This Tombstone Is Unique. Do You Know Why?
The Penmanship of Platt Rogers Spencer
Why is it that when we see an old postcard people remark that the handwriting is so beautiful? The graceful penmanship all looks similar because millions of people in the mid-nineteenth and up to the early twentieth century were taught a single method of handwriting.
This calligraphy type of writing was invented by Platt Rogers Spencer and called the Spencerian style and method of penmanship.
Spencer’s unique tombstone at Evergreen cemetery in Geneva, OH is the first grave marker to display the cursive handwriting that he developed and popularized.
Platt Rogers Spencer was the youngest of a family of ten children. He was born November 7, 1800, in East Fishkill, New York. He lived there and in Windham, N. Y., until he was nine years old, when he moved with his widowed mother and family to Jefferson, Ohio, which was then wilderness country.
There, Spencer developed his love of writing and devoted his life to the art of penmanship.
The style Spencer invented insured writing could be clear and legible to all, especially in business correspondence.
There are only eight principles necessary to learn in various combinations in formation of all written letters. Yet, the Spencerian method of writing is precise and contains many specifics. For instance, it is written at an angle of exactly fifty two degrees.
Rules apply for placement of the hands and body. To produce the beautiful penmanship there is the free motion of the hand and arm to produce the bold ovals of the capital letters and the gentle and flowing curves of the small letters. Once learned and applied, the rules for spacing of letters and scales for proportionate length, shade, color outline and finish elevate handwriting to an art.
Victor M. Rice Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of New York was the first to publish the Spencerian method in book form in 1848. It wasn’t until after Spencer’s death in 1864 that the writing style became widely popular. Spencer’s sons revised and promoted Spencer’s style book and the adoption of his writing method spread to all corners of the United States.
“The Foremost Penman In The World”
The following accolade about Spencer was written in 1878 by a man taught by Spencer and knew him well.
I first saw Mr. Spencer in 1837. when he came to Hiram, Ohio, and delivered a lecture before the students of the Eclectic Institute. I was struck with the clearness and originality of his mind, and with the pathetic tenderness of his spirit.
Soon afterwards he and his sons took charge of the department of penmanship at the Institute, and from that time forward I was intimately acquainted with his mind and heart. I have met few men who so completely won my confidence and affection. The beautiful in nature. To know what looks a man delights in, enables us to know- the man himself; and when I say that Robert Burns was one of his favorite authors, it is equivalent to saying that a keen relish for the humorous, sympathy with the lowly, and love for all that is beautiful in nature and art, were the distinguishing traits of his character.
Like all men who are well made, he was self-made. Though his boyhood was limited by the hard lot of pioneer life, his love for the beautiful found expression in an art which his genius raised from the grade of manual drudgery to the rank of a fine art. It is honorable to undertake any worthy work and accomplish it successfully. It is great to become the first in any such work, and it is unquestionably true that Mr. Spencer made himself the foremost penman of the world. And this he did without masters. He not only became the first penman, but he analyzed all the elements of chirography, simplified its forms, arranged them in consecutive order, and created a system which has become the foundation of instruction in that art in all the public schools of the country.
Spencer had encouraged the author of this piece and saw his great potential as a leader. It was Spencer who helped secure the writer’s first election to Congress and set him on a course to the highest office in the land.
The man who wrote so highly of Spencer, was James A. Garfield, future President of the United States.
The Spencerian method faded into history with the 1888 development of an alternate simpler style of handwriting, the Palmer method. By the 1910s more people were learning Austin Palmer’s writing style than Spencer’s.
As with all improvements it was technology that eventually won the day and eradicated an art form. The adoption of the typewriter in the early part of the twentieth century usurped the graceful flow of words emanating from pens.
Today, basic cursive handwriting is not taught in grammar schools anymore. The result is a generation of people who can barely write legibly or spell but can text idk and lmao.