are compelled to write very rapidly and invariably write the vertical style. What is known among operators as good writing, is a round, upright hand. Good, because it is easily read and easily written. These men cannot hold their positions unless they can write rapidly, and they write the vertical style because it enables them to do better work and more of it.Below is an article from Owosso, Michigan's paper The Evening Argus, March 21, 1895, page 2. It is complete, as follows:Telegraphers Are Mainly Responsible for Its Introduction Here.If the vertical handwriting which is being taught in our public schools schools prevails, and becomes the ordinary handwriting, the people who enjoy its advantages will have in large measure the telegraphers to thank for it. They have been the pioneers of vertical writing. For the last twenty years almost every telegraph operator in the country has written a round, vertical hand, plainer than any other sort of handwriting known, with round, fat loops for the letters which drop below the line, and simple capitals. This telegrapher's handwriting has much in common with the English "civil service handwriting," which may have preceded it, but the civil service hand is less often vertical and has certain points of difference. Men's handwriting tends in a general way to conform to the fashion of Roman print prevalent at any time, and as the most ordinary print letter nowadays is of a round or Scottish face, it is not strange on the whole that the tendency in handwriting is toward a round letter. Women's chirography is more capricious in its fashion, though it has inclined pretty steadily now for several years toward angular Briticism.Do telegraphers write vertically, or do they have an individual slant? Teachers, why not go to them and find out? They are your neighbors, and your friends, and their experience is worthy of consideration. Read the following:Office of Western Union Telegraph Company, Emporia, Kansas, December 17, 1895.Prof. W.C. Stevenson,Dear Sir:-- I am not in favor of vertical writing for the reason that it is impossible to make speed. The pose is awkward, and the act of writing becomes laborious and tiresome. I deny that telegraphers as a class use the vertical system.Very respectfully, C.W. Cleaver, Telegrapher.(Slant 24 degrees to right)Santa Fe Depot, Emporia, Kansas, December 19, 1895.W.C. Stevenson, Esq.,Department Bookkeeping and Penmanship, State Normal School.Dear Sir: Replying to yours of the 16th inst. in regard to vertical writing I will endeavor to answer your questions as best I know how 1. Plain and even, devoid of much shading and flourishing, such as the Spencerian. 2. My writing slants. 3. I place the paper at right angles to the forearm. 4. Forearm action. 5. Do not consider vertical writing suited to the demands of business, especially for telegraph operators, with whom speed and legibility are most essential. I consider vertical writing too slow for the telegraph business and never saw an operator use it.Yours truly, H.C. Roehkig, Telegraph Operator.(Slant 28 degrees to right.)Emporia, Kansas, December 17, 1895.Prof. W.C. Stevenson, Kansas State Normal School.Dear Sir:-- In reply to your letter of the 16th inst. will say that I consider the essentials of a good style of handwriting to be legibility, speed, ease of execution and compactness. In writing I always place the paper at right angles to the forearm, and use the forearm movement assisted by a slight action of the fingers. I do not consider the so called "vertical" system suitable for a business hand as it seems to me to be unnatural, and presents a scrawling, boy-like appearance and is not to be compared to the easy, flowing, and yet compact, words as they appear when written by your system. Yours respectfully, H.W. Fisher, Teller, Citizens Bank.(Slant 37 degrees to right.)Whether the writer was an evangel or a bunco fiend still it can not be denied that there are certain styles of writing generally characteristic of various vocations or business occupations irrespective of the (im) moral tendencies of the writers. Among the most marked illustrations is the writing of telegraph operators.As the document examiner Albert S. Osborn writes in 1910 on page 184 in his Questioned DocumentsThere are certain types of writing developed in various occupations that have well known characteristics. One of these hands is that used by the telegraph operator….The manipulation of the telegrapher’s key develops a certain muscular action and skill which, no doubt, affects the writing process, and the necessity for continuity, speed and legibility, and the natural desire to copy the style of those already expert all lead to the result shown….The literary hand, the railroad style and the writing of the business clerk or bookkeeper each have certain well defined characteristics which are partly developed by the conditions and in a measure are also a result of imitation.
This style of the telegraph operator—“railroad style,” as he calls it, can be seen in figure 67 on page 144.
As he describes it, it is “Five words to line, typical word connections and circle small "o's." He adds, “the railroad clerk whose work requires boldness, strength, speed and legibility, develops a style that requires much room and is just the opposite of effeminate. The telegraph operator becomes so accustomed to writing five words to a line on telegraph blanks that he must resist his natural impulse or in any writing his hand will count off five words to a line.”
This extended discussion on "telegraph hand" or "railroad hand," while a detour from the topic of library handwriting, helps better illustrate the variety of writing in this time period, and it further allows one to see the innovation of Edison as he moved to separate letters, as Dewey did later, too. And these samples help one see clearly what each style looks like relative to the other styles discussed.While Edison's style remains largely unacknowledged in books on the history of penmanship, it is a vertical style unlike the forward slanted style of the time. However, it is fair to say that he neither authored a book on penmanship nor taught it in any institutions, and so he cannot be recognized as among those who influenced the penmanship of the nation's youth nor the broader public.A BRIEF DISCUSSION ON "CIVIL SERVICE" HANDWRITING, LORD PALMERSTON, AND VERE FOSTERThe article from The Evening Argus, March 21, 1895 brings up a point about "civil service handwriting" that cannot be left to stand on its own. The author of the article suggests that perhaps the telegraph hand owes its origins to the civil service style, but leaves that linkage vague and suggest that there are differences. Perhaps an easier statement to agree upon would be that civil service writing and telegraph hand share an origin or have similarities with "round hand."To trace the civil service style as its own distinct style, one should first look to the excellent article "Illegibility: Reading and Insecurity in History, Law and Government," by Jane Caplan. On page 107 she writes,I came across some handwritten notes by Lord Palmerston in the Foreign Office files in the National Archives. Dated between the 1830s and the 1860s, they document Palmerston’s obsessive concern with the quality of handwriting produced by FO clerks and consuls. Throughout his long career in government Palmerston fired off regular protests at the bureaucratic shortcomings of his office staff. Numerous notes in his own hand inveigh against illegible handwriting, weak syntax, sloppy style and deficient punctuation skills, as well as the poor quality of pen-nibs and the paleness of the ink used by his underlings.Caplan continues further that "The kind of legible hand he favoured can be seen from a copy of one of his earliest instructions, which was duplicated and circulated in the FO in 1833." The document that she directs the reader to is printed as follows:Foreign Office,[blank]I am directed by Viscount Palmerstonto observe to [blank] that your Despatchesare not easily legible, in consequence of the paleness ofthe Ink used in copying them; and I am to requestthat you will give directions that all Papers sent to thisOffice from your [blank] may be copied inblack Ink, and in a large round hand.I have the honour to be,[blank]Most obedienthumble Servant.Caplan also notes on page 109 that Vere Foster is in fact Palmerston's "one-time private secretary" as well, and that Palmerston insisted on clear writing partly due to his own poor eyesight.Lord Palmerston, who for decades railed against illegible writing, inspired Vere Foster with a speech "to the labourers of Romsey" in January of 1865 as well as later directed Foster in his work, according to an article titled "Palmerston Copy-Books" in the Teachers' Column of The Ragged School Union Magazine, Volumes 18, page 260, published in 1866.This address led Mr. Vere Foster, an amateur educationist, to direct his attention to the preparation of a series of copy books in which the views of Lord Palmerston have been carried out. They were submitted in manuscript to Lord Palmerston who thus wrote to the author:--. . . "I am sure people could all write and read well, and speak plain, if they would only take the trouble, but some prefer a scrawl, and feel proud of it as a peculiarity. Lord Palmerston is an enemy to the up-strokes being too thin, and contrasting too much with the down-strokes. He has therefore scratched over with his pen two of your lines, to show that all the letters should be well rounded and clear, and the up-strokes sufficiently dark not to deceive the eye, otherwise the letters seem to be only half formed."These suggestions were adopted, and almost the last letter written by that illustrious statesman was in relation to these copy-books. He says, October 3, 1865,-- "Lord Palmerston is very much pleased with your copy-books and other papers, and the success you appear to have had on this subject in every way, and he has not the slightest objection to your calling them 'The Palmerston Series of Copy-Books'; and he wishes you all success in this useful and benevolent undertaking."This same story is related in Rosemary Sassoon's Handwriting of the Twentieth Century, on page 40, in which Sassoon has earlier referenced Mary McNeil as Foster's biographer. Sassoon writes that"selected samples of handwriting...were returned with a letter from the Prime Minister's wife saying: 'Lord Palmerston is an Enemy to the upstrokes being two (sic) thin and contrasting too much with the downstrokes. He has therefore scratched over with his Pen two of your lines to shew that all the letters should be rounded and clear -- and the Upstrokes sufficiently dark not to deceive the Eye, otherwise the letters seem only half formed."While these versions of the story differ in some particulars, it is important to note both, in the hope that it will help avoid confusion in any research that follows.Considering all of these details about Palmerston and Foster, one can see that civil service hand does have origins that are more than a decade older than Edison himself; however, there