While working in the Baldwin you often come across interesting finds. In fact, it would be difficult to spend more than five minutes in the stacks without finding at least some instance of inscription, usually a gift from a beloved relative to a niece or nephew, but every now and then an inscription will stand out from the others. I found this inscription in Frank Netherton: or The Talisman, and it immediately stood out as special because of the uniqueness of the handwriting. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there is a stereotype that everyone “back in the day” had amazingly beautiful handwriting with each letter being a work of art that was styled with grace and precision. As you can see from this example of penmanship circa 1870, stereotypes can sometimes be based in fact.
Written by an unknown friend to Sidney M. Taylor, this inscription is a beautiful example of the variety of penmanship. Notice the care taken for each letter to give them extra details like the swooping flourishes on the f’s and t’s. See how the words glide together in an easy cursive. The writer also chose to add some accentuating marks to their inscription by underlining almost every letter with two dots. These extra details and embellishments, while serving to make the inscription beautiful and ornate, also gives the words a slight illegible quality. There are words you have to really stare at to understand and others that you must rely on context to suss out. For instance, I find the date to be the hardest to understand because of the swooping lines in what I take to be the O in “Oct 16th 1870.” It makes the letter seem unclear, and I cannot easily distinguish what it is, perhaps it is not an O at all! But maybe this is just my own failing in reading it. Regardless, this inscription is a fascinating example of penmanship from the late 1800’s and really allows you to imagine the reader.