To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting Hardcover – November 27, 2012
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
While there are no rigorous surveys tracking how many people write personal letters these days, it’s a safe bet that in this era of ubiquitous e-mail and text messaging, letter writing isn’t what it used to be. Partly to encourage readers to take up their pens and partly to indulge his curiosity, acclaimed British novelist Hensher (King of the Badgers, 2011) provides a droll and eclectic tour of handwriting history. Prompted by the realization that he had no idea what a close friend’s handwriting style looked like, Hensher interviewed friends and family about the topic, with amusing and illuminating results. A handful of chapters records their testimony, while the rest of the book is devoted to penmanship styles, famous letter writers, like Dickens and Hitler, and the pseudoscience of handwriting analysis. With his novelist’s gift for shimmering prose, Hensher may be just the man to inspire a public handwriting revival. If not, his work is a fitting tribute to a dying art that, with voice recognition software now approaching human proficiency, may be poised to disappear forever. --Carl Hays
In The Missing Ink, Hensher unearths some of the sadistic, stylish, and occasionally sympathetic attempts to teach penmanship to generations of reluctant European and American children. —Jennifer Howard
Top customer reviews
The author's essential point is that the current state of handwriting is a far cry from what it once was. He then goes into an explanation of some of the earliest forms of writing instruments from the quill, to the fountain pen, the cartridge or refillable pen, and the advent of the roller-ball pen popularized by BIC, and let us not forget the pencil, but that does not really enter into formalized writing except as device with which to practice.
The book gets a little slow in the second half but the author has a certain dry wit and panache in explaining a subject you can tell he feels is important.
In talking about printing styles the author gives a lengthy lecture on Copperplate and notes that it was employed more for aesthetics than as a truly functional writing style. The idea was that to be considered fluid in this style of writing implied an uplift of one's moral character; i.e. a lot of practice. :) Then he talks at length about Spencerian script which he feels lead to America's Golden Age of Penmanship which he defines as the years 1850-1925. He felt that the real aim of the writing styles of the past was to restrain society by making them think there was only one of writing and if they did it any other way, they were simply doing it wrong. Of course as we learn from this work and from an earlier work called Script and Scribble Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, which the author mentions in several places and which I can also heartily recommend. Most of the people who still write in longhand script today learned using the method employed by A.N. Palmer, at least in America.
The author blends in a lot of interesting facts throughout as Edward Johnson developed the primary San Serif typeface most commonly used today, and Maria Montessori taught kids to recognize the shape of various letters by cutting them out of sandpaper and letting the kids run their fingers over them repeatedly to stimulate the brain to recognize each shape.
The author even discusses the old style German Sutterlin script called Fraktur by the Germans and how it was much easier to write because you didn't have to pick up your hand for breaks between the letters, which, of course, means it was much harder to read, as I can remember from my earliest college classes requiring it. Another factoid blended in was how a young William Henry Perkins 18yo in 1856 discovered the first aniline dye while trying to synthesize quinine. It was a purplish color he named MAUVEINE, which has morphed into the more modern word MAUVE to describe a similar shade of purple. And lastly but not leastly, we learn that on the old Roman Catholic calendars, religious holy days were designated in Red Ink to indicate their importance from which our current expression a RED LETTER DAY is derived.
A worthwhile book for those seriously interested in the subject of handwriting and its history.
At school I first learnt to print, though even then we pupils knew it was not a `grown up' way to write and we loved to experiment with joining the letters. We eventually received lessons in cursive writing - or `running writing' as we called it - and were taught a form of copperplate. As I moved into teenage I tried to personalise my writing, as did most of my friends, and some of the modifications were done in order to speed up my writing, essential for taking notes in class. Today my script is looped and retains traces of copperplate, but some ascenders have been clipped and several decorative capitals have been simplified in order to speed things along. The most dramatic change has resulted from my learning to touch type over twenty years ago, causing me to largely abandon handwriting other than to take field notes or write cards for special occasions. Paucity of practice has meant my handwriting is now chaotic and less fluid, and I often have to type up written notes within a day or many of the words become illegible to me. My handwriting is also very small, the product of an obsessive teacher who made us all write two lines of script into each printed line in our exercise books in order to save paper. When I first submitted an essay at university the tutor appended a note in return asking that I supply a magnifying glass and aspirin with my next assignment.
Hensher's interesting if sometimes wandering tale of handwriting contains a number of reminiscences like the above and most readers will recall their own experiences of learning to write. The book covers the changes that took place in handwriting styles from the nineteenth century onwards and the attempts to introduce standard styles in a number of countries. Good handwriting was for a long time associated with education and refinement, and today in many countries that is still true. It is both a discipline and a motor skill and can therefore be seen as an art form.
It might come as a surprise that before the twentieth century children were taught cursive script without learning to print first. In the early 1900s there were advocates for printing to replace cursive script completely, though they made little headway. Cursive script was much faster than printing, as typing is now much faster than handwriting, and we live in an industrial culture that adores speed.
Hensher discusses handwriting in the works of Dickens and Proust (neither had a very attractive hand) and the script of Adolf Hitler, touching on the scandal of the Hitler diaries that raised questions about how we authenticate handwriting.
The history of both ink and pens is dealt with in the later chapters, and reading them brought to mind my embarrassing experiences with ink - I once had a schoolbook with a large blot that bled through a dozen or so pages. Hensher mentions the role of the ink monitor in school. I did this in primary classes and in reading about it - something I had almost forgotten - I remembered the odd smell of the ink we used. Quills and metal nibs co-existed for a long time and ink reservoirs were designed for quills well before the advent of metal fountain pens.
Hensher discusses graphology and its Janus-faced character. On the one hand it is used in police investigations and courts to identify someone by comparison with that person's known script, while on the other hand it has been used to try and discern people's character. The latter face of graphology is utter rubbish, but like other pseudo-sciences it still holds strong sway in the minds of many. Hensher is open about his prejudices in relation to handwriting, but two of them - people who write in green ink are psychotic, and people who dot an `i' with a circle or heart are morons - looked more like scientific facts to me.
I was not allowed to use a ballpoint pen until high school, but I was overjoyed when that happy day came to pass - no more blots on my landscape. Hensher recounts the invention and marketing of ballpoint pens and their rise to dominance in the second half of the twentieth century. It is a remarkable story, though a nightmare in terms of the environment. Pencils and fountain pens are far more eco-friendly.
In the final chapter, Hensher cites a longitudinal study of 700 children that shows those with good handwriting skills also fared better in reading, composition and memory recall. He argues that we need to resurrect handwriting, not as a standard mode of communication (keyboards and texting have put paid to that), but rather as an artistic pursuit that gives pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. It is an appealing argument.
This book tells a good story and will make you reflect on the astounding changes that have taken place in the way we write. The narrative could have been more clearly structured. There are eight chapters titled `Witness' which are verbatim accounts by people of various ages telling of their handwriting experiences. These do not fit well into the narrative and lack sufficient context to add to the book's reasoning. Still, there is much here to enjoy and the re-framing of handwriting as a pleasurable pastime is a nice finishing flourish.