is no direct relation at all between civil service hand and Edison's own style of non-script, individually lettered manuscript. Perhaps one can find some overlap of chronology between the emergence of the "telegraph hand" and "civil service handwriting," but they could also have emerged quite separately. The facts are complex, as Foster did visit the United States, and telegraph operators did travel, as did their notes, one suspects. But it is also quite probable, likely really, that these styles--all three of them--originating in round hand, all have separate influences driven by different goals and purposes particular to the professions and the people themselves.As a side note, one must acknowledge some belief that Lord Palmerston would have made a very good friend of Melvil Dewey. Both seemed to dislike greatly the illegibility of the writing of others, and both understood also the larger cost of poor writing to the systems they worked within. I cannot find any indication that they ever met or that Dewey even knew of Palmerston's influence on the beginning of civil service writing, either, but it is very possible that Dewey may have seen the civil service writing well before he devised his library handwriting. While a clear style, in many ways, its letterforms are still far from the ones he originated.EDISON, TELEGRAPH HAND, CIVIL SERVICE HANDWRITING, AND LIBRARY HANDWRITINGWhile all of these digressions may seem very far afield, they are in fact part of the pre-history and history of library handwriting. Edison's influence is discussed in full later; telegraph hand is important only because of its speed and because it is a round hand like library handwriting; civil service handwriting is a historical model whose influence is unknown at this point of research, but it is a sort of round hand, and therefore is another potential model for library handwriting.EDISON'S ELECTRIC PEN AND OTHER MECHANICAL MEANS TO IMPROVE LIBRARY EFFICIENCYAs an inventor, Edison did create the Edison Electric Pen in 1875. It required the user to hold the pen itself perpendicular to the paper, in a vertical position because the mechanics of the device required it. This was not a vertical writing style, nor did it produce vertical writing. Nor was the electric pen a pen, as it was used as a tool to perforate paper--what was described as "'common writing paper' (in Charles Batchelor’s manual, and 'Crane’s Bank Folio' paper (in George Bliss’ later manual), according to researcher Bill Burns--which was used as a stencil through which ink was pressed onto paper to make a print. It was a device which allowed the writing style of an individual to be transferred and printed onto paper, and in that sense it did facilitate the use of handwriting and was a means to disseminate information in this way.The flaws of the electric pen were many, though, as one has only to imagine using a primitive battery operated mechanical device to write by hand to create an almost invisible series of holes on thin tissue, and then to have to try to use that paper repeatedly with ink to manually reproduce copies. Anyone involved in hand printing for more than a few minutes would immediately see how limited this technology was for the average person. Anything more than a few clean copies (or a few dozen) would probably be not just tedious but verging on impossible. Edison--ever the inventor and promoter--created advertisements which indicated that a person could produce 5000 copies from a single original. This claim is remarkable, and one would have to say unbelievable. The biggest success of the electric pen came later. As noted by Bill Burns, on his site electricpen.org, "Edison's duplicating technology was licensed in 1887 to A.B. Dick, who sold it as 'Edison's Mimeograph' with considerable success."As for the electric pen's implementation in libraries, an enthusiastic advertisement for it was printed in October 1877 in The Library Journal, Vol. II., No. 2, on page 88 and a few months later in 1878 on page 242. This was but one of the technologies being tried by Melvil Dewey. The San Francisco Free Library used the electric pen for its Catalog No. 1 in 1879. The British Museum considered it as a means to reduce costs and speed the processes for creating catalogs.While the Edison Electric Pen was offered as an alternative in quality to assorted other processes like the papyrograph, which also used handwriting as its medium, even the printing press was under consideration, as made apparent by the article "On the Use of the Printing Press in Libraries, appearing in The Library Journal, Vol. 4, No. 4, April 30, 1879. Every practicable method was part of the discussion of that time about how to most efficiently create a catalog. Perhaps of some minor note, the typeface Clarendon is mentioned a number of times in printing articles, and it also appears in other library articles. There does not seem to be any direct stylistic connection between library hand and this typeface, but it might serve as a reference for one or more styles the librarians preferred.A few years later, in 1885 at Lake George, when discussing library handwriting, the librarians looked back on the invention of the papyrograph and the electric pen and found them lacking in some way or other. The librarians showed minor enthusiasm for the cyclostyle, another means of manually creating a script and many copies. Interestingly, the cyclostyle creates its own distinctive marks as a writing tool, seen here in Melvil Dewey's 1885 cyclostyle signature.A MISUNDERSTOOD CONNECTION BETWEEN DEWEY AND EDISON:
CONSIDER CAROLINE (CARRIE) F. PIERCE AS THE CREATOR OF LIBRARY HAND
Rather than let it persist for decades more that Edison and Dewey were co-creators of "library hand," please look to Caroline (Carrie) F. Pierce as the person who created the first letterforms that came to be known as "library hand." While Dewey and Edison are given credit, there is evidence that Dewey used the writing of a student in his first library school class as the model. As recalled on page 13 of the 1949 autobiography What I am Pleased to Call my Education, Harry Watson Kent, who was also in the class, said “it was a proud day when the ‘Library hand,’ the model set by Miss Carrie F. Pierce of our group (later of the Wellesley College Library), was printed by the Library Bureau and put in to general use. (This information was brought to my attention by Jane Siegel, librarian, Columbia University, Rare Book & Manuscript Library.) See my work on Pierce in the short essay "The Origins of Library Handwriting, from Carrie F. Pierce to Melvil Dewey."
As a brief aside, the personal handwriting of Carrie F. Pierce which is archived at Wellesley College Library where she worked bears no resemblance to library hand. However, the official paperwork of the library during her time there does show a competent use of library handwriting.
As for Edison's vertical writing manuscript style and its influences beyond the offices of telegraph clerks, one should pause to closely consider if Edison had an effect, or not, on the development of library hand after reading the essay on Carrie F. Pierce. The contemporaneous account of Harry Watson Kent must also be discounted to believe that either Dewey or Edison created the style of the letterforms. Could the writing of Edison had an influence? Perhaps. Could Dewey have hovered over Carrie F. Pierce and recommended any and all changes? One might or even probably expect that, if one accounts for Dewey's personality. But the highly polished myth that Edison and Dewey were co-creators of library hand seems to be less than fully true given the evidence from Kent.
The myth of Edison and Dewey as co-creators is everywhere: in books in 2014 and 2015 and in websites such as Wikipedia, here as a link and as a captured image; also, at the wiki History of the card catalog, here as a link and as a captured image. These mistakes are not anomalies, but demonstrate part of a larger issue faced by researchers in American handwriting and penmanship now and in the past. There are too few people doing work in the field and the facts are difficult to check and to verify. At a time when the internet and Wikipedia are supposed to be reliable, it makes sense for writers to expect it to be a good source. Judging from the dates listed, the incorrect information appears to have remained on the wiki library site from at least 2011, and of course these postings still remain on the sites at the time of the revision of this section of the article, in 2023. These are but just two of the many mistakes or misinformation in this field, and I would propose that authors and researchers work together to eliminate some of the misinformation that continues to be perpetuated.EDISON MENTIONED AT THE A.L.A. MEETING IN 1885The first preserved and printed discussion on library handwriting occurs at the American Library Association Lake George Conference, where Melvil Dewey, among others, attended. On September 9, 1885, he and the other librarians discussed both the speed and utility of the typewriter for cataloging, and then the librarians turned their attention to library handwriting and Edison.In conversation, Mr. Nelson mentions an article in Science in which Edison "experimented to devise the best style of penmanship for telegraph operators, selecting finally a slight back-hand, with regular round letters apart from each other, and not shaded, attaining himself by its means a speed of forty-five words a minute." (See an image of Edison's diary entry from July 12, 1885.) Nelson, suggests it might be "suitable to cards, by reason of its clearness, and the speed claimed for it." Dewey added that he was himself "conducting a series of experiments to find out what is really the most legible in catalogue drawers for the average reader in the average circumstances."A LETTER TO EDISON, ANSWERED BY HIS SECRETARYIn 1886, Dewey addresses a letter to Edison regarding his penmanship, but the response comes from Edison's secretary, Samuel Insull, in a typed note, with a sample of Edison's writing enclosed.November 3rd. 6Melvil Dewey, Esq.,Columbia College, 29th Street & Madison Avenue, City.Dear Sir:-Referring to your favor of the 21st. ulto., which hasremained unanswered owing to Mr. Edison's absence from the City,I beg to enclose you what he considers the quickest method of writing.Mr. Edison used this method when he was a telegraph operatortaking Associated Press Reports, and he claims that he couldwrite more rapidly and with less fatigue than by any other means.You will notice every letter is written separately.Yours very truly,Enc. Private Secretary.This is the only recorded communication regarding library hand, and it is not from Edison to Dewey. Judging from the careful records of both men, it seems probable that there was little if any communication of this subject beyond what is indicated in Insull's note. While Dewey does make use of an Edison Electric Pen and he does admire and enjoy Edison's electricity and electrical lighting, but it does not appear in any way that these men collaborated nor worked