Vintage Penmanship Chart The Prudent Homemaker

Note: This post contains affiliate links. You can read my disclosure policy here.

I love penmanship. 

It’s important to me that my children learn to write beautifully.

When I was first learning penmanship, I remember being frustrated that we could not choose alternative ways to write letters, even though I knew at the time that there was more than one way to correctly write several letters (for example, the way I learned to write an uppercase cursive “I” in school was completely different than I had seen other adults write it).)  My teacher was pretty strict about us following the rules that year, but after that, I was free (for the most part; I had another difficulty with a teacher in 9th grade when I tried those non-crossed lower-cased “t”s from the photo below) to write a different style of cursive.

Vintage School Book The Prudent Homemaker 

When I was starting 7th grade, I came across this beautiful student workbook at a flea market with my grandparents. Here was a young girl with exquisite penmanship. I started copying her letters and incorporating them into my own penmanship.

Eventually, I ordered some books on different styles (Copperplate being the easiest to find)  and learned more. My favorite styles are Copperplate, Roundhand, and Spencerian.

Penmanship 1 The Prudent Homemaker

I was delighted to find, several years ago,  that the Spencerian books are still being published. My children are using these for our penmanship studies.

I always wanted a wall chart to hang that would show what we are learning. Several years ago, Karen at The Graphics Fairy shared a penmanship page that I loved and wanted to hang.

Penmanship Chart The Prudent Homemaker

I made some changes to it to make it wider and longer to fit in a standard sized frame (I copied the edges and pasted them next to the eisting edges). I also cleaned up some bits of it, and then I made some more changes to it. My original plan was to make it chalkboard style, but by a happy accident, it became blue first, so I ended up with a blueprint style. If you want to do the same, I used “invert” in Photoshop to change it. If you want a black and white chalkboard looking choice, choose “invert” in layers and then do a black and white layer. The current versions of Photoshop and Elements may do this differently; I have a super old version of Photoshop that I am using. A free site like PicMonkey probably has a similar option. I moved the contrast to 100%.

Then I ordered a print from Sam’s Club ($4.28 with tax)  and framed it in a frame I already had (one that used to hang above the table).

(Even though I set the image to 11 x 14 in Photoshop, the program still wanted me to crop the image. I had to make sure it didn’t cut off the bottom of the letters.)

This will now hang by our dining table where we have school.

When my children have finished all 5 Spencerian books, I reward them with an inexpensive fountain pen and ink cartridges. In the U.S., most people don’t use fountain pens, so these are quite unusual. Fountain pens can be rather expensive in the U.S., since they’re not used as school pens, like they are in other places (such as France). These are some of the very inexpensive options I’ve found on Amazon. I have all of these and like them:

Fountain Pens The Prudent Homemaker

From top to bottom:

Parker Vector colored pen (comes in red, blue, black and gold; I used to buy these at the university bookstore when I was a student)

Rosewood fountain pen (price is often changing; we got this one for $3.65)

Parker Vector Stainless steel pen  

Knox Avicenna

Stainless steel and gold pen  (the least-expensive of the group) 

 Calligraphy Books The Prudent Homemaker

It takes them several years to finish the books. My two oldest children both finished them in 7th grade.  After they’ve finished them, I’ve handed them a few other books that I’ve owned for years to let them learn more on their own (including alternative capitals), but it is no longer a required subject for them to work on each day. These books are (clockwise from upper left): 

Ornate Pictorial Calligraphy

The Art of Calligraphy

The Technique of Copperplate Calligraphy

Learning to Write Spencerian Script


Winter tells me often that she receives compliments on her penmanship from other people her age. They are also amazed by her pen. I always smile when she tells me, because I used to receive the same comments as well.

We start the workbooks when they are ready (usually in second grade). I know in other countries cursive is all that is taught from the very beginning. I have the children first learn to print before they move on to cursive, so that they learn both.

Do you enjoy beautiful penmanship?


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  1. This is a lovely blog post. I am almost 70 years old, and was flabbergasted to learn that cursive writing is no longer being taught in public schools. It is wonderful that you are teaching your children penmanship. I have had a life long love of fountain pens, too. Thank you for the chartand book listing.

  2. I love beautiful writing. Even my grocery lists are often copied more than once because I enjoy making them pretty. My husband despises handwriting and is terrible at it. Our oldest son is following in his father’s footsteps, to my dismay (although he is improving). Our oldest daughter, though, enjoys experimenting with different ways to write. We do copywork from the original McGuffey’s to practice handwriting. I’ve never used a fountain pen, but I think I need to try!

