March 22nd, 2020 by D. T. Grimes

As the Covid-19 epidemic has taken foothold, many calligraphers are finding themselves with a rare surplus of time due to shelter-in-place advisory from state and city authorities.

In the hope of keeping your mind focused on the positive during this time, I’ve put together the following list of five fascinating, online books and articles to get you inspired and informed on the topic of historic American Penmanship.

Masgrimes Archive

1. The Zanerian Manual

While the Zanerian Manual may be somewhat light on actual reading material, this book is widely considered to be one of the most influential works in American penmanship. The lessons on Roundhand at the beginning are particularly interesting for those inclined towards shaded script, although they do leave a lot to the imagination. My bet is that you’ve flipped through this manual before without taking the time to carefully study each page.

Check this book out on

2. Thorns and Flowers

This little collection of poems marks one of the passions of revered penman Clinton C. Canan (1873-1904). The interesting part of Canan’s story is that he achieved incredible success with the pen only to pass away at the young age of 31 after 15 years of failing health. Perhaps those of you studying Ornamental Penmanship will find some inspiration for your practice within these pages.

Check this book out on

3. Art of Writing

It’s hard to claim to be well-versed in the history of American penmanship without at least a cursory glance at what many suspect to be the first American book on the topic. John Jenkins published his Art of Writing in 1791 “reduced to a plain and easy system”. Although the models shown are expected to be rendered with a quill, the theory and method of presentation for Roundhand has a lot of similarities to the styles practiced today. At only 57 pages, this work is an afternoon read that you won’t want to skip.

Check this book out on

4. Ames on Forgery

This volume is an impressive work on the subject of disputed handwriting at 300+ pages. I wouldn’t expect it to hold the interest of many outside of the occasional perusal. There are some interesting chapters, though, and it is commonly referenced as one of the monumental works on the subject. As many books from this era tend to be, there is some cultural insensitivity in certain places.

Check this book out on

5. The Making of A Penman

Every enthusiast of penmanship can draw inspiration from the work and words of L. H. Hausam. This short essay has been in the back of my mind for the last few months as I work to identify what it is that brings so many of us together in search of excellence in penmanship. If you only read one item on this list, take the ten mintutes to make it this. Hausam’s honest perspective will likely motivate you to take up the pen with renewed vigor!

Check this article out on

Stay healthy!

I hope you enjoy the above materials. I’ve read each of them thoroughly and can confidently recommend them for their merits while making no excuses for their shortcomings. At the very least, they’ll give you some new ideas to chew next time you take up your quill.


David T. Grimes, Penman

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