together at all on the development of library hand. Edison does later send letters to Dewey about maps and other such materials while Dewey is at the New York State Library in Albany, New York, but again, nothing on library hand. This letter and more about the similarities and differences between Edison's writing and library hand is also discussed later in this article.LIBRARY LISTS, LEDGERS, AND CATALOGS BEFORE THE USE OF CARDSTo understand the determination to make the library a more efficient institution, one need only to view the records of libraries at the time to see the difficulty they had in keeping records in an orderly or alphabetical manner.As stated in a student notebook from the New York State Library School on 19 January 1905, the British Museum had an unmanageable number of manuscript catalogs, "in 1850, 150 vols." and "1875: 2250 vols. of the ms. cat."At the Astor Library, where money allowed for enough staff and means to be organized, one can see how hard record books were to use.Here, we have a book that has been recopied from the earlier volume. "No. 2 (re-arranged.) (No. 1, superseded)"Image from Astor Library records collection, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public LibraryOn this and all other pages, the titles are not alphabetized. See also that the writer indicates in the image below "(For list of entire series see 'Digest' No. 1, p. 3.) see also W. Oakley's letter opposite." This information exists in the previous "superseded" digest as well as the page opposite the entry. If this title had been on a card in a catalog it would sit in a drawer along with those cards listing the other volumes. This ordering, sequencing, reorganizing, and regrouping of data is not well suited to pages in one or more bound volumes.Image from Astor Library records collection, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public LibraryHere is another image that shows a book that has deteriorated over time. Its items and their seeming lack of order were what Dewey hoped to avoid with his new systems. This page also shows the different writing styles of the people contributing to this volume as well as the later library hand in pencil.Image from Astor Library records collection, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public LibraryAnother variation on the catalog was the "slip catalogue" (not spelled "catalog," as Dewey's and the Spelling Reform Association preferred during their time of influence) that used single slips of paper or card stock, with one or more holes on the edge through which a string or piece of leather could pass. These could be updated and added to as needed. This innovation began, according to Kenneth E. Carpenter and noted on the Library History Buff blog, at Harvard and later at the Boston Athenaeum decades before Dewey and his group met in 1885. Here, we can see a single slip for Georg Ebers from the New York Society Library's catalog of the letter E. This slip catalogue has two holes for binding and is larger than the Harvard and Boston versions.New York Society Library, page from catalog volume E.LIBRARY CARD CATALOGHere, in a graphic from How Shall I Catalog My Library?, published in 1903 by the Library Bureau, one can see handwritten cards, organized and accessible.Much as the move from a scroll to the codex allowed for a non-sequential and random access to the information, the move from the bound book to the card allowed for the entries to be reorganized as needed. Further, a single card could be placed in a typewriter.TYPEWRITERS DISCUSSED AT THE ALA LAKE GEORGE CONFERENCETo return to the topic of the American Library Association Lake George Conference, which was held on September 8-11, 1885, one should know that the conference covered a great many topics, among them the typewriter and library handwriting.TYPE-WRITERS IN LIBRARIES.Mr. DEWEY. --I have been experimenting in type-writers, and have tried the Remington, the Caligraph, the Hall, the Columbia, the Sun, and the Hammond. Mr. Richardson has got some good results from the Hall. I did not get very satisfactory results on catalogue cards until I got the Hammond. I still have two Hall machines, --slow, but that is not a serious consideration in cataloguing, as it would be in commercial matters. The Hammond has an action somewhat like the Remington, but instead of working over a cylinder, it works against a flat surface, thus allowing the best of work on flat, stiff cards. Another peculiarity is, that the whole set of type can be changed in thirty seconds. You can have a special type cut for library purposes, and the manufacturers have now agreed to make for the Library Bureau a special form of machine, containing our special characters, etc., and called the Card Cataloguer. It is very perfect in its action, and gives excellent results. This is one of the library machines that we ought to utilize. The cost is the same as of the Remington.Mr. MAC. --I saw the proprietor the day before I left NewYork, and he said that he had perfected an attachment by which you could write a full card, i.e., could write clear & out to the margins on all four edges.Mr. CARR. --I was led to experiment with a type-writer,because my handwriting is very unsatisfactory. I commenced with the Remington. The first objection which arose is that you are limited to the space that the machine gives. It starts out with three methods of spacing. There are also three spaces in the Hammond. The Hall is slow, but in ordinary catalogue work, I think, will work as fast as ordinary penmanship. For correspondence the others are way ahead of it. Time is lost every time you insert a card, and to work correctly you have to figure to get each card in the place occupied by the previous one. I speak without having practical knowledge of the Hammond.Mr. DEWEY. --In the Special Library Hammond you can throw the card right in, and it is held in the exact place by special guides, so all time of adjustment is saved.Mr. CARR. --You cannot do that with the Remington. For good work the Hall is superior, and it will write on a continuous strip of paper, in which it has the advantage over other machines. The cost of the Hall is less than the others. I have found that from type-writers you cannot get the advantages you can from print--you get all your work in one set of type. You cannot get the smaller type. You are limited for emphasis to the caps and lower case, and must go through your work and mark it. All these machines, except the Hammond, are defective in not having the less usual points. We need, among others, the bracket.Mr. DEWEY. --In the Hammond Library machine all these points are supplied.Mr. CARR. --The Hall is unsatisfactory for other reasons: e.g., where it is desirable to make rapid impressions of the same character. I have seen the Caligraph, the Remington, the People's, but not the Columbia or Hammond. The Hall, so far, has answered the best of anything I have found, and I think its type is the best.Mr. DEWEY. --The Hammond aligns more perfectly than the Remington.Mr. CARR. --I think the Hall the best for indexing work. I think these slips show the best impression--that taken by the Hall. You do not lose any time in changing the work from one slip to another. I am purposing to try the Hammond. Perhaps that will answer better. Except in correspondence, very little type-writing comes into my hands, and never has a specimen of the Hammond come to my hands yet. I do not think it has been experimented with to any extent.Mr. RICHARDSON. -- I have used the Caligraph for three years. The Hall does very slow work, but it is better than nothing. After seeing it at Columbia College I made up my mind to have the Hammond at once for the simple card catalogue. If you write Russian or Roumanian or Syriac, as I often do [laughter], it can be done with the Hammond. The Hammond is decidedly better for a simple card catalogue. I like it better than the Caligraph.LIBRARY HANDWRITING AT THE ALA LAKE GEORGE CONFERENCEMost germane to this article is the talk on the second day, during which the group discusses handwriting for use in libraries. It is provided in full below.LIBRARY HANDWRITING.Mr. BORDEN. --I object to library handwriting made with a fine pen. If you are looking at a card catalogue where the lines are fine you have to get into an uncomfortable position in order to read the letters. The handwriting should be as near print as possible, and I have used lately the round writing pens. They are made in Germany, I think. They give a light up line but a very heavy down line, so that the resemblance to print is about as close as letters will admit of. I have some specimens of the writing. The usual form of letters is sufficient.Mr. NELSON. --I saw in a recent number of "Science," (Number for August 21 ; 6 : 46) [This original note is mistaken. The last numeral is a page number, which should be 146, as is seen in the image provided. Therefore, it is properly thus: Number for August 21 ; 6 : 146] in a sketch of T. A. Edison, the inventor, the statement that Edison had "experimented to devise the best style of penmanship for telegraph operators, selecting finally a slight back- hand, with regular round letters apart from each other, and not shaded, attaining himself by its means a speed of forty-five words a minute." He thought that this hand might prove suitable for cards, by reason of its clearness, and the speed claimed for it.Mr. DEWEY. --This question of library handwriting is an exceedingly practical one, and I am conducting a series of experiments to find out what is really most legible in catalogue drawers for the average reader in average circumstances. Some of the handwriting is very condensed, some very extended; some write too fine lines, and there is a lack of uniformity in some hands; so it becomes very hard reading. We ought to find out what is the most legible handwriting, and the Spencerian publishers have agreed to engrave such a hand if we will tell them which is best for library use.Dr. HOMES. --There was a magnificent well-known English hand, the round hand of forty to eighty years ago. In Paris the writing-masters advertised it as "Ecriture anglaise," and it was popular. The account-books of those days are full of specimens. Spencer and modern men have introduced a pointed hand, one which allows of constant confusion of several letters, i, m, w, n, u, r, s, t, and doubtless others. The modern final s of the writing-masters is constantly liable to be mistaken for a final r or t. Why should they intrude a change?Mr. DEWEY. --They print over one hundred different alphabets, and Dr. Homes refers to their fine and not very legible school writing-books.Prof. POLLENS. --We want a handwriting that approaches as near to type as possible, that will do away with individual characteristics, will be legible, and will allow of a fair amount of rapidity and uniformity.Mr. WHITNEY. --The trouble in handwriting is that there is apt to be too much flourishing, and that while the up stroke is made so light as not to be seen, the down one is apt to be as black as Erebus.Mr. FOSTER. -- I hope that if