The Palmer Method

PMM

The Palmer Method was a system of handwriting created by Austin Palmer in the late 19th century, which enjoyed decades of popularity in America. Many instructional books and editions of workbooks were printed and disseminated through the public school system, serving as a simplified solution to the more complicated Spencerian System, which was very popular at the time.

Along with written materials and workbooks, you could also purchase purpose-built pencils for practicing the Palmer Method:

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I don’t know whether these pencils were designed with any specific Palmerian tenets in mind, but they are very smooth, very dark, and a pleasure to write with. It would be interesting to know who manufactured the pencils for the company:

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You can learn more about the Spencer Method here. And while there is current debate about the necessity of teaching handwriting in school, it is interesting to read what was important to turn-of-the-century educators in terms of handwriting, and the lengths to which they were willing to go to produce generations of ‘good’ writers.

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16 Responses to The Palmer Method

  1. Adair says:

    Sean, as a child in Catholic school in the mid 1960’s, I was taught the Palmer method. We used dip pens until second grade, and every morning, a nun would fill the ink-wells on our desks out of something that looked like a garden watering can, with a long spout. Later we graduated to Sheaffer ink cartridge school pens (which leaked like heck), and, alas, to Bic ballpoints. Handwriting was a very big deal. I love those Palmer pencils—are those from your collection? Beautiful!

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    • Sean says:

      Thanks, Adair, for your recollections. I’m curious to know though if, when you were taught this method, whether it was referred to as being a particular method (i.e. Palmer Method). These are the same letter forms I was taught too — I remember placards of them being posted along the wall of one classroom as a kind of trim, but I have no recollection of anyone referring to it as any kind of ‘method’, just that they were ‘cursive’ letters. There was also a very good chance I wasn’t paying attention, too. 🙂

      Yes, I own these pencils. This might be a strange way of describing them, but, they’re somewhere between a German 2B and a Japanese B.

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  2. Adair says:

    Yes, I distinctly recall it being called “Palmer.” Recently, I asked another Catholic school student of my generation about handwriting class, and she immediately exclaimed: “Palmer!” My mother was educated in the same tradition and always called it “the Palmer.” As an office worker at a bank, she also had to learn the “Gregg” method for shorthand! Everything in those days, from handwriting to learning languages, was some sort of system or method.

    One of the big events in my school life was when my grandmother gave me a Parker 45 for Christmas, which then replaced my awful Sheaffer student pen. I felt so adult and sophisticated! It was a Forrest Green color with a medium point nib, and it was a luxury item, the envy of the other boys. I kept it in a special leather case and took it out only when instructed by the nuns…

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    • Sean says:

      Great stories! Thank you.

      With handwriting being in such decline nowadays — not just particular styles, but writing by hand at all — it seems like now’s the time to market a new writing method, one that addresses the issues of the 21st century but promotes handwriting all the same.

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  3. We had letter forms running around the room above the blackboards, but they were simpler than the Palmer forms. My mom and dad, I’m sure, were instructed in the Palmer method — my dad’s signature still has a perfect Palmer “L.”

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    • Sean says:

      I never could quite come to terms with the Palmer cursive “Q”.

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      • Lisa says:

        Me either! I learned Palmer too. The Q never looked like a Q and it was my first rebellion in handwriting. But now to me it is charming and nostalgic. It looks like a marshmallow peep.

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  4. Gunther says:

    Wow, these pencils and the cardboard wrapper look great! Thanks to all for sharing their stories. – As a child in primary school in the early 1970's I was taught “Schönschreiben”, and I have fond memories of it. We used fountain pens (I can't remember the brand of mine, though) and were taught the “Vereinfachte Ausgangsschrift”. I find it very sad to see handwriting being in decline because in contrast to those who regard handwriting as a dinosaur or even as an unnecessary drill I consider it a cultural technique and something to preserve and continue.

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    • Sean says:

      Gunther, was Sütterlinschrift taught to you while you were in school? I understand that it lasted in some places up to the 1970s.

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      • Gunther says:

        No – I haven’t heard of a school in the 1970’s (or later) which had Sütterlinschrift on its syllabus. However, it could be possible that it was offered as an optional course at some schools to those who wanted to read old documents.

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      • Matthias says:

        I always thought Sütterlin stopped being used in the 1940s when it was banned. My grandparents, who were born in the late 19th century, had a hand writing that, to me, looked very Sütterlin like, but that definitely wasn’t pure Sütterlin any more.
        It’s still being used in mathematics, though.

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    • Sean says:

      Oh, and, any experience with Gabelsberger? 🙂

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      • Gunther says:

        No, unfortunately not. However, my father has learned (and later taught) stenography and has never failed to impress me with his skills 🙂

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  5. Pingback: The Palmer Method | 365 Days of Thank You

  6. Adair says:

    My wife learned Suetterling at university as part of her studies in German folklore and history. She doesn’t write it but can read it easily. However, she once had a look at some handwritten notes by Bauhaus Director Walter Gropius: he not only wrote Suetterling but used a thick red wax pencil! It was torturous to decipher, she says.

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  7. junius says:

    That’s a pretty distinctive shade of blue. I wonder if the maker used it on any other pencils?

    I was in grade school the same time as Adair. I’m quite sure I learned Palmer. ‘Q’ was problematic to form, but even when formed perfectly I always thought it was kind of ugly. I do have fond memories of learning cursive, though. I cringe when I think how much the legibility of my handwriting has deteriorated over the years.

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