American Handwriting Memorialized
by First Public Monument
An Interview with Michael Sull by Ann Cobb
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The first public monument in America dedicated to our heritage of handwriting
will soon be a reality. It is difficult to understand why a monument has never
been created, but we are excited for this opportunity to permanently recognize
our penmanship history for posterity. The idea for the Spencer Monument Project
is the vision of IAMPETH member Michael Sull who, along with Master Penman
Harvest Crittenden, recently conducted the historic 25th anniversary of the
Spencerian Saga. I had the privilege of attending the Saga last October when
Michael shared his thoughts on the project with his students, and I asked him to
write down his thoughts for our Journal:
"While thinking about the influence that the Spencerian Saga has had for a
quarter century of promoting Platt Rogers Spencer and our country's Golden Age
of Penmanship, I began to realize that the Saga itself is now a chapter in
America's penmanship heritage. It seemed to me that there should be some means
to commemorate the Saga program and our penmanship history.
Despite the importance of Platt Rogers Spencer's work as well as that of all the
legendary penmen who followed him, no monument or memorial has ever been created
to recognize their invaluable contributions to our country. American penmanship
played a tremendous role in the education of our citizens during the 19th and
early 20th centuries. The skill and teaching of handwriting had a vast influence
in the progressive increase of literacy throughout our population, and business
writing became the mainstream vehicle for all commercial correspondence. In
addition, Spencerian Script touched nearly everyone at that time with the social
expression of correspondence, allowing families and friends to stay in touch
with one another. And yet, in the 148 years since the death of Spencer, no one
has created a public recognition of any kind to show that our magnificent penmen
ever existed at all, let alone what they accomplished. This lack of initiative
and effort is a sad testimonial to all penmen who came before us.
Today, in this 21st century, we can do something to correct this oversight, and
each of us can take pride in making this project succeed. Here and now - this is
our moment in history, and rest assured that there will be penmen who follow us.
There is a line from a song that says: '. . . we all become forefathers, bye and
bye . . . .' So it goes. It is both our privilege and responsibility to record
the story of American penmanship so that future generations can know and love
this art - and its history - as we do. The Spencerian Monument to American
Handwriting will be our gift to the preservation of our native penmanship and
the lives of our colleagues, past and present. We owe our predecessors more than
respect; and we owe them our commitment that their efforts will be remembered
and never lost again.
Origin of Spencerian Penmanship
Evolved 'mid nature's unpruned scenes,
On Erie's wild and woody shore,
The rolling wave, the dancing stream,
The wild-rose haunts in days of yore.
The opal, quartz and ammonite,
Gleaming beneath the wavelet's flow,
Each gave its lesson - how to write -
In the loved years of long ago.
I seized the forms I loved so well -
Compounded them as meaning signs,
And to the music of the swell
Blent them with undulating vines.
Thanks, Nature, for the impress pure,
Those tracings in the sand are gone;
But while love shall for thee endure,
Their grace and ease will still live on.
-Platt Rogers Spencer
The monument will consist of five large bronze tablets mounted on a four-sided
limestone obelisk approximately four feet wide at its base, and tapering to a
height of nine feet. Near the top of the obelisk a flourished design of a bird
perched on a quill will be engraved into the stone.
The two largest plaques will be the focal point of the monument. One plaque will
be devoted to Platt Rogers Spencer as the Father of American handwriting, with
text about his life and achievements. The other plaque commemorates the
Spencerian Saga with text about its founding, program, and influence in
promoting Spencer's legacy for 25 years. The three smaller plaques contain
Spencer's poem 'The Origin of Spencerian Penmanship,' the dedication plaque
featuring the date and names of the monument committee members, and the patrons'
plaque listing the names of donors who contributed $500 or more to the project.
The Spencer Monument project is spearheaded by the Spencerian Saga and its many
students. The monument committee consists of Dawn Darner (Woodbury, MN), Bill
Theobald (Anchorage, AK), Michael Grady (Atlanta, GA), Harvest Crittenden
(Howell, MI), and Michael Sull (Gardner, KS). Everyone - whether they have
attended a Saga or not - is welcome and encouraged to participate in this
historic event by making a contribution. Donations by check or money order
(payable to the Spencer Monument Project) should be mailed to Spencer Monument
Project, Post Office Box 65, Cottage Grove, Minnesota 55016. Everyone who makes
a contribution will receive a flourished certificate designed by Michael Sull
with your name written in beautiful ornamental penmanship. For donations of $100
or more, contributors will receive a commemorative oblique penholder crafted by
IAMPETH members Michael Grady and Michael Sull engraved with the words 'Spencerian
Monument for American Handwriting " Geneva, Ohio " August 23, 2012.' Individuals
or organizations donating $500 or more will have their name inscribed on the
bronze Patrons' Plaque in addition to receiving the certificate and
commemorative penholder. Our goal for the project is $8,000.
The site location for the monument is historic in itself. It is the original
library building for the City of Geneva, Ohio - especially noteworthy because
Spencer founded the city's first library in the 1830's. Platt Rogers Spencer
lived in Geneva from age 10 until his death in 1864. The library building was
dedicated on Flag Day, 1910, with one room featuring a framed portrait of
Spencer. In the 1980's a number of penmanship specimens were discovered in the
basement. It was there that, in 1984, Michael Sull made his first trip to Geneva
to conduct research for his book Spencerian Script & Ornamental Penmanship, and
identified many of the penmen who wrote those specimens long ago. For 20 years
participants of the Saga visited the library to study their Spencerian
By the late 1990's the Geneva Library was in a state of disrepair. A new library
building was constructed several miles away, and the portrait was transferred to
this new facility. Last year, efforts began to restore the original building in
preparation for its new role as the county courthouse. Today the restoration is
essentially complete. To honor Platt Rogers Spencer, the monument will be placed
on the patio walkway at the foot of the entrance staircase in the front of the
building. It is considered the most historic location in Geneva.
The official dedication of the Spencerian Monument and the re-dedication of the
old library building will take place on Friday, August 24, 2012. As a part of
the ceremony, Michael Sull and Harvest Crittenden will be presenting a portrait of Spencer to the newly
renovated courthouse building on behalf of the Spencerian Saga. All contributors
and IAMPETH members are invited to attend this historic event. For further
information, please contact Dawn Darner (email@example.com), Harvest
Crittenden (Harvest@acornarts.org), or Michael Sull (Michael@spencerian.com).
The progress of our fund-raising efforts will be reported on IAMPETH's website
and in the next issue of the Penman's Journal.
This is, indeed, a rare opportunity to take part in a project of national
significance that has never before been recognized. We are the first penmen to
accomplish this endeavor and, through our efforts, America's Golden Age of
Penmanship will always have a stone beacon to remind everyone of our handwriting
heritage today, tomorrow, and for all future generations who will follow in our
Each of us shares a common bond in appreciating the remarkable skill of the past
masters and their work. As an association, we have met annually for more than 60
years to celebrate and learn their techniques. And sometimes it seems that we
actually come close to knowing these men and women personally as we study their
magnificent specimens in IAMPETH's archive collection. We speak their names with
reverence, and can only imagine what it would have been like to study under
Now, however, we can do a great service for them. This monument is an
unprecedented occasion to honor their memory forever in a manner that no one has
ever done before now. Everyone is encouraged to participate in this meaningful
project, for with its success and physical presence in Geneva, our legacy of
penmanship will endure beyond our own lifetimes and forever.
On August 24, a permanent monument of P.R Spencer was dedicated in front of the Western County Courthouse in Geneva N.Y. Read More
A video of the dedication for the P.R. Spencer monument