a system is recommended it will include numerals as well as letters.Mr. NELSON moved that the matter be referred to the Cooperation Committee. Carried.In many ways, all of these comments that the participants make are incorporated into the final letterforms as one can see in the samples later in the article. As for the Cooperation Committee, this consisted of W. I. Fletcher, librarian at Amherst College; B. P. Mann, bibliographer, U.S. Department of Agriculture; W. S. Biscoe, catalog librarian, Columbia College; C. Alex Nelson, The Astor Library, New York; Miss E. M. Coe, librarian, New York Free Public Library.To clarify a few points, there are a few details worth highlighting, though I will try not to belabor them.Dewey's comment that "We ought to find out what is the most legible handwriting, and the Spencerian publishers have agreed to engrave such a hand if we will tell them which is best for library use." It is unclear whether this ever occurred, and more research needs to be done in this respect. One should note that the letterforms that are eventually used for library hand do not resemble any style published later by any Spencerian publishers.Prof. Pollens states "We want a handwriting that approaches as near to type as possible, that will do away with individual characteristics, will be legible, and will allow of a fair amount of rapidity and uniformity." This is a comment that seems to have been largely overlooked. Rather than looking for any antecedents or influences in handwriting or other script styles, one should look to typefaces as the actual inspiration for library handwriting. Ironically, to suggest that writing should look like type, means that writing should return to its origins, since type was first modeled after script.Because I have not seen any papers by Professor Pollens, I have turned to items in the Melvil Dewey papers for some possible relation of the typewritten and printed material of the time period to library handwriting. While this is of course an unsupported connection in some respects, it provides some contemporaneous evidence upon which one can reflect and draw some comparisons.THE HISTORY OF HANDWRITING THAT LOOKS LIKE A TYPEFACEIn brief, let us remember that typefaces are in fact modeled on a style of hand-made script, whether in stone, papyrus, or paper. Therefore, to examine the origins chronologically, one must concede that script came first, and the wooden and metal type came afterwards. The tradition of writing in a style that is similar to "print" or "type" existed for millennia before Dewey and the others discuss it in 1885. Roman and many other styles of letters serve as examples of this phenomena.The American Library Association meeting goal to create a style of writing that could be quickly and efficiently written while also being easy to read is also not a new idea and, again, is very old. "Humanist minuscule" and "book hand" are two such styles, as is "round hand," which is mentioned in the committee meeting. While the full history of these styles is deep and deserves more attention, it is does not appear, on the surface of the conversation, that the librarians were looking back to Roman or European examples for inspiration.Nor does it seem that the librarians looked at the history of material created by Americans; however, to see some American samples of varied hands, as well as one that looks like "print," one can turn to the work of Abiah Holbrook, working in Boston, in 1770. Here, one sees a variety of writing styles, as well as one that looks like print. More contemporaneous with Dewey is a 1901 example by Harry Curtis Pye, from the opening of his manuscript book The Current of Mood.TYPEFACES FROM TYPEWRITERS AND PRINTED MATTER AS POSSIBLE INSPIRATION--TYPEWRITERS in 1885In 1885, what typewritten material might Pollens or Dewey himself be comparing handwriting to? Are not there some similarities among the letterforms in this type and the disjoined hand in 1887 and 1898?And here is yet another typewritten letter to Dewey with his shorthand. While fast and easy for him to write, it was of course not well suited to the public for card catalogs.Image from the Melvil Dewey papers, The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia UniversityHere is another, closer view of the same letter and the typeface. The type is of course much different from the first sample, and this typeface shares some similarities to library handwriting, in particular the 1901 disjoined hand.These typewritten samples, while only two of the period in Dewey's papers, demonstrate how important to it is to consider the existing typefaces in both typewriters and print as potential inspiration for the development of library handwriting.--TYPEWRITERS IN 1887What typewriters, beyond those mentioned, might also have played a role in both typing cards as well as inspiring Dewey and others on the Cooperation Committee? Along with the Hammond, mention by Dewey and endorsed personally by him, there is also the The World Type Writer as advertised in Library Notes, Vol. 1, No. 4, March 1887 in the same issue as the first full library handwriting article that includes an alphabet. One might wonder, if, as a less robust piece of equipment, it typed few cards; however, true or not, the ad charmingly claims that "It writes on the stiffest and narrowest catalog cards as readily as on letter sheets, and is thus preeminently THE LIBRARY WRITING MACHINE."TYPEFACES IN THE FORM OF HANDWRITINGAccording to the Type Heritage Project, the advent of "autograph script," typefaces that look like handwriting, started in the US in 1882 with the introduction of Carpenter Script, devised from the writing of Charles W. Carpenter. This was followed by others, such as Manuscript, fashioned after the writing of Mr. Phinney in 1883. Hoyt, also created in 1883, probably after the writing of A. C. Hoyt, is different because it is not a joined script, but with individual letters, best seen here. While these sorts of typefaces grew in popularity over the following several decades, it wasn't until 1897 that one identified as American vertical typeface came into being. These are clearly imitations of styles from the vertical writing trend that started in 1893/1894 in the US. One can see this in the Hansen Vertical Script and the American Type Founders Company's Vertical Writing.But to study directly some typefaces that can be found among the papers of Melvil Dewey, let us turn to those for a further exploration of what typography might have inspired him.--TYPEFACE SAMPLES FROM 1885----SAMPLE #1Here, in a letter in the spring before the 1885 conference, is one typeface that suggest a kind of vertical handwritten lettering, in which each letter is separated and "printed" rather than in a script form.Image from the Melvil Dewey papers, The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University----SAMPLE #2This script vertical typeface, although not immediately resembling the library hand letters does share some qualities.Image from the Melvil Dewey papers, The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia UniversityIn this script typeface, we again see the vertical style and the round letters that have similarities to library hand. This, like many other letters was sent to Dewey before the Lake George conference.--TYPEFACE SAMPLES FROM 1887----SAMPLE #1This is a typeface on a letter dated February 11, 1887 from E M Coe to the Astor Library. She is one of the four people listed as being on the Cooperation Committee assigned the task of making a decision about library handwriting, and as such, it is interesting to note that her letter has a typeface that is a rounded vertical script.----SAMPLE #2Here, one sees a typeface from the postcard that Dewey used in 1887 and sent to the Astor Library in February 1887. Interestingly, this is a typeface that looks like handwriting--with wavy lines and curved serif elements; it is as if Dewey is finding the middle ground between both print and type, much as he wants writing to look like print. Dewey himself encouraged the use of a wavy line to indicate that an item was manuscript, so his use of it in typography is important. Also of note, the capital "W" is very much like the lowercase "w" in the library hand printed in 1887.While one cannot say there is any direct influence of existing typefaces on the decisions of those making decisions about library handwriting, there are certainly some similarities between pre-existing typefaces and library handwriting. Further, these samples suggest that an exhaustive review of the type of the period might reveal some additional useful information as to the possible influences in the years leading up to the conference as well as the years that precede the printing of the library hand exemplars in 1887.--TYPEFACE SAMPLE FROM 1888Here are samples of catalog cards in Rules for Author and Classed Catalogs as used in Columbia College Library, with 52 Facsimiles of Sample Cards, authored by Melvil Dewey and published in Boston by Library Bureau in 1888.As a typeface that one can presume is chosen by Dewey, this seems to indicate the kind of letterform that Dewey hoped most to imitate in his library hand.--TYPEFACE SAMPLE FROM 1893, LIBRARY HANDWRITING, AND SHORTHAND
And here, as a penultimate sample, is printed material of "Topics for Chicago Meeting" for the 1893 American Library Association conference in Chicago, in which one can see library hand and print together. (This too is from the Melvil Dewey papers, The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University.) Of note, one can also see shorthand and blue colored pencil--Dewey used both in this period of time--and that suggests that this might be his library handwriting as well. This image appears to show the work of a number of people, and this is a reasonable assumption since items did circulate among the committees.JOHN JACKSON AND THE EUROPEAN TREND TOWARD VERTICAL WRITINGAside from Edison, printing presses, typewriters, and earlier "print" writing styles, there is another strand of possible influence on Dewey and the library committee, and one could speculate that it is the real reason that they were experimenting with vertical writing themselves.
John Jackson, the most prominent of the promoters of the vertical style in England writes a chapter on the "History of Vertical Writing and its Revival" on page 118 of his book Theory and Practice of Handwriting that “concurrent agitations dated from about the year 1870 to the year 1887 when the two forces combined (each being complementary to the other)” were responsible for the move to upright penmanship in England. This book provides considerable detail about the different people and countries in Europe studying the vertical style as a remedy to poor eyesight and bad posture among students. He also makes the argument in the beginning of this chapter on page 111 that "The History of Vertical Writing is the History of all Writing, as, up to about the middle of the 16th century such a thing as Sloping Writing was unknown." This idea we will have to set aside for a separate discussion.
