Ornamental Penmanship’s golden age spanned from 1850 to 1925. This “was a unique period in American calligraphic history. Beautiful penmanship was the rule of the day, and the flexible pointed pen was king” (Sull). The Spencerian system of writing was developed by P.R. Spencer in the mid-19th century. Spencerian is considered the first American hand. It is similar to the English Copperplate hand in that they both are scripts and lettered with a pointed pen. The English Copperplate hand is circular-based and each letter consists of thick strokes (shaded) as well as hairlines and is lettered with disconnected strokes. The Spencerian hand, with it’s oval-based forms and light or absent shading in lower case letters and many hairlines throughout the alphabet, is a more fluid hand and is faster to letter.
Copperplate is the main lettering style in the body of the Declaration of Independence and also among the signatures. John Hancock’s signature stands out. It’s likely because he may have been the first to sign it. His name is an informal synonym for ‘signature’. National Handwriting Day is held on his birthday January 23. Hancock was not a master penman, he was however the 1st and 3rd Governor of Massachusetts and the 4th President of the Continental Congress.
Many American’s (above 30 years of age) have a connection to ornamental penmanship through the many hours spent, in elementary school, learning the Palmer Method of handwriting, which was based on the Spencerian system of writing. The Palmer Method is far less ornate and faster to write than Spencerian.
The Palmer Method, developed by Austin Norman Palmer, was adopted as the standard handwriting system in public schools in the early 20th century (New York City 1905).