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Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print
The Necessity of Writing: Signatures, Marks, and

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The Necessity of Writing: Signatures, Marks, and Stamps

In an age of increasing literacy, the ability to sign one’s name was more important than the ability to read. Ranging from the humble "mark," to the tentative signatures of the newly literate, to the stylized signatures of kings, queens, and nobles, signatures (sometimes joined with wax seals) were now essential for authorizing a wide range of official and personal documents.

Henry VIII. Writ under sign manual and signet, for Christopher Moore. Manuscript, 24 November 1539 (Detail)

As seen above, a monarch’s signature on a document was usually referred to as a "sign manual" and appeared at the top of a document rather than at the conclusion. Henry VIII found the repetitive action of signing documents to be tedious and tiring.  He therefore developed a wooden stamp with his signature to facilitate the process. This writ, written by one of his secretaries, has a clear example of his "stamped" signature at the top.


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Hull. Exposition upon a part of the Lamentations of Jeremie. London, 1620

Exhibition Highlights

William Moth was quite proud to be the owner of this book, which he records as being given to him as a gift on December 26, 1692. He signs his name multiple times on the front and rear paste-downs ("William Moth is my name And with a pen I write the same"), and includes a bit of verse in which he blames his poor writing on his pen:
Little is the Robbin
And less is the Ren
bad is my writing
And worse is my pen
And if my pen had
but been better
I might have mended
Every letter

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