As for the origins of library hand, one might conjecture that this debate over writing styles may have been known by these widely read librarians. With voracious reading habits, staff to help, and access to a plentitude of material, the knowledge of the growing complaints of sloping writing and the momentum to change to vertical writing seems plausible.Yet, it must be said that Dewey's absence of mention of England or Europe at the conference, taken at face value, seems to indicate that he did not know of others working in vertical writing. England adopted the style much later than the countries Jackson mentions, but perplexingly (and assumed not to be a typo, although perhaps it could be) it is written that "In 1883 this [vertical writing] system had been introduced in thirty places in England." The New Education, Vol. II, No. 5, September 1894, page 111. This may tie into another story Jackson writes about in The School Journal, Vol. XLVIII, No. 6, February 10, in which, as he says on page 146 that, "Nearly a half century ago a young English boy in one of the eastern countries saw a letter written by his uncle, who had adopted upright penmanship, and had practiced it for many years."On page 147 Jackson relates that the same young man who learned to write upright and became a teacher, accepted "an engagement as writing and commercial master in a large boys' school" and wanted to create "a set of vertical writing copy-books," and "the outlines were sketched, the plan settled, the books written, a specimen plate engraved, and a publisher sought." And finally,Messrs. Sampson, Low, Marston & Co. viewed the matter favorably from the first: the agreement was drawn out and signed, the books put in hand, and the first series of headline copy-books in upright penmanship ever produced appeared in the month of November, 1886.Of note, these are the same publishers as those of John Jackson's books. He also does take on the story as his own, it seems, in a mention of October 1886 that is reprinted in a February 1887 advertisement for his own books, seen here below.Too, he is described as the "originator of the system of upright penmanship" in other advertisements. So was it John Jackson who learned, perfected, and even taught upright penmanship decades before anyone else? He seems to suggest this, but one senses a hint of fiction in all these claims, too. Further research will be required to explore these origins and statements.As a source separate from John Jackson, one can look to an article entitled "Vertical Writing" from March 3, 1895 in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in which they stateVertical handwriting is not new, for it has been used more or less by penmen for the last twenty years. It is not, however, as some suppose, a modification of the round hand which was at one time the accepted copy for school children by reason of the scope that it allowed for the practice of form. Vertical writing as a system of penmanship was first introduced in Germany, where so much interest has been taken in recent years in the hygienic conditions of school life.This new writing method was widely promoted with great vigor and backed by what were seen as scientific studies. Writing teachers in Europe first adopted vertical writing, and it came to be popularized by John Jackson in England in the 1880s. He cited numerous other sources and railed against sloping writing, as in his book Upright Versus Sloping Writing. While it is hard to find the exact date that Jackson's vertical style came to be known by those in the United States, advertisements were printed not later than 1887. Here, one can see an advertisement of it in The Educational Times from London.The history of vertical writing for children and schools had its own, separate arc, quite apart from Edison's or Dewey's own efforts. The vertical writing that children used came first from the Europeans, then to John Jackson in England, then to Canada with Newlands and Row as early adopters. It came to be widely discussed in Popular Educator in 1893. In terms of its use by educators in the United States, Joseph V. Witherbee, of Brooklyn, claims to be the first to introduce vertical writing in schools with the date of January 1893.Edwin Orlando Vaile in Chicago, claims to be the first in the US to introduce a series of books employing this style. (Unfortunately, at this time, his books have not been located.) Vaile's books are ridiculed as early as February 1895 in Penman's Art Journal and the writing methods in Chicago come under great criticism, too. It is important to note, however, that none of this criticism is particularly unusual, as vertical writing was criticized before, during, and after its use.In the January 1895 Penman's Art Journal, the George A. Ray Company of Grand Island, Nebraska advertises its "Ray's Round, Rapid, Vertical Business Penmanship School Copy Books" and says, "The files of the Penman's Art Journal show the fact that we are the originators of vertical penmanship and that we issued the first copy books on that subject." Late in that same year, the publisher Harison in New York City prints a set of books. All these men and their publishers were at the forefront of the movement in the United States, where the vertical writing style is identified by Charles Paxton Zaner as a "style taught in public schools from 1894 to 1904." The style lingered much, much later, but that will be addressed another time.VERTICAL HANDWRITING HISTORY AND LINKSThis present article cannot accommodate a proper history of vertical handwriting, but some links and material are provided below that may broaden one's understanding of it.The American System of Vertical Writing, 1894, Book 1, "Forms of Letters"(This title was also copyrighted and published in 1899, though perhaps it was published a bit later, too. The 1899 edition is the latest edition I currently have notes on. The letterforms for the 1899 edition are the same as those from 1894.)UNDERSTANDING "PRINT" AND DISJOINED WRITING IN AN EDUCATIONAL CONTEXTThe introduction of vertical penmanship also was layered upon the previous efforts of teachers to instruct students in writing and "printing." This is important to note because Dewey is unusual in his insistence on "disjoined" hand for adults not simply for lettering or maps, for example, but as a way of writing. There is however evidence that "printing" and a "disjoined" hand was taught before Dewey considered it, and also before Marjorie Wise is credited with bringing it to classrooms in 1921. Here, briefly, is some anecdotal evidence from two dates, two sources, and two locations: Boston in 1868 and New York (it seems?) in 1894.The evidence surrounding the use of "printing," or manuscript print in the classroom is somewhat elusive, and it is not clear if students were writing in a slant "print" or a vertical "print" as they might see in a book. But it is clear that students are both "printing" and writing script. As outlined below in these quotes from page 60 and page 61 from the Manual of the Public Schools of the City of Boston, in 1868, there is mention of the "Arrangement of studies in the public school" in which students of the "sixth class" use their "Boston primary school slate, No.1" to "Print the small letters, and draw the straight lines and the rectilinear figures" with "The blackboards and tablets to be used in teaching slate exercises." For the "fifth class, " the students are to use their "Boston primary school slate, No.1" to "Review the slate exercises and prescribed for the Sixth Class. Print the capital letters, also short words; draw the curvilinear figures." For the "fourth class" the "Boston primary school slate, No.1 used daily Copies in printing and drawing reviewed and completed. Printing four or five words daily." The source for these following quotes is from page 62 and page 63 from the Manual of the Public Schools of the City of Boston. The "third class" are to use their "Boston primary school slate, No. 2. Write the small script letters . . . . Exercises in writing and drawing to be illustrated by tablets and blackboard. Print a few words in capitals." The "second class" are to use their "Boston primary school slate, No. 2. Writing capital and small letters . . . . Writing short words." The "first class" are to use their "Boston primary school slate, No. 2. Writing capitals and small letters, the pupil's name, and words from the spelling lessons, with particular care to imitate the letters on the frame. Drawing all the copies on the frame."Lastly, let us note that pages 64 - 66 in the 1868 Manual of the Public Schools of the City of Boston indicate that the writing book to be used should be Payson, Dunton and Scribner's or A. R. Dunton's copy books; therefore, rather than misapply the term Spencerian to describe the script, as noted in the introduction to the article, it is perhaps more accurate to consider the writing style of the librarians who came of age after this time to be using the root script of these other authors. To trace the books for each librarian does not seem feasible, but at least this evidence of the use of the Payson, Dunton and Scribner's or A. R. Dunton's copy books does remind one to consider the origin of each librarian.The exact relationship between the use of script and print in the classroom seems to vary, as it is not clear whether it was more likely for teachers to insist on script first, and then printing; or, printing, and then script. In The New Education, vol. 2, no. 5, September 1894, on page 100, Ellen E. Kenyon describes in her article "Primary Language Work" teaching script in the first month, and then print in the third month. Judging from some of her other writing, Kenyon seems to be a person with ideas that sometimes are at odds with the larger culture of teaching, and yet she presents her ideas here not as radical, but as factual details about teaching writing.
EARLY MANUSCRIPT EVIDENCE OF LIBRARY HANDWRITING
It is hard to know the many influences and the decision making process regarding the creation of library handwriting in between the September 1885 meeting and the March 1887 printing in Library Notes. The most important change is the emergence of Dewey's first class of library students and the emergence of Caroline (Carrie) F. Pierce as the student who named my a classmate as the person who created "Library hand."
What changes or decisions might have been made about each letterform? Were different sets of letterforms used and discarded? There is not enough evidence to outline this. However, some material does point to an early style that pre-dates the published version.
In February 1887, a month before the first printed article on library handwriting, a postcard is mailed from Columbia College Library with what is an early version of library handwriting, as one can see on its front and back. The writing conforms to some of the final rules and shares some of the final letterforms. Of note, the "r" and "s" are forms that are introduced later in 1887 in "disjoined hand," and on this card one sees script as well as a disjoined hand. Although Dewey’s signature is printed on the card, there is no reason to assume that it is his writing. Because his writing in general lacks basic regularity and control, it seems more likely that a person working under his direction wrote it. Could he have written it? Possibly. But it doesn’t seem likely. What does seem true is that Dewey did want to share the new style and to encourage its use. As an indefatigable self-promoter, it is not surprising that he wants this style not only on a card to be left in a drawer in his own library, but also on a postcard that others will look at, notice, and perhaps imitate.LIBRARY HAND, FIRST AMERICAN VERTICAL STYLEAs for Dewey's relationships and timing, it is clear that Dewey was in communication with one or more librarians in England, and Dewey was far ahead of other Americans, yet Jackson with his publishers Messrs. Sampson, Low, Marston & Co. did make it to press their vertical writing advertisement, at least a month before Dewey's library handwriting was in print, though Dewey's attempts to move ahead earlier are clear.Dewey had been in pursuit of completing the task of finalizing library hand after the 1885 meeting, and, as mentioned already, he followed up more than a year later with a letter to Thomas Edison to learn more about writing. Dewey's query, answered in a typed note by Samuel Insull on November 3, 1886, suggests a letter with a sample of Edison's writing was enclosed. Does the writing style of Edison affect the decisions Dewey and his committee make about library hand? It is hard to know, but it is fair to say that Edison's handwriting and library hand have many differences in letterforms; further, the first library hand that Dewey promoted was a joined script. True the separation of the script into individual letters by Edison also is evident in the revised version of library handwriting known as disjoined library hand, yet is this due to Edison's preference and influence, or to the fact that the typewriter also separates the letters? Isn't it a typeface, or printed form, that the librarians are trying to emulate? What direct influence did Carrie F. Pierce have?No later than March 1887, and with a printed alphabet in Library Notes, vol. 1., no. 4, Dewey began to promote "library handwriting" or "library hand" as it was also called, a vertical style, though he did indicate that it should have a slight backwards slant. Like Edison, he was interested in speed, efficiency, and legibility.In both the original and reprinted version of the March 1887 article, Dewey explains his reasoning on what is necessary for "library alphabets and figures."It remains to discuss main question, the forms of letters which will give the greatest legibility. Of some letters the copy-books give as many as 20 different forms from which people select the style that suits their taste, as ladies choose ribbons for their bonnets.The rubric that all catalogers should write a uniform standard library hand, makes it necessary at once to throw out 19 of these 20 forms. At once all see that where the highest legibility is more important than all else together, we must prohibit peremptorily everything in the nature of ornament or flourish. The simpler and fewer the lines the better, as long as the distinctness of the letter is not impaired.Looking back for a moment to Edison's own writing, one will see that a distinct difference between it and Dewey's library hand is that Edison employs what some might have considered lettering, in that each of the letters is distinct and not joined. It varies from "script" or "cursive" and is what some today call "printing." In this, too, Edison was far ahead of his time. In a paragraph from 1887, Dewey does indicate that disjoined hand is preferred.The expanded and revised reprinted article from 1887 includes Dewey's first model of disjoined hand.Dewey's version of disjoined hand seems much more like a typeface to be used by a typewriter or a printer than a style to be written by hand. While catalog cards are not commonly written in this fashion, one can find examples that are similar.In this first example, from Columbia University, where Dewey was himself the Chief Librarian beginning in 1883 (and one can assume that others followed his rules), it is fair to assume that the writer of this card attempts to write in Dewey's recommended disjoined hand, though there are some puzzling variations in some letters.Less convincingly an example of Dewey's disjoined hand is this example.It is hard to know if the person doing the work on this example from Houghton was following the recommendations or not, because such lettering is ubiquitous. Yet is it possible that this is in fact a better copy of Dewey's example, excepting its slight right slope? Any empirical attempt to prove that this particular card can be traced back to Dewey's guiding principles is eroded by additional cards from the same collection. What does it tell us then, that neither of these other cards is in proper library hand? Are one or more from a time before the writing was regularized, or were these librarians untrained, or simply exhibiting the writing style of the time?1890 ACCESSION BOOK LIST SAMPLESHere we see further variations of the letterforms in samples provided in a book published in Boston by the Library Bureau and written by Dewey, Library School Rules, 1890 (third edition, revised), in which he separately categorizes card catalog rules, accession book rules, and shelf list rules. Interestingly, he uses printed or typed models for the section on card catalog rules, but for the accession book rules and shelf list rules he includes pages that are handwritten samples, in examples seen below, as it makes sense that one cannot type in a ledger. Yet the forms of the letters vary considerably from those in his earlier publications, and this seems to indicate that he is less concerned with perpetuating an exact set of letterform than a broader style and approach to the letters.Regarding Dewey, and his own journey, one can look to the 1898 edition of Simplified library school rules; card catalog, accession, book numbers, shelf list, capitals, punctuation, abbreviations, library handwriting, and see there are other new letterforms and examples for librarians of both a joined hand and a disjoined hand, or, as he spelled it with simplified spelling, "joind hand" and "disjoind hand." (This simplified version and its examples was also reprinted in 1904 and 1912; 1916, the same "simplified rules disjoind hand" is noted only as "disjoined hand" and it alone is printed, while the joined hand has a separate set of letterforms.) Dewey further divides writing into the regular and "alternativ" forms. Here, we see joind hand sentences with different letterforms.Dewey also provides a new set of letterforms for disjoind hand.In the 1898 edition, Dewey also provides an example of what a card written in library hand should look like. This, like the other material from the Simplified library school rules book was also reprinted in 1904 and 1912.
