Handwriting blues

Posted by September Blue Friday, 31 July 2009

Transcribing old documents is fun, so long as they're not too old. Take this, for example:


It looks a bit weird, but but once you account for the lower-case E being written a little oddly and the second letter in being a long s, it snaps into sense as the word 'escape'. (This is a 1715 letter written about the currently underway Jacobite rebellion, and the escaper in question got away from an army.)

There are other letters that don't quite look like we'd usually write them today. Take this word:


Right after the O at the beginning are two lower-case Cs, and again, that's a long S rather than a lower-case F.

Sometimes, you'll come across things you can read, but not make any sense out of, like this:


That looks like '7ber'. It is '7ber'. It makes more sense in context, at the top of a letter:

lond 7ber

'7ber' is 'September'.

There's other things around in the same period, too, and sometimes you find unfamiliar abbrevations, characters, and spellings, all jostling together:

of yt societie

The middle word is 'yt', an old abbreviation for 'that'; the last is 'society', spelt with a long S and an -ie ending.

Early 18th century writing is not something I'm familiar with. I have absolutely no training in paleography, the study of reading old handwriting (although I'm pretty sure that mentioning this to medievalists would just get me laughed at since this is practically modern, what's all the fuss about?). But I'm getting quite fond of it, because a) once you understand how the abbreviations work and how letters often get written, it's not that hard to understand, and b) my actual specialisation is in the nineteenth century. You want to see what nineteenth century handwriting looks like?


Hmm. Does that look any better in context?


I rest my case.

1 Responses to Handwriting blues

  1. As someone who works on the period 1650-1850, give me eighteenth century handwriting anyday- the nineteenth century is a frickin nightmare. Medieval handwriting is often actually easier tho' (although often in different language) cause its tidier and less idiosyncratic, ie people don't have their own styles in the same way as when literacy is higher in the general pop.