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Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print
Learning to Write

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Learning to Write

Cocker. The tutor to writing and arithmetick. London, 1664.

Cocker. The Compleat Writing Master. 1670.

Stephen Poynting. Practice sentences. Manuscript, ca. 1650

England underwent a handwriting revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Three new hands emerged: the secretary hand evolved out of the medieval gothic tradition, while the simple and elegant italic hand was based upon an Italian revival of Carolingian handwriting (from the time of Charlemagne). Students learned to write both hands by repeatedly tracing and copying strokes, letters, alphabets, and sentences.  By the end of the seventeenth century, secretary and italic merged into the “round” hand, a precursor to modern handwriting.


Edward Cocker, one of the most prolific writing masters of his time, distinguished himself by engraving his own writing manuals, which included fanciful knots, flourishes, and animals drawn in looping strokes without lifting his pen. Here he simplifies the learning process by breaking each letter into individual strokes. One student has attempted to complete some of the letter forms, and has partially copied the alphabet underneath.


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  Exhibition Highlights

Stephen Poynting, possibly a student at the Free School in Gloucester, practices a pangram (a sentence containing every letter of the alphabet), "Job a Righteous man of uz waxed poor Quickly," twenty-one times. His spacing between words grows larger with each sentence so that he is increasingly unable to fit in the last word, "Quickly," before running off the page. He has pre-ruled the paper to make it easier to write in a straight horizontal line.

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