This card, from the Providence Athenaeum in Providence, Rhode Island, has writing that appears to span the years before and after the introduction of library hand. One sees what looks like an accession date of April 9, 1888, a Spencerian script with varying width of stroke both up and down as well as the "ornament" and "flourish" Dewey mentioned as impediments to the public's ease of reading, erasure, and numerals added in the place of the erasure--interestingly, from the Dewey Decimal Classification System--that are in a library hand style.And in this, another sample from Providence Athenaeum, one sees a card that appears to be written all at the same time. Without an accession date, it has both a library hand-like vertical style as well as the Dewey Decimal Classification System numbers. While there are many discrepancies in the letterforms between this sample and those prescribed by library hand, the capital, or majuscule letter "L" and the minuscules "d," "h," "l," and "s" stand out as good imitations of the sample provided to librarians. Interestingly, roughly half the letters are not joined, while the others are not. This kind of mixed style, while common in the later part of the twentieth century and in the twenty-first, was unusual at the time this was likely written. Here, one seems to see a mix of printing and script as a result of the two sets of letterforms. In keeping with the recommendations made to librarians, here one sees the use of a broader pen with an even stroke.Of special note is the use of the majuscule form of the letter, but in minuscule, the large letter used in a small form. What does this mean? Likely, a third style of script mixed with the other two? Perhaps. The form of the letter "e" seems to begin many years before even Spencer; it can be found in Spencerian copy-books; one can find it in Riderian penmanship, though not well known, and probably many others; Bloser used it in a letter from 1885 after the minuscules "b," "v," "w," and he even uses it as a double "ee," as one can see; and strangely, it persists well past Palmer in the writing of some people. It is a bit of a wild card, but it is not part of the set of letterforms designated as library hand, though Dewey himself employed it in his personal writing.Dewey was not alone in his efforts to create a better library system, for there was also Charles Ammi Cutter. His Cutter Expansive Classification system was used at a number of libraries, among them the Boston Athenaeum library and Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts where he served as librarian. His system is also the basis for that of the Library of Congress.LIBRARY HAND BY INDIVIDUAL LIBRARIES--CASE STUDY #1, Sarah BlissCutter's classification system was also employed in nearby Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island. Interestingly, for this example seen below, one could say that the handwriting of the librarian, Sarah Bliss, who was born in 1839, likely learned a specific writing style first, and combined it an library hand with it. Was she unable to properly follow the guidelines of Dewey, if in fact she saw the letterforms? Was she writing in a vertical style of the 1890's or earlier, and not in library hand? One could say in general that the majuscules are another style and the minuscules are mostly library hand. As is the case with some other librarians, she seems to have, for the most part, blended her original style of her childhood and adulthood with library hand into what might be called (another style) - Dewey library hand, or maybe not?Interestingly, there are documents from elsewhere, in this case from the National Archives, that have a similar style. This letter from the Division of Advertising and Printing Accounts, Office of the Secretary of War is from 1876. The writing from this office may have been a new style in which they too were trained, as might have been other office workers like Sarah Bliss.The writing of Sarah Bliss, born in Boston, one must note, also has much in common with an English style of writing as well as early American styles. In this sense, one sees a style indicative of the Boston area, that originates as an English hand and progresses forward with both some hold-over elements of the early style, such as with the "s" and its stroke backwards to close it, rather than the forward Spencerian join. This may be early American writing; perhaps there is some influence from the Boston North or South Writing School, or another, maybe Jenkins, as well as later influences, before becoming this broader and rounder hand that is almost library hand, and yet not; a Boston area variant, it seems.All of this is hard to know, and somewhat speculative, to be sure, but it is worth pulling apart the idea of the origin of her writing before one assumes too much of it as only belonging to the library style. Let us say that while Spencer and Dewey are the two names that one might think the simplest to point to as key to understanding Sarah Bliss' script, neither of these men appears to be most responsible for her writing style. True? I think so. She is born too early for Spencer's material to be of influence in Boston; furthermore, Dewey arrived with his ideas of library hand when she is nearly 50 years old.A survey of the writing schools of the Boston area indicates that there were a number of methods of teaching students writing. One was to use the slips of the masters from the school or the local town masters. The other was to use books that had samples. In use at the time that Sarah Bliss would have been in school, perhaps around 1845-52 were the books of Bascom, Root, Towndrow, and Winchester.One can look at the material from Cutter's Boston Athenaeum in 1883 to wonder if the style originated with either a training school in Boston or Cutter himself? Even more startling is to wonder if Sarah Bliss is in fact the writer of this letter here, with samples of page 1 and page 6, since Sarah Bliss was employed at the Boston Athenaeum before going to the Redwood Library and Athenaeum. Could she have written both the 1883 letter and this library card below?Interestingly, in what one might assume are cards written later, as seen on the Redwood Library's blog post, Sarah Bliss uses a style more in keeping with Dewey's library handwriting.These are only a few of the variations of library cards of these years, for in a sample of a handful of cards the variations seem to only multiply.
VARIED INTERPRETATIONS OF LIBRARY HANDWRITING AS SEEN IN EMPIRICAL EVIDENCETo anyone who might reference the use of library hand, you could consider asking them, "To what year and to what style, joined or disjoined hand, do you refer?" Have you looked at a number of images of library cards, and do you think they are in library hand, or not? What letters are the same as library hand, and which differ? Which mix one of more style of writing together, and how do we describe these, as as being in what style?
Dewey is both part of the solution in creating a set of letterforms, but he is also part of the problem. As noted earlier, his first set of letterforms appears in 1887, only to have revisions in the same year. The simplified form and its variations is printed in 1898, 1904, and 1912 and 1916. And there are other printings in 1901, 1903, 1908, and 1916, some the same, some different.Here are the books and pages of sample handwriting, listed by years.
* * * * * * * * * * *1887 book, revisedLibrary handwriting* * * * * * * * * * *1898 bookSimplified library school rules; card catalog, accession, book numbers, shelf list, capitals, punctuation, abbreviations, library handwriting,* * * * * * * * * * *Title listed in Hathi Trust:
Handbook of the New York State Library School, including summer course and library handwritingTitle page reads: University of the State of New York, New York State Library, Bulletin 66, September 1901,Library School 9, Handbook of the New York State Library School, including summer course and library handwriting
Note: Also issued, with Library school bulletin 10, as appendix 3, of the State library report for 1901. Cover title.* * * * * * * * * * *In The Library World, Volume X, July 1907, New Series 13, James Douglas Stewart, of the Islington Public Libraries in England, echoes the advice of the Cooperation Committee about library handwriting, and he adds a new set of letterforms as examples, as can be seen on pages 86-87.* * * * * * * * * * *Library handwriting; a guide for the use of students in the New York State Library SchoolSpecimen alphabets and figuresJoined handDisjoined hand
* * * * * * * * * * *THE TREND OF VERTICAL PENMANSHIPSeparate from Dewey's work with library hand and the dedication of librarians to its form, the larger, national trend of using vertical penmanship reversed itself after roughly 1904, though some states like Utah were using it as late as 1914. In general, though most school systems and people abandoned the vertical style and returned to a forward slanted script--either by employing the older Spencerian script or a newer Spencerian "practical penmanship," one of the many of the assorted "practical styles," the Palmer method, or another.THIS SECTION OF THE ARTICLE IS STILL UNDER HEAVY REVISION.PLEASE SEND ANY PERTINENT INFORMATION YOU HAVE TO AID THIS RESEARCH.A HISTORY OF LIBRARY CATALOG CARDS
One way to understand how the principles of library handwriting were understood and applied over time is to look at a sample of cards from a variety of years, beyond the sample above.CASE STUDY #1Here is a small set of images of Columbia University Butler Library catalog cards. These were most likely written by a number of different people. The date they were written has not been determined at this point.CASE STUDY #2Here is a small set of images of New York Public Library catalog cards. These were written by a number of different people.These help illustrate the use of library hand (as well as handwriting used on library cards) across a range of years.This is the most recent handwritten card I have seen:Here is a small set of images of Wilmington (Delaware) Public Library catalog cards. These were written by a number of different people.Anniversaries. Pulaski Day, catalog card, Wilmington Public Library, Wilmington, Delaware, circa 1962duPont de Nemours, Directories, catalog card, Wilmington Public Library, Wilmington, Delaware, circa 1970A HISTORY OF A SINGLE BOOK OR SET, IN LIBRARY CATALOG CARDSCASE STUDY #1Here is a set of New York Public Library cards that represent the changes from roughly 1940? -1951?
