Cursive, the Lost Art

This morning I was reading a book review at, taken from The Washington Post Book World


Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting
by Kitty Burns Florey

This might seem like a frivolous thing to younger people, but I think it’s a shame that the art of penmanship seems to be in it’s final death throes. As a child I had friends move away, and then my own family moved, and the only way we could keep in touch was by writing letters to eachother. Real letters, with pen and paper. And oh! those trips to the specialty stationery stores, endlessly searching for just the right paper style and design to reflect our personality. The choices seemed endless. I had all kinds: florals, embossed, plain, die-cuts, different shades of white and cream, pink, green, blue, yellow. I never wanted to buy too much of one kind, because I’d be stuck with it for awhile and would have no excuse to go find some new luscious paper.

And then the pens. I had to have the right pen. I’ve always liked a fine point, with ink that flowed smoothly. Fountain pens were a favorite, although I was restricted to the mass-produced Schaeffer pens available in any discount store. I’m still a nut for nice pens.

The letters themselves were treasures. I remember the thrill of seeing a familiar handwriting on the envelope delivered by the mailman. Sometimes they contained photos, or some small trinket that girls like to send eachother. I loved getting letters so much I signed up with an organization that linked children around the world as pen-pals. I had pen-pals in Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Germany. As soon as I’d finish reading a letter, I’d start writing a response. Since it typically took a couple weeks to receive a letter, it would be about a month between when I’d write, and a lot could happen in that time. My pen-pal in Ireland and I kept writing well into adulthood, as each of us got married, became parents, buried our own parents, nurtured careers.

I even took a calligraphy course, another excuse to buy fun pens, beautiful inks and troll art stores looking for just the right paper. I have a little plastic box that was bought in a sporting goods store, made for fishing tackle, that I keep all the pens and nibs and and little glass bottles of colorful inks in.

I still have some of that beautiful paper that I could never bring myself to use. I don’t know what I’ll do with it, maybe someday I’ll write a real letter again.


About D. D. Syrdal

Writer of vampire stories and science fiction. First novel, "Revenants Abroad", available now at Amazon,,, Smashwords. If you like a vampire you can go out drinking with and still respect yourself in the morning, I think you'd like Andrej.
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19 Responses to Cursive, the Lost Art

  1. welshcyclist says:

    It’s very sad, I agree with you, that the art of letter writing is, as you say, in its death throes. Today we live in a world where time is far too important, under constant pressure to do things, where the art of proper communication is replaced with texting and emails. Whereas, in comparison, what a joy it is to spend time with writing utensils, ink, pen and paper, to sit and compose written communication, a fantastic skill, when done well, and so rewarding.

  2. Cinda Baxter says:

    As someone who was once a Professional Stationer (and is now a consultant for them), my heart leaps over talk of watermarks, gold nibs, and gilded edges. While much of my professional life currently revolves around electronic communication, the truth is I *look* for reasons to send a handwritten thank you…then reap the benefits of having done so, with gushing phone calls and lifelong connections (both personal and lucrative professional ones).

    Paraphrasing a Crane & Co. marketing campaign several years ago, no one treasures an email.

    To this day, my most dearly held gift is a handwritten letter from my mother, composed from her hospital bed just after giving birth to my brother. In it, she tells her then five-year-old daughter all about where to find the glitter for her Valentine’s cards, how Daddy will help her make them, and how much she’ll love her baby brother when they’re able to come home.

    Now you tell me: Would that be as special in an email. I think not.

    Cinda Baxter
    consultant | speaker | writer

  3. Digital Dame says:

    welshcyclist: I so agree, real communication is lost in the rush and frenzy of texting, e-mails, instant messaging. Language itself is suffering from lack of use.

  4. Digital Dame says:

    Hi Cinda,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing such a precious memory! What a beautiful story, I got teary-eyed as I read it. I can imagine what a treasure that letter is to you. And you’re right, seeing it in impersonal electronic text would not be the same at all. Even as we’re thrust headlong into the 21st century, part of my heart longs for a slower, more elegant age.

