An Elegant Hand: The Golden Age of American Penmanship and Calligraphy chronicles a period in American history when the ability to "write a good hand" was a key to prosperity both for the individual and for the nation. In his account of the teacher-student lineage of seven master penmen, author William E. Henning effectively disproves the popular notion that the United States passed through a dark age in the nineteenth century during which the lettering arts were lost or ignored. Instead, we see that the numbers of expert penmen abounded during this time and into the twentieth century, and that this was indeed a golden age for any who wished to pursue the noble art and craft of calligraphy.
Henning guides the reader through the lives and careers of some of the most important American penmen, beginning with Platt Rogers Spencer, the Father of American Handwriting; Spencer's gifted student, George A. Gaskell, whose books and periodicals reached hundreds of thousands of students throughout the second half of the 1800s; Louis Madarasz, considered the most skillful of all writers in shaded script; William E. Dennis, the respected engrosser; Austin N. Palmer, whose method of penmanship was taught throughout American schools; Francis B. Courtney, the Pen Wizard; and William C. Henning, associate editor of The American Penman, director of the Cedar Rapids Business College, and the author's father.
With over 400 illustrations, most from original specimens that W C. Henning, the author's father, began collecting in the early 1890s, An Elegant Hand offers an exciting and detailed view of the many styles of penmanship and calligraphy: Spencerian Script; Ornamental Penmanship; flourished designs of birds; Copperplate; business writing (many variations); broad-pen calligraphy, especially German Text and Old English; and many other styles. A glos¨sary of terms has been appended, to assist
the reader, as has a selection from the elder Henning's memoirs describing his earliest years in the profession. The foreword, written by modern master penman Delbert Tysdal, provides the reader with an insight into the rigorous schedule of the penmanship student. In his preface, Ross Green, a calligrapher and historian who specializes in American calligraphy, offers a scholarly perspective that underscores the book's contribution to the field.
In all, An Elegant Hand: The Golden Age of American Penmanship and Calligraphy is an important and long-awaited addition to the literature of handwriting and the lettering arts.
Critical Reviews of An Elegant Hand
- An Elegant Hand is a superb book and a compelling read, filling a vital gap in the history of American calligraphy. With great insight and sensitivity the author draws the reader into the personal lives and work of some of the finest master penmen of the period. One is transported back to a time past when fine penmanship was a highly prized possession. However, this is not simply a historical account of men, women and events. For the serious stu¨dent of penmanship there is much within the pages of this book to inspire, inform and reflect upon. - Brian Walker, FSSI, FCLAS, founder of the British Spencerian Study Group.
- After generations of bombardment from the disciples of Edward Johnston, it is time to balance the scales and present the American tradition of lettering arts. While giving due credit to our European forefathers' influence, William E. Henning takes us right into the hearts and minds of the Americans who took innovative steps in developing letterforms and writing techniques that have influenced writing over the course of our country's history. The collection of instruction models and finished pieces in An Elegant Hand is a treasure. The artists and teachers covered are indisputably the great masters, and to have their biographies and work printed in such a fine, modern-day book is a gift to the lettering community, not just in the United States, but also throughout the world. As a calligrapher, I will cherish having this book in my library. An Elegant Hand is truly an homage to American calligraphy. - Rick Paulus, calligrapher, Washington, D.C.
- An Elegant Hand fills a long-time need for information on calligraphy and lettering in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the past 20 years practicing calligraphers have acquired a new respect for George Bickham and the great English penmen of the 18th century, but similar acceptance of their 19th century American descendants has been slow in coming. Now, An Elegant Hand by William E. Henning promises to redress this slight. Although not a detailed history of this neglected period, Henning's book provides a fascinating look at the top penmen o f the day, including the famous Louis Madarasz, Francis B. Courtney, and Austin N. Palmer (namesake of the familiar Palmer Method of writing). While the samples of their work will be the primary interest to many, Henning's evoca¨tion of a bygone era of education and business centered on penmanship is equally beguiling. - Paul Shaw, calligrapher and professor of typography, Parsons School of Design
- An Elegant Hand provides us with an extraordinary glimpse into America's Golden Age of Penmanship. It is one of those rare journals that chronicles an era with such intimacy and affection that the reader cannot help but hear the sound of the pen and see the shimmer of wet ink. For everyone who appreciates the beauty of good penmanship, An Elegant Hand instills our hearts with a special sense of pride in the ability to write well, and makes each of us yearn for a legendary master penman to study from. Through its detailing of the famous writing masters and business schools to its exquisite gallery of penmanship art, this book is a treasure to enjoy. I heartily recommend it to all. - Michael Sull, master penman, former president of the International Association of Master Penman, Engrossers & Teachers of Handwriting, and author of Spencerian Script & Ornamental Penmanship
- The men brought to life in An Elegant Hand were professional penmen earning their livelihoods from their craft. This book's innumerable graphics display their work: committed, passionate, at an extraordinarily high level of skill and inspired self-expression, with bold marks, delicate tracery, humor, whimsy, and experimentation. My interest was captured and held by Mr. Henning's book. - Karen Ter Haar, mixed media lettering artist and calligraphy teacher, Australia
1st edition, 2002, Hb, 308pp,with over 400 monochrome illustrations, 22.5 x 28.5 cm