A HISTORY OF LIBRARY HANDWRITING, IN CORRESPONDENCE AND RELATED DOCUMENTSLibrarians often used library handwriting in correspondence to others to whom they wanted to demonstrate their position as librarians who are properly educated or informed, or to show a unity or shared system of belief. In this sense, library handwriting follows the tradition of other penmanship styles that have been used for many centuries to ingratiate oneself or project one's social standing, class, or authority.Although this writing looks less like library hand in the formation of its letters, it maintains a slant in keeping with the form. Also, important to note perhaps is that Harriet Howard Stanley attended the New York State Library School and graduated from there in 1895 before taking her job at this library. She later worked at New Hampshire College.Harriet Howard Stanley, Public Library, Southbridge, MA, April 27, 1898, page 1, letter to Melvil Dewey at NYSLHarriet Howard Stanley, Public Library, Southbridge, MA, April 27, 1898, page 2, letter to Melvil Dewey at NYSLKatherine L. Sharp's certification and approval of Emma Grace Lefler's thesis, A review of MacFarlane's Library administration: with American notes, University of Illinois, submitted May 29, 1903.Here is an example where the printed right-sloping italic stands in as personal handwriting. Yet the actual handwriting of the librarian is left-sloping.W. H. Brett, Cleveland Public Library, Oct 29, 1912, postcard verso to H. M. Lydenberg, New York Public LibraryH.C.S. , NYPL, August 31, 1912, note to Mr. Lydenberg, New York Public LibraryHelen M. Norton, Cleveland Public Library, April 29 1914, letter to E. H. Anderson, New York Public LibraryEmma D. See, Columbia University librarian, November 23, 1914, letter to W. B. Gamble, New York Public LibraryCAVEAT TO INTERPRETATIONCaveat: Not all left-sloping writing is library handwriting or vertical writing. Sometimes it is best described as backhand or a personal style that is unrelated to the writing styles of the time. Likewise, some librarians have left-sloping writing that is not library handwriting, even though the librarians are close associates of Melvil Dewey.This letter is dated a few days before the Lake George Conference where library handwriting was first discussed, as noted earlier in this article.W. I. Fletcher, Amherst College librarian, September 3, 1885, letter to Melvil Dewey, Columbia College LibraryOther examples from outside the realm of the library are also worth referencing:As noted earlier in the article, this writing is very similar to that of librarian Sarah Bliss and of the letter from the Boston Athenaeum in 1883.Division of advertising and printing accounts, Office of the Secretary of War, National Archives, 1876In this sample, one sees a hand lettering style. While lettering existed almost exclusively for maps, drawings, and for special attention or clarity, here, it is used much as script was usually employed. The limitations of this particular style--for its speed and readability--are clear.LIBRARY HANDWRITING ON BOOKS, LABELS, LISTS, AND OTHER ITEMSOne of the places that library handwriting or some version of it has persisted the longest and still continues to be used today is not on catalog cards or correspondence, but on items that cannot be easily and quickly typed that need to have the clearest and most unambiguous letters and numbers. In these cases, it is also understood that the Library of Congress, a vendor, or computer generated material is not the cheapest or fastest.Book spine numbers, binder spines, labels on file folders, labels for boxes, and other such items are often quickest to create by hand even by today's librarians. There are many examples and variations of library handwriting through the decades and even today, although it is true that library handwriting and vertical writing have become less frequent than other kinds of writing.MICROFILM LOGLimited use of any library handwriting or vertical writing in this sampleLimited use of any library handwriting or vertical writing in this samplePERIODICAL CARDSLimited use of any library handwriting or vertical writing in this sampleLimited use of any library handwriting or vertical writing in this sampleBOOK CHECKOUT CARDHowe, F. C., Only possible peace, book checkout card, circa 1919 - 1933, Wilmington Public Library, Wilmington, DelawareBOOK SPINESHowe, F. C., Only possible peace, book spine, circa 1919, Wilmington Public Library, Wilmington, DelawareThis has library handwriting and is also listed with call numbers specific to the Avery Library.The Winterthur Museum Libraries collection of printed books and periodicals, circa 1974, Avery Library, Columbia U.Use of numbersLABELING BOXES WITH CALL NUMBERSUse of lower case letters and numbersUse of capital letters and numbersUse of capital letters and numbersASSORTED HANDWRITING WITHIN LIBRARIESCASE STUDY #1Montgomery County-Norristown Public Library Central Library, Norristown, PAAs a way to understand the fuller history of the ledgers from this particular institution, it is best to start with the earliest writing styles use.In this example is writing one might expect from 1883.This is writing that fairly standard writing for 1915.The next set of images is from Shareholder Listing and Dues Paid and they are a fascinating snapshot, in that within a single year, there is clear evidence of three distinct writing styles.The left page, 160, has the slant and features of a Spencerian / Duntonian, or other such early hand as might be expected to have passed already by 1940. Yet it appears that this may also be an older person who may have learned this way who is writing this page.The right page, 161, is a vertical writing that is not what one would call by any means a strict library hand. But because it is vertical and used in a library, one might be safe to assume it comes from the hand of a person trained as a librarian or cataloger. Another possibility is that this person had learned vertical writing in school in the years 1894-1904, or thereabouts.The third script is a business writing, as one might find in any office or used by any professional.It is not easy to understand or to interpret the changes in 1940-1941, but these examples stand as some empirical evidence that writing styles coexisted within workplaces and that even libraries and that there could be pronounced differences that one might associate with vastly different periods of time. In some ways, it is important to see that these last two images seem to break all of the rules that one might expect a library to have about writing and internal paperwork. Yet, as this is a ledger and not the a catalog or a set of book spines, it is also perfectly understandable.QUESTIONS UNANSWEREDTo step aside from the logic of this article for a moment, let us introduce a few side arguments and curiosities that are more difficult.Is there any reason to believe that Dewey or others on his committee might have been influenced by lettering, say, for example by the 1881 Payson, Dunton, and Scribner's marking letters, brush letter, or ladies' marking letters or by some other such hand?Is there an influence inside the world of the librarians that is different than the script presented in Library Notes? How many versions of alphabets and samples might there be? Is "A Good Library Hand" from page 78 of the 1890 Library Journal with its very broad rule, "Seek to give every letter so distinct a shape that you could recognize it easily if it stood alone" a more accurate idea of the mission that librarians had while writing cards? Was this their goal, or were they trying to imitate the printed letterforms?Is this chronology in fact correct, and are all these terms enough to categorize writing? How do we describe a vertical writing that comes before library hand, is somewhat Spencerian, and yet not? How does one identify this script, page one of a letter, penned at the Boston Athenaeum by an assistant to C. A. Cutter? We can say of it that it highlights the use of color by Cutter and Dewey (one will remember his blue pencil) to create clarity in letters. But is this an actual style of writing? And what of the last page, page six, in which Cutter seems to indicate that he has hired and trained girls to help in the library, and that this letter may itself be a sample of writing by such a girl? Was she trained in Spencerian, an early vertical hand that is not known, or some version that Cutter had introduced, an earlier form of library hand that is not documented? Is it some round handed, vertical version of Payson, Dunton, and Scribner's script, or some kind of round hand mentioned below as a style for children or those learning letterforms? At the very least, it is best to say that these are questions to pursue.DISENTANGLING LIBRARY HAND AND VERTICAL HANDWRITINGThe general public seems not to understand or to perceive library hand as a separate style with unique origins, and this confusion seems to begin at a time near its introduction. As indicated by the March 3, 1895 article "Vertical Writing," it was assumed by some to be a modification of round hand. The same paper, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, also publishes a week later on March 10, 1895 "Vertical Writing, Has It Come to Stay or Is It a Fad" in which they conflate library hand and the vertical style.The teacher in the department of commerce of Pratt Institute prefers the slant letters, but the vertical system is taught in the department of libraries, as that writing is universally accepted as the best style for cars, labels, indexing, etc. It is done with such care that hose engaged in it appear to be drawing rather than writing.This confusion is made much worse, of course, by the teaching of library hand and vertical hand in the same span of time to students and librarians, so disentangling these styles is a challenge that remains.LIBRARY HAND'S DIRECT RELATION TO THE VERTICAL HANDWRITING MOVEMENTIn the years that vertical writing does come into prominence, Dewey revises his 1901 Handbook of New York State Library School, including summer course and library handwriting... to include a reference to Newlands & Row as source about the proportions of letters.THE DURATION OF TIME REQUIRED FOR CATALOGINGWhile Dewey was determined to find efficiency in all matters and hoped to emulate the sort of speed enjoyed by Thomas Edison and his writing, the task of cataloging and of writing cards was not quick, as indicated by the speed tests for his 1887 publication on library handwriting. Here, below are the notes provided by Mrs. Fairchild on March 27, 1905 at the New York State Library School that demonstrate the actual labor involved in writing cards:Number of cards written pr. hour in N.Y.S.L. 7+Based on the statistics kept for a number of years -- includesmany different persons incl. looking up names.For scholarly & university libraries. 8 cards pr. hr." popular libraries - - - - 10-12 " "" simplest cataloging - - - 15 " "" fiction cataloging - 15-20 "Time, not more than 7 hrs. pr. day; at most 8 hrs.No. of cards pr. books:2 1/2 pr. title, classed cat.; 3 pr. title. dict. catalog.means volumes or pieces, not titles. Incl. periodicals.Problemscards: no. of vols. x 3 = no. of cards. say 60,000Time. 10 pr. hr. 6000 hrs. / 7 = 857 days.