Thursday, February 27, 2020

Fountain Pens & Journals

Antique pen & pencil set
I recently received an advertisement from The Goulet Pen Company, and among their pens was a beautiful fountain pen with a deep green finish that reminded me of my father's pen.  I was never allowed to use his pen, nor was my mother, although she wrote beautifully in cursive.  It was his alone, and no one was allowed to injure the point and spoil his favorite writing instrument.

How many of us today own a fountain pen?  When I was younger, a nice pen and pencil set was still an appropriate graduation gift, and perhaps the sets I received as gifts were for one or more of my graduations.  Perhaps I even bought one of the sets when I graduated from law school, believing it would reflect dignity on a young lawyer to use a fountain pen to sign important documents.

I own my father's pen, a treasured object associated with memories of him at his desk, a Victorian desk first owned by his father and now owned by his lawyer grandson.  Many times I played nearby as he wrote checks for his farm business and for the church he served as secretary-treasurer for many years.  Those days imprinted on my mind the association of using a fountain pen for important documents, just as my mother's beautiful script imprinted the importance of beautiful penmanship.

Sadly, today I write with disposable pens and my cursive penmanship will never match my mother's script.  I remain convinced, however, that cursive writing and even the printing now taught in schools are an important reflection of the person.  Even if letters are rare, cards are still signed, and a personal note is appreciated.  Documents still require signatures.

Page from Isaac's journal 1871
In other blogs I have written about penmanship, and in doing research for those blogs I was shocked to learn that many younger people cannot read cursive writing and are unable to decipher treasured family documents.  That brings me to the subject of this blog, which is the penmanship of Isaac Werner.

When I found Isaac's journal and recognized what a valuable historic document it is, I decided to transcribe it.  That process, which also involved annotating it and researching all of the names mentioned in his journal, took 11 months.  Of course, far deeper research related to the contents of his 480-page journal has since expanded over a decade, but this week's blog is about his penmanship.

The early years reflect the confidence of a younger man, living in a small Illinois town where access to supplies was simple.  His script is strong, and the ink remains dark.  When he resumed his journal as a homesteader on the Kansas prairie, his script was tighter, seeming to hint at a thriftiness required of homesteaders, who wasted nothing.  Recycling was essential in a place where money was scarce and trips to town took all day, even though today they would be ten minutes away.  I suspect that Isaac may have watered his ink when he noticed that his ink well was getting low and he might run out before his next trip to town.

Page from Isaac's journal 1887
The pen set pictured in this blog was among family objects saved after our parents' deaths, and I do not know whose they were.  The two images of Isaac's penmanship show the bold script of his younger years in Illinois and the tiny, tighter script of his later years on the prairie.  The ink from the 1887 page is faint, and my assumption  is that Isaac had diluted it to avoid running out, since pages before and after are not faint and do not indicate a likelihood of a habit of leaving the journal exposed to sunlight that would have faded the ink.

I hope you enjoy this reflection of lost customs, as well as a peak at the interior of Isaac Werner's 480-page journal that I transcribed, which has become the heart of my manuscript about the history of the populist movement in Kansas.

Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

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