Comparing Theories – Spencerian Penmanship and Gregg Shorthand

I was revisiting the theory of Spencerian Penmanship recently. It is an ornamental penmanship and its golden age was about 1850-1925. In the theory there is much emphasis put on on Position, Movement, and Form. There is emphasis even on the degree of slant of the pen! In comparing Gregg Shorthand theory to it, there seems to be far less emphasis on Position and Movement. Could this be true? If so, do you suppose it’s because they would have been taught during penmanship instruction in a child’s early education?

Any thoughts about this? I’d enjoy hearing comparisons related to training/education in cursive and shorthand.

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  1. Gregg shorthand was developed in that era of “business penmanship”.  There’s a lot of emphasis on the similarities of Gregg strokes with “normal” handwriting.  That doesn’t really connect with people today.

    Position, movement, form, and slant are all key to writing good Gregg Shorthand.  Also proportion, scale, and attention to what is written before and after.

    Unlike normal penmanship, Gregg shorthand is very “context dependent”.  And it’s also dependent on writing outlines as closely as possible to the textbook norm.

    In the Facebook Gregg shorthand group, there are regular requests for help with reading a relative’s diary, or recipe, or other notes.  If that relative wrote outside the textbook norm, it’s sometimes almost impossible to come up with more than an educated guess.

    Spencerian penmanship is from an era of ink and “flexible pen”.  It’s possible to reproduce it today, but in terms of daily handwriting, it’s not realistic.


  2. I re-read your post just now. The very early Gregg publications did in fact put an emphasis on penmanship, position, and movement. For example, I have the little book “Practical Drills in Shorthand Penmanship” by George McClure, from 1909. It’s laid out very much along the lines of “business penmanship” textbooks, i.e. later Spencerian, Palmer, and Zaner-Bloser.

    And the early years of “The Gregg Writer” always had articles and advice about penmanship.

    The Gregg company even published “Gregg Handwriting”, by Mary Champion, in 1931. It’s very similar to Palmer and Zaner-Bloser models of the same period.

    (If you use Facebook, I have scans of these documents in the Files of the group “Gregg Shorthand Readers, Writers and Fans”).


  3. I have always, right from the start of learning Gregg, been aware of the need to slope the writing.

    I had not heard of Spencerian writing. I looked online and it was similar to the Copperplate writing. I thought the copperplate looks best due to the greater amount of thick downstrokes. Spencerian seems rather spidery in comparison. But now I see where the capital G comes from — and this grates on me — I thought it was peculiar to Charles Schulz in his Peanuts cartoons. The Copperplate has the tail of the G coming below the line which looks nicer to me. Anyway I do not really like to see capital letters written as bigger lower case letters with squirls. But one can see that when Pitman was developing his method, the hard an soft stokes of copperplate were more natural than now so he used that facility.

    When I chose to learn Gregg, the two systems were presented alternately in lessons in a home encyclopaedia magazine. I could see that with my bad handwriting, distinguishing hard and soft was beyond me (not to mention the vowels correctly placed in Gregg). Actually my wish to learn shorthand was that because I had bad handwriting, I thought that if wrote in shorthand I could take more time and make it neater without losing speed.

    At one point in my life, to “improve” legibility I sloped my writing backwards. Then, again in that encyclopaedia, there were lessons in handwriting, rather like copperplate but without the hard/sot distinction. I adopted the weird capital letters but one by one most of them reverted to proper Roman capitals. So I am left with a hotch-potch of forms. Mostly my words all slant as Spencer would have taught – it depends on my mood. And its size changes too. Likewise my shorthand which I know I do not slant enough all of the time – occasionally it gets rather vertical. So Carlos’s penmanship practices bring me back in line.

    (I seem to have drifted off your point. I blame my bad writing to how we were taught. We used books by Marion Richardson which had no elegance at all; nothing to be proud of.)

    1. Haha. Yes, Marion Richardson’s models are very uninspiring!

      Gregg Shorthand is much more similar to what in the US was called “business penmanship”. It abandoned the thicks and thins of Spencerian (which had to be written with a flexible pen) for a thin consistent line–equivalent to the “light line” of Gregg’s shorthand system. And the slanted forms of Gregg correspond to the slanted forms of business penmanship.

      Gregg wasn’t unique in using a thin non-shaded line. Several once popular systems look very similar on the page, for example Pernin and Malone. But Gregg had a more coherent complete system, and he was a marketing genius.


    2. My day-to-day handwriting is block print that is mostly straight up and down with a slight lean to the left. I’d love to have sweeping cursive penmanship whether Gregg Shorthand or Spencerian. That is probably what draws me to practicing them both . . . it’s a form of relaxation and creativity with pen and paper. I noticed that when I practice Spencerian, and then immediately practice common phrases in shorthand, the appearance of my forms were improved.

      PS – I believe Copperplate is drawn, as with calligraphy and ar. The pen is lifted multiple times in the formation of a letter or word, or picture. Whereas Spencerian is written, with minimal pen lifts.

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