(The briefer engagement, the longer hours.).THE EARLY CRITICISM OF HANDWRITTEN CARDSEven while library handwriting was being used on card catalogs, it was understood to have deficiencies. As indicated in a student's class notes from the New York State Library School in January 1904, "Generally, the writing of cards is a relic of old industrial methods; where the family did everything for itself." The "cards should be printed" [because] money & work is saved, & better cards secured."THE LONG SLOW DISSOLUTION OF VERTICAL WRITINGAlthough the date of 1904 is given as the end of the vertical writing movement, in fact it held on much longer. For example, civil service writing, which was dominated by the use of Vere Foster's writing in Great Britian seems to have given way to the vertical movement in the US. The International Correspondence School set of books perpetuates a style of vertical writing for quite a long time. Here is a page from a 1906 book. Later examples than this will be provided in time.Also of note, despite the claims that vertical writing was not used in schools, one can look to a broad survey of writing in 40 cities across the United States in the 1912 (?) book A scale for measuring the quality of handwriting of schoolchildren [by] Leonard P. Ayres, Ph.D. As indicated in this study, one can see that a vertical style of some kind remains in the schools--and remarkably, there are positive comments about it. There are some fine points that blur the definition of vertical; for example, on page 9, they judge vertical as between 90 degrees and 80 degrees from the horizontal, and the committee judges backhand as a separate style. Yet, the committee ranks 255 samples of the 1578 total as being vertical, and on page 10, they convert this to 16.2%. On page 16, they conclude that "vertical writings are the most legible of the different styles." To examine the Ayres Scale, one can see that some of this writing does still appear to be the same vertical writing style from the earlier period, while some of the writing is more in the "practical style" that came afterwards and was slightly slanted to the right.THE DECLINE AND CHANGESIt is likely that neither Edison, Jackson, nor Dewey would have probably approved of the evolution of their vertical script ideals in the years after their innovations. For many writers, vertical script evolves into an awkward and difficult to read backhand style. One of the greatest penmen ever to explore with devilish humor the limits of legibility of backhand was Francis B. Courtney.Below is a library card written in approximately 1909. This particular script is less legible since it is somewhat ornate; it is also not in Dewey's prescribed style. Is this a librarian who did not follow the rules? A person who learned vertical penmanship in the era from 1894 -1904, and whose writing had simply deteriorated like that of others? While not overly poor, it is not what any of these earlier promoters of vertical writing had identified as ideal.Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PAThrough these examples, the evolution of writing appears somewhat regressive or circuitous. One must contemplate how a forward slanted script's angle could be nullified by the vertical and then reversed into a backhand. And how is it that such efforts for efficiency and legibility and reform could have brought about these unintended results? Is the librarian writing this script the problem, or is library hand itself poorly designed and therefore prone to become harder to write as one gets older?Here, one can see a comparison of library handwriting in the years 1887 - 1916. (Additional samples including 1901 and 1903 will be included shortly.)DEWEY'S LEGACY OF LIBRARY HANDWRITINGDewey's reputation and legacy were in flux throughout the latter part of his career, and it expressed itself in the way library handwriting was discussed and promoted by later librarians.Although more details are needed to bring the details to full light, it is important to mention that John Cotton Dana's book A Library Primer, was first published in 1899; a second edition appeared in 1909; and, last, there was a third note from the author and an "edition of 1920." Of note, many people are thank and mentioned, yet Mevil Dewey is not among them. The book uses some of the original library handwriting letterforms from the Library Bureau and material but with some slight variations that will need further time to trace. But for now, here is a link to the John Cotton Dana's A Library Primer, 1920.
By contrast, in 1922, Dorcas Fellows, instructor in advanced cataloging at the New York State Library School publishes his Cataloging Rules, second edition revised and enlarged, with a dedication to Dr. Melvil Dewey, “founder of the first library school and the leader to whom all library workers are under infinite obligation.” And Dorcas includes a half page section that discusses handwritten cards that indicates that “All library cards should be written as neatly and legibly as possible, the disjoined hand being preferable, since that most resembles print.” One can see a manuscript card on page 46 as well as call numbers added in manuscript throughout the book. Also interesting is that this particular digital copy has marginalia, notes, corrections, and its own pencil version of library hand.HANDWRITING AND PENMANSHIP SEPARATE FROM LIBRARY HANDSeparate from the library handwriting, there was an effort to find a rapid form of writing that was easy to read and that served both businesses and schools. This gave rise to Palmer and even what was branded as Spencerian "practical writing," which emerged from the end of the 1800s and into the early 1900s. In these decades, many different penman and their publishers printed copybooks and manuals with new writing styles.MANUSCRIPT WRITING: DISJOINED HAND REINVENTED FOR SCHOOL CHILDRENThere is also a movement that emerges, first in England and then the United States, to replace almost entirely the use of script in favor of a print style, especially in the younger grades of schools. (Perhaps Edison and Dewey would both be happy to know this came to pass?) The article "Children Who Write As Men Wrote Before Printing" by Frances M. Moore in McClure's Magazine in October of 1925 gives details on this. This historical shift is also addressed by Frank N. Freeman in "An Evaluation of Manuscript Writing" which appears in The Educator in 1936.CONCLUSIONS--THE EARLY YEARSThe most exacting person in the heyday of library handwriting likely did not execute every letter properly and without mistakes. The writing samples that Dewey prints in books show great changes from his prescribed letterforms. These variations and other letterforms are also evident within the writing on a single card or among sets by the same person. Sometimes, catalogers and writers changed their own personal style along with the changes suggested by Dewey. At other times, they employed other letterforms of their own design or from other writing styles of the time.While library handwriting was a perfect idea, its design, implementation, and the use of it by librarians lacked the obvious order of the Dewey Decimal System, for example. Among the chief flaws of the letterforms of library handwriting is their design. It appears that Dewey and the Cooperation Committee charged with the task of developing a proper writing style did very little study of handwriting systems and the mechanics of the fingers, hand, arm, and shoulder.Whereas writing systems had spent much time addressing the physical aspects of writing, these librarians did not. Writing masters and penmen spent most of their days writing and working with pupils, and these results could be seen over decades and centuries. Letterforms were shaped naturally by hands over many years. In the library and among books, Dewey and the other librarians on the committee at the head of the ALA pursued a concept of what the perfect writing should look like--type. They did not spend years on the mechanics of writing it. They did practice some styles of writing and had several tests that measured the speed and accuracy of library handwriting. Considering the limitations of the librarians who needed a better system immediately, there was some diligence in testing.But there was no longitudinal study to see how people performed this writing over time. To learn and practice in a few weeks or months is not the same as writing in a style over a number of years. The inability to reckon with the effort and skill of the writers created its own problems, and this demanded that Dewey return to the design phase. Dewey himself declared a change of the initial letterforms within the same year that he published the first set.In fact, Dewey's pace of change and the evolution of the style was so fast that even in the postcard sent to the Astor Library in the month before the first set was published, the writer uses both the the first set of letterforms and the second set. His fast transitions from one idea to another had the effect of interfering with his own goals and creating turmoil.For Dewey, change was as much his greatest strength as his worst trait. He continued to adapt and to change the style of library handwriting over a number of years, but in doing so he no longer had a writing system. Instead he had a list of the variations that people preferred to the initial set of letterforms. This evolution and the many variations is a natural, even physiologically predictable progression from the origin of an unnatural type-based concept.Despite these failures, the goals of the committee and Dewey were still accomplished, though, as they achieved their aim: Librarians made an effort to write neatly with a medium nib pen in black ink and to create cards that are easy to read.Also a success and an innovation was for librarians to "print" their letters for the cards. Instead of using a script style as all others were, librarians began to use print in 1887, well before its introduction into elementary schools in 1921 by Marjorie Wise. While is it is true that map makers, draftsmen, and sign makers did use print, nowhere in business or public life was there so great a shift to manuscript printing as there was in libraries.--FROM THE 1940s to todayThe broad use of proper library hand began to taper off in the 1940s and had a more pronounced decline in the 1950s and 1960s. The use of library hand depended on staff being trained in it initially, or for staff members who used it to continue to be employed. With staff changes, so too did the writing change. Some librarians who are familiar with it estimate that library handwriting ended in perhaps the 1950s or 1960s. This is not true. Library hand changed and was used less, but many variations or influences of it are evident throughout the following decades and even now.It is very common, for example, for book spines to show evidence of library handwriting. Any comparison of the letters and numbers on the backs of books to the original sets of letterforms will show some resemblance. Clear and well defined letters and numerals and either a vertical or slightly leftward leaning slant are usually evident.One can also examine handwritten binders, labels, log sheets, and other such handwritten materials that were not easily typed by a typewriter or printed out of a computer. These are also often in capital letters or neatly printed by hand. It is also common to see the leftward slope on these as well.Today, those who have worked in libraries without a full understanding of library hand will often still write in a way that they see on the books, folders, materials around them. Numerous librarians and employees I have spoken to use printing, capitals, and a leftward slant with no knowledge that they are imitating library handwriting, such as in these file folders and microfilm labels from 2015. These employees, as young as their twenties and thirties, continue in the profession and promulgate the style that the Cooperation Committee and Melvil Dewey set forth more than 125 years previously.