  3. It was definitely one of my favorite subjects…probably because I was very good at it. I always got complimented and A’s. :). Admittedly, I don’t use it very much anymore. I had a pretty bad bout with tendonitis about 20 yrs ago and it’s just not very comfortable to hold the pen at constant attention. I print most of the time. And I’m always told that I do it like a 3rd grade teacher!

    I also had to add that I used fountain pens all through college. I still have MY favorite one! I think that’s a wonderful gift. My other old fashioned *thing* was sealing wax. I also have my first “D” embossed thatI got for my 12th bday.

  4. When I was in 2nd grade, my penmanship was bad. My older sister wrote well, so my mom would have me write OVER their handwriting on old papers and I began to enjoy it. I started trying different styles of writing. Over the years I have received many compliments. I even did calligraphy as a teenager.

  5. I do like penmanship and was taught it in school. My DD, who is 52, is quite artistic and has taught herself through books to do calligraphy. She once did the invitations for her daughter’s dance teacher’s wedding, and was swapped a whole year’s worth of dance lessons for doing so. Since her daughter took lessons 4 nights a week for years, that was a good deal for both of them! These obscure talents do have some usefulness! Even though I stayed at home until my children were 10 and 12 years old, I did barter some skills for cash and other things I had need of during those stay at home years. Sewing and knitting and even cooking (baking) came in handy at times to supplement the budget!

  6. I am a teacher in California. It is a state standard to teach cursive in third grade. The children love learning it!

  7. I am glad they are still teaching it! I was writing on the board in cursive in my youth Sunday School class a few years ago, and some of the boys in class told me they couldn’t read cursive. I only write in cursive, so I wrote like normal and then told them what I had written on the board. It made me realize that if we stop teaching it, we then end up with people who can no longer read documents and letters from the past.

    I have seriously considered doing it from the beginning like they do in France and England, but these books have small letters, so I wait until they can write smaller.

  8. I haven’t seen that kind. My friend brought me a couple of the old style wax sticks from Italy and I’m still using those. She bought herself a whole collection of wax and embossers. I confess to turning the color of Kermit lol.

  9. This is wonderful! I think penmanship is important. It feels, to me, like we’re dumbing down when we don’t teach it.

  10. about 4 years ago I realized my 11 year old could not read the cursive writing that was in his birthday cards. I spoke to the teacher and was told they do not teach it anymore since “everything is computerized”. He ended up being taught by his occupational therapist and now has the best handwriting of most of my children. I find our public school system is only interested in testing for math and reading levels, not so much about teaching anymore especially when it comes to the basics.

  11. I always envied my mother’s beautiful penmanship. My print and cursive are legible (enough so to have been able to sell my notes in college) but they are by no means pretty. I hold my pen funky because my fingers have never been able to bend appropriately to hold a pen the “correct” way. My third grade tracher used to get angry and force my fingers into position, but they would spring back the moment she let go. I think I am doomed to mediocre handwriting.

  12. Hi brandy
    I am a silent reader of your blog and never commented but this post has struck a chord in my father was very fond of penmanship and he would Buy different pens , books and other things to write and encourage us to learn. He learnt about cursive when I was school and I was being taught write it and he was so interested in my teenage I found it irritating, like why to bother about fountain pens , when everyone is using ball point pens.but still daddy would buy all Parker, cross and fancy fountain pens. He had ordered a special calligraphy kit which was quite expensive on his sixty b day.he could never use it , he passed away before that suddenly.. Now all that pens kit and books are so precious to me. Sorry , for the long post.just got carried away.

  13. Yes, yes, yes, oh yes, do I ever enjoy penmanship. I, too receive compliments on mine, and will never forget what Mrs. Hall, my fourth grade teacher, said as she stopped by my desk during penmanship lessons. “Kelley,” said she, looking over my shoulder at my work, “you have lovely penmanship.” I handed her a star for her crown that day.


  14. Penmanship was a very important part of the curriculum of my Catholic school as a child. Now, as a public elementary teacher, I do not teach it. We simply do not have time in our day for this. Children do learn to print, of course, but more time is now spent on keyboarding. In today’s world, this seems to be more expedient. Penmanship and cursive writing are definitely a dying art, but aside from thank you cards and personal letters, is it really necessary today to learn this? We have moved away from this I believe. In high school, my four children’s teachers all required that assignments be typed. Penmanship such as this is indeed beautiful and sentimental, though, and wonderful for a personal hobby.

    I don’t believe at all that we are “dumbing down” education when we do not teach this. Societies and civilizations are always moving forward, adapting, exchanging the old for the new etc. In the workplace today, there are almost no requirements for penmanship. I love how you framed the chart!

