Sunday, January 24, 2016

Genealogy Journey's Podcast # 2: Pens and Penmanship

We hope that you have enjoyed, are enjoying, or will enjoy our podcast (it should be located in the post just below this one) on Pens and Penmanship, which includes some of the details of the history of the writing instrument we generally pick up for free at hotels, conferences, and other such locations.

Today anyone can personalize a pen with a logo, phone number or email address, or just about anything. And novelty pens are a fun addition to a person's desk (though not always easy to write with). Just within the last few decades, this simple instrument has metamorphosed from something only the rich could afford to an item that, if it doesn't work just right, we think nothing of tossing into a nearby wastebasket.

While we discussed the use of pens, I mentioned my experience with learning to use a fountain pen with an old-fashioned (even then) refillable system. To learn more about the history and evolution of that item, click here.

You may notice that some of the companies that mass produced early pens are still in existence today. I mentioned that mine had to be filled from an ink well. While I'm not quite so old as to have had one of those fancy cut-glass items on my school desk, I did use one produced by the ink companies that contained both the ink and a small "well" or reservoir for it. If that is hard to visualize, check out the photos at this website (this is at Mary's Menagerie and is an item she is selling - click the different views on the right of her page to see how the well was incorporated into the bottle). I need to add that, if she sells the item, this might come up blank:
Different views of the ink bottle
If you are on Pinterest, here is a link that will show you one view of the bottle but also has a number of photos and bits of info on old fountain pens.

On the podcast we discuss the value of things today in comparison with times gone by. Whether it is a pen, a piece of furniture, even land, if you are interested in comparing what would be commensurate with what your ancestor paid, try using an on-line converter. Click "calculator" to see the one I used for the discussion on the ball point pen.

Ball point pens are really ingenious inventions and if you are interested in more about their history and the companies that first produced them, check here. You may be interested in the fact that yesterday, January 23rd, was National Handwriting Day! There was a time when the entire "art" (and it was an art) of penmanship was a subject taught in school. No doubt some of your ancestors took a course in this activity (and don't we wish that the Census takers all had done so). To learn more about penmanship, check this website on Wikipedia and this one here on the specifics of "cursive" writing.

When I was a child, we called the portion of class on this topic "learning script" (I don't think I heard the word "cursive" until I was an adult). When you consider your ancestors' writing and the uniqueness of their signatures, you find another way to identify things that he or she wrote. Here is an interesting article on that topic, mentioning some of the finer points of penmanship that we discussed on the blog.

But, as many genealogists are aware, there is a huge movement to remove the instruction of cursive writing from school curricula. The debate rages on and here are some perspectives on the pros and cons:
"Cursive No More," March 2015
"10 Reasons People Still Need Cursive," February 2015
"Preserve Legacies of Loved Ones through Handwriting," September 2015

On whatever side of the penmanship argument you are standing, we hope you enjoyed our little foray into times gone by and, it appears, times to come.

My collection of fountain pens:

Jean Wilcox Hibben

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