Even with snow on the ground, I am getting a jump on spring cleaning. Opening a desk drawer, I found a stack of old driver’s licenses, Screen Actors Guild cards and numerous other discarded …
Even with snow on the ground, I am getting a jump on spring cleaning. Opening a desk drawer, I found a stack of old driver’s licenses, Screen Actors Guild cards and numerous other discarded wallet items that required my signature. Putting them in chronological order, I discovered that my signature has changed over the years. In fact, it is hard to believe that they all came from my left hand.
I remember the day in elementary school when my teacher jettisoned the use of block letters in favor of cursive. While we were practicing the method of gliding one letter into the next, it would have been a suitable time for our teacher to also tell us about the history of handwriting.
One of the earliest attempts to develop a system of handwriting existed around 3,200 BC with a system called cuneiform. Cuneiform images were created by drawing on clay tablets. At first the images represented ideas. Eventually they evolved into syllables. However, the tablets were small, approximately the size of our current smart phones. So, to convey a written idea, the images were tiny and difficult to read.
Soon the Greeks and Romans contributed to advancing handwriting techniques. In an attempt to standardize handwriting, Charlemagne commissioned scholars to create a new uniform handwriting stemming from the Roman version. This system was soon embraced by scribes in monasteries, who, for the most part, were the ones doing the handwriting.
Eventually Johannes Gutenberg decided that perhaps he could compete in the Bible business. To entice the masses to read his printing press output, he told his craftsmen to design a Gothic script of lower and upper-case letters, modeled after the handwritten look produced by monasteries. Centuries later printed Bibles would be placed in nightstands in seemingly every hotel room in the world. You can find them right next to the yellow pages and the menu for room service that ends too early at 10pm.
Like many facets of society, handwriting became a symbol of one’s class. Those of wealth developed two distinct types of cursive handwriting. For personal correspondence such as inviting the landed gentry to a festive evening celebrating the birth of the Duchess of Dinty Moore, the invitations had ornately lettered script with squiggles and whorls. Many years later, the rock band “Squiggles and Whorls” opened for the Beatles at The Cavern in Liverpool, England.
For legal correspondence, the cursive handwriting was simple without any creative flourishes. So, such a legal notice might be “You are hereby summoned to appear before the Honorable Exchequer of Puffington to resolve the issue of periodic poaching of pheasants on the property of one Phillip Peacock, the third Earl of the hamlet of Alliteration.” It was written, of course, absent any squiggles and whorls.
My handwriting also has two distinctive styles. For everyday use such as making shopping lists, keeping track of my evolving passwords and entering appointments in my desk calendar, I use a legible combination of block and cursive handwriting. My signature is another matter.
From looking at my signature on those licenses and cards found in my desk, anything goes. At first, I must have taken the time to slowly spell out my name in a neat orderly way. Like those patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence, I wanted to ensure that people knew who signed a document. One by one those patriots waited to affix their signature to that famous parchment. They were frustrated as the guy chosen to go first practiced his signature at a nearby desk. Finally, Thomas Jefferson shouted out, “Sir, would you please put your John Hancock on that document.” And thus, the expression was born.
Somehow my signature has evolved into a barely legible H followed by what appears as a dash. Then a C with a downward dash. But it is not the strangest signature that I have ever seen. That distinction goes to the 45th occupant of the oval office. His signature lacks any indication of actual letters. Instead, it resembles an EKG printout from your cardiologist. Google it.
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