The 1879 Spencerian Compendium of Penmanship in PDF Format

I usually try to avoid the eye candy, gallery type of posts, but this one is just too good to pass up. A retweet by I Love Typography sent me via via to the blog of Luke Williams, a graphic designer and photographer currently living and working in Chicago. As he explains on his About Me page his design work has taken a strong turn towards lettering and type, so he is constantly on the lookout for old books on lettering and proper techniques lately. He likes to read about what is traditionally considered fine practice, and recently stumbled upon the website of IAMPETH, the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting. This international, non-profit association is “dedicated to practising and preserving the beautiful arts of calligraphy, engrossing and fine penmanship.” They have posted the index of The New Spencerian Compendium of Penmanship, from 1879, and made the whole book available as a downloadable PDF.

Opening page of The New Spencerian Compendium of Penmanship, 1879

In the early 1800s, Platt Rogers Spencer (1800-1864) created what would become the most widely accepted and prized cursive writing method used in business. Before the American Civil War, Spencer was the undisputed king of handwriting. He was also an outspoken supporter of American business education. By the late 1800s business education included some focus on penmanship, and there were many colleges that specialized in it. One of the most influential penmanship schools was founded by Charles Paxton Zaner and his partner E.W.&#8201Bloser. Later on, in the early 1900s Austin Palmer introduced the Palmer Method of business penmanship, and it soon became the most popular handwriting system in the United States.

In the past, with only PostScript fonts available, this level of intricate penmanship could only be achieved by skilled penmen. However thanks to the revolutionary developments in OpenType in recent years it can now be approximated with digital type. Several talented type designers have taken it upon themselves to design and build OpenType fonts that faithfully reproduce gorgeous vintage handwriting. Paul D. Hunt is one of them. He has produced a beautiful rendition of this type of handwriting. P22 Zaner is based on ornamental penmanship as taught by the aforementioned Charles Paxton Zaner at his art college at the turn of the 20th century. The “super” pro set contains over 3,000 characters.

Other handwriting fonts can be found in the Formal Calligraphic Script and Antique Handwriting Fonts FontLists.

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  1. Yves, thanks for the good word. I myself wrote a blog post on the treasury of lettering books hosted on the IAMPETH site:

    In fact, I’ll link to ‘Lessons in Ornamental Penmanship’ by C.P. Zaner, that was the inspiration for the P22 Zaner typeface family.

    So much good material on that site, many of these old lettering books are definitely worth a look.

    Posted by Paul D. Hunt on Feb. 11, 2010
  2. Thanks for that extra bit of information, Paul. There sure are so many beautiful things on that website. Besides the wonderful handwriting of course, the vintage typefaces the titles and body text are set in, and the covers for the rare books are a real treasury trove.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Feb. 11, 2010
  3. This is a wonderful book, I m so lucky to have one (and perfect conditions!) at home, it was the source for some of my Compendium font and obviously the name came from there too.

    Posted by Ale Paul on Feb. 11, 2010
  4. Aw, I simply couldn’t resist – isn’t this cover for Noyes’ Penmanship by Enoch Noyes just fabulous?

    Posted by Yves Peters on Feb. 11, 2010
  5. (…) it was the source for some of my Compendium font (…)

    Oh yes, another beautiful take on that specific writing style indeed.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Feb. 11, 2010
  6. Hello Yves, Paul, Ale (Hey Ale!) and others,

    I just want to say thank you for the very nice write-up and links back to our website. It is very rewarding and satisfying to see designers like yourselves enjoying the materials on the IAMPETH site. It is something we didn’t anticipate when we made the ‘Rare Books’ available, but it sure makes me glad we did.

    To see such wonderful typefaces such as P22 Zaner, Burgues, and Compendium makes us very happy, indeed. You gentlemen have done a superlative job of paying homage to these Master Penman from the past.

    Please keep up the good work. And know that we appreciate you.

    Very best regards,

    James Ivey
    IAMPETH Webmaster

    Posted by James Ivey on Feb. 12, 2010
  7. Hi Guys, Thank u very very much for the awesome effort that u have put into this.

    Posted by Sambit PRadhan on Dec. 28, 2010

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