Notes from the post-print transition, 4: the fetishization of (pre-print) handwriting

android dec 2011 to nov 2012 129

In this elegant script – the most original one we have ever known intimately – its owner recalls listening to aspiring Urdu poets on Indian trains - photographs: postgutenberg [at]

In this elegant script – the most original one we have ever known intimately – its owner recalls listening to aspiring Urdu poets on Indian trains
– photographs: postgutenberg [at]

None of the little grey cells serving post-Gutenberg believe that onscreen publishing will stop real readers from enjoying printed books. That is not least because, in weeks of acute eye strain — like this one — dead tree texts have a tranquillising effect on  eyeballs screaming about too much e-reading. Nor has the pleasure of writing by hand ever faded for us; not by the merest ink speck — since we felt the first thrill of shaping chalk letters by fist on a slate smeared with carrot-drool.

Nor do we ever study the most eloquent, distinctive or moving email with the delight, and anything like the same rewards, with which we re-read handwritten letters and cards, most of them antiques. And no, there is no equivalent satisfaction or fascination to be had in re-encounters with typewritten pages, no matter how jumpy, quirky or bizarre the lettering of a particular old typing machine.

All that should make it easy to see why we were startled to discover, of all things, a how-to article in a widely-read financial newspaper for people who have apparently lost the art of handwriting – and done so almost completely. How common is this lamentable fate? – more so, perhaps, among quants who get virtually all the news that interests them from The Wall Street Journal?

What comes after the death of – pre-Gutenberg – handwriting? If the WSJ contributor, Chris Kornelis, is to be believed, it is the fetishization of script on paper, using nothing less than the Kobe-beef-and-caviar equivalent of writing tools, once you leave kindergarten again.

Extracts from the piece — which, we are told, was published with the aid of a ‘styling’ specialist:

… When you are ready to invest in a more expensive pen, Mr. Wiederlight said that penmanship-focused writers should look for one feature in particular: a genuine gold nib, which is more flexible than a steel one. “It shows the variation of the lines: more pressure, thicker stroke; less pressure, thinner stroke,” he said, adding that the gold will get smoother over time. He pointed out that Sailor’s 1911 Large Collection($310, has the same 21-karat gold nib found on the company’s much more expensive models.

… Pick the Right Paper

You can reduce feathering—the effect of ink spreading through the paper’s fibers and creating an unkempt look—by using 100-percent cotton paper, such as Crane & Co.’s 32-lb. Pearl White Kid Finish ($20 for 50 sheets,, according to Capper Heffernan, owner of Seattle’s de Medici Ming Fine Paper.

… Improve Your Technique

Of course, the equipment will only get you so far. You also have to practice. Ms. Thorpe suggested finding a style that you admire and want to emulate. “Handwriting is shakable. People can consciously change their style of handwriting,” she said. “First figure out what your goal is.”

The next step is repetition. Ms. Thorpe recommended choosing a couple words—like your name—with letters that you use frequently and writing them over and over again. After you’ve mastered those letters, add a few more words until you’ve gone through the entire alphabet.

Good grief.


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