  15. LOVE calligraphy, fountain pens, and beautiful penmanship. As a letterpress printer, this kind of handwork goes hand in hand with my work. But I’ve always loved these things. I think appreciating beautiful things makes for a more beautiful life!

    And I love the links to the affordable pens—thank you! My favorite fountain pen came from Muji in NYC ( It writes beautifully and is durable enough to throw in my purse. I’ve now ordered the Rosewood barrel pen that you linked to—two actually, one for me and one for my mother.

  16. Isabella,

    I teach both typing (keyboarding) and penmanship.

    If penmanship is not taught, students cannot read it. I wrote in cursive on the board as a Sunday School teacher and several children could not read it. This means no reading of old documents, letters, marriage records, censuses, etc. If someone cannot read a cursive document, we can say it says anything we want it to say. Already references to God are taken out when the government prints pamphlets at famous monuments detailing what is inscribed on those monuments. The Declaration of Independence is written in cursive. I would hate to think that we could, in future history, say it says or does not say what someone wants it to.

    What’s interesting to me is that in the U.S. people learn to print first, but in France and England, they learn cursive from the beginning. They still learn typing. If you do a search for images of French Farmer’s markets, you’ll see handwritten signs (in cursive) with prices in beautiful penmanship.

    So, I think it still has a place.

    We teach Roman numerals still, and aside from clocks, they are rarely used anymore–but they’re still in the math books.

  17. My middle school teachers were sticklers about following the rules for cursive and I really disliked the way the letters were written! After that, most work was done by computer or hand printing so I never got to explore the wonderful art of penmanship and my handwriting is so ugly haha. Your kids are lucky to learn and your post definitely encourages me to try it out!

  18. Brandy,

    Yes, I certainly do understand your viewpoint. I wrote in cursive for some 5th graders, and they too could not read it. That said, the world is evolving. Just as language changes, the means of communicating that language changes too. Almost all famous documents have been reprinted in type, so there is not much danger of ever losing those. In the public schools, there is so much pressure to reach goals in a limited daily time frame. Not every student has the opportunity to be home-schooled! Our students come from lower income families, and we must concentrate on reading, math and language fundamentals. We also spend a good portion of the day just being certain that our children are fed! I do believe that education is constantly evolving and changing to adapt to our modern world. In the last century, a girl spent a great deal of time on needlework. Who learns shorthand today? It outlived its usefulness. Early in my career, penmanship was taught. In many ways, it has passed out of vogue in the States. I know from teaching in Poland, that it is still prevalent in Europe and Eastern Europe. But the funny thing was that I could not decipher Polish handwriting, nor could they decipher mine! We laughed about that.

  19. Here in B.C. Canada I understand penmanship is no longer on the provincial curriculum as “we always usecomputers now!!” Yes we do use computers often, and they are a necessary skill, but how embarrassing to be asked to sign your signature and have to print it like a little child!! or not be able to read a written paper …. it is part of illiteracy I believe and schools should be ashamed. Ann Lee S

  20. I had beautiful very pretty penmanship and then I was involved in two accidents and it physically hurts to write now very very much even just to sign my own name. 🙁

  21. I went to Catholic school where we had to use ink fountain pens starting in second grade. Our order of nuns originated in France so perhaps that is why. As an aside, we also started french in kindergarten and had french class in every grade.
    We were taught ‘Italics’ which I believe now to be a form of calligraphy. I recently purchased a fountain pen at the thrift store and am eager to start practicing.
    I am so impressed that you are teaching penmanship. It is one of those lost skills, like doing math without a calculator.

  22. I’m glad we can have a respectful discussion with differing viewpoints. I still find handwriting important, but then, I do genealogy, and reading original records means reading old handwriting! I can tell different time periods simply by the style of penmanship.

    I’m an old-fashioned person, and I think it’s always good to teach skills, such as sewing, cooking, baking, gardening, and penmanship. Yes, we can buy bread, ready-made clothing, vegetables, and eat out, but there is something to be said for doing it ourselves. I know schools have taken out home-economics, but these skills are helpful in finding one’s way out of poverty. If more people knew how to garden, they could use their food stamps to buy seeds and fruit trees (both allowed, readers have told me). If people can make their own bread, they can make their money go further–and eat whole wheat too (as one of my readers has done). If they can mend, they can make their clothes last longer, and turn worn clothing into other things.

    And while penmanship isn’t quite the same, as another reader pointed out in another comment, it can be traded (in her case for a year’s worth of dance lessons).

    Of course, each school has to decide what it has time to teach.

