Since 1977, 23 January has been National Handwriting Day in the USA. That particular day was chosen because it’s the birthday (or as least, the birthday in the New Style of dating which was brought in for England and British Colonies in 1752) of John Hancock. If you’ve ever heard someone say “Put your John Hancock here,” they’re asking for your signature. John Hancock was the first to put his name to the Declaration of Independence and his bold, confident, very legible signature has become a byword.
For some people, their signature is about the only thing they actually write these days, with the proliferation of computers, tablets and phones. And even signatures are less frequently asked for, with more and more business being done online. When Dr Kellogg came up with his Cornflakes, he also came up with a wizard marketing wheeze – ‘None genuine without this signature’. There was a wide variety of breakfast cereals produced at the time, and competitors weren’t above trying to make their product look similar to the popular brand, but no-one would dare copy that feature or they could be charged with forgery.
The illustration shows a romantic pink quill pen (with a ballpoint inserted in the functioning end, alas) but if you really wanted to make use of a quill to write you wouldn’t want all that fluffy stuff getting up your nose and in your way. Quills were trimmed before they were cut to make a dip pen, which had to be re-dipped in ink every few words. You can find out how to make your own here. I read once that the reason for the way Jane Austen writes, in elegant antithetical phrases, is because with a dip pen you need to compose a line in your head before you write it, as you’ll need to remember it while you dip for more ink. Charles Dickens’ endless, energetic sentences, came about because he had a fountain pen and could write on and on as he wished.
The act of writing fascinates me. There’s something amazing about seeing a pen (fountain pen, for preference) tracing across a page, making your invisible thoughts clear to anyone who can read. If you stopped in the middle of a sentence, no-one could know what you intended to write next. The transmission of ideas by writing words! It’s the most powerful thing in the world, and well worth celebrating. So find your best nib and a notebook and enjoy the art of putting pen to paper.