  5. welshcyclist says:

    That’s it Digital Dame, you’ve hit the nail on the head, “…. a slower, more elegant age.”

  6. Pingback: Cursive, the Lost Art « The Wandering Mind

  7. artofmymind says:

    My sister and I still have a lot of Lisa Frank stationary from back in the day and our favorite section n Toys R Us was always the pen and paper aisle. sigh.

  8. Digital Dame says:

    Hi artofmymind,

    Thanks for coming by! Nice to know I’m not alone in pining for the days of fine papers, flowing penmanship, and the romance of a handwritten letter! Perhaps we should all start a movement, and resolve to write one “real” letter a year, to a friend, family member, etc. who will reciprocate. It’d give us all a new excuse to go paper and pen shopping 😉

  9. jglane says:

    After reading your comment at Reservoir Road, I just had to repay the visit and see your post on the lost art of letter-writing. I love pens and paper and, when I get the rare letter, sitting down to read it. There’s something to a real letter that’s lost in email.
    It seems funny to me that at a time when fountain pens are gaining in popularity (and the papers and notebooks to use them with) letter writing is on the downswing.
    Enjoyed your post. Thanks!

  10. Digital Dame says:

    Thanks for coming by, jg! I think the only person I still get real letters from is an elderly aunt, and those are infrequent.

    There’s nothing like the feel of a writing with a fine pen. I think I started journaling as a child just to have an excuse to use my favorite pens more!

  11. janflora says:

    I still love the fancy pens and have a “thing” for cards and stationary….I also had a lot of fun making cards w/ the kiddies at xmas and valentines. I agree we should try to promote it more though! My biggest concern on the topic is the loss of penmanship! I have debated with my 12yo son about handwriting. They really don’t teach it much anymore. Some people have such beautiful scripts! I too am afraid it will be a lost art.

  12. Digital Dame says:

    Hi Jan,

    One of my cousins has the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen, I used to try to emulate it. Even though mine is neat enough from time to time, someone once asked me if I was a teacher because he thought I had such beautiful penmanship! I guess it’s rare to see legible handwriting.

  13. Pingback: Handwriting? « Just Williams

  14. bukarella says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Nothing compares to a handwritten letter.


  15. maryjblog says:

    I love pretty stationery and nice pens as much as the rest of you guys, but I can’t say I miss all that emphasis on “penmanship” at the grade school level. As a natural lefty who cannot help but drag my hand through what I have already written, I took a lot of crap as a kid from small-minded teachers who seemed to be less concerned with legibility than with conformity. The way I hold the pen is just not standard for 90% of the population, and as an adult I’ve come to realize that my handwriting is sort of an acquired taste: I’ve had perfect strangers tell me, without prompting, how lovely it is, and others insist that it borders on unreadable. Since I’ve written the same way since puberty, I have to assume it’s in the eyes of the beholder, and I just don’t think it’s fair to penalize kids for something like that, as though it were a talent like music, or a quantifiable skill like reading comprehension or mathematical reasoning.

  16. Digital Dame says:

    I work with a guy who was raised Buddhist, and as a child learned Japanese and how to write in Japanese kanji. His English writing is tiny, slants backwards and is all printing.

    MJ, your handwriting may be completely unique, but I am always delighted to see it on an envelope in the mail. And you’re in good company, our new prez is also a lefty!

  17. maryjblog says:

    I married a lefty, too – I can’t tell you how much easier it has made both our lives: the mouse stays on the correct side of the computer, none of our power cords get twisted up, and we have no trouble staying out of each others’ way. Not only that, but 13 years ago when I brought our kitten home from the shelter, we found out she favors her “south” paw – if you dangle a toy in front of her, she bats it w/her left paw first.

  18. Digital Dame says:

    The Munchkin is showing signs of favoring the left hand already, at less than 2 yrs old.

  19. maryjblog says:

    That kid is one of My Girls – I can feel it in my bones. Buy her lots of books, and let her entertain you w/her loopy stories. Where are recent photos posted?

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