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Technologies of Writing in the Age of Print
The New Writing Manuals: the Round Hand

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The New Writing Manuals: the Round Hand

The round hand emerged in the 1660s and quickly gained currency as the most practical and beautiful style of handwriting in England.  Writing masters advertised the round hand’s utility for merchants and tradesmen, but it was in fact adopted by most individuals.  Printed writing manuals increased  in size and style during this period, as writing masters competed to produce the most elegant and impressive engraved examples of their handwriting.


"Sarah Cole Her Book Scholler to Elizabeth Beane Mistress in the Art of Writing Anno
1685" is proudly inscribed in round hand on the title page of the manuscript displayed below. In addition to instructions and examples in addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, the Golden Rule, bartering, and interest (copied mostly in round hand), Sarah Cole includes fanciful animals, figures, and patterns drawn in the new fashion, without the appearance of any penlifts.

Sarah Cole. Arithmetic exercise book of Sarah Cole. Manuscript, 1685

Sarah Cole. Arithmetic exercise book of Sarah Cole. Manuscript, 1685

Sarah Cole. Arithmetic exercise book of Sarah Cole. Manuscript, 1685

John Ayers. A tutor to penmanship, or, The writing master a copy. London?, 1698?

William Banson. The merchant's penman: A new copy book of the usual hands now in practice. London, 1702

By the 1660s, writing masters like John Ayers and William Banson had expanded their curriculum to include math. Literacy and “numeracy” were increasingly important for tradesmen and aristocrats alike. Because of the intense competition for students, writing masters began advertising their services on broadsides like these, which appeared at the back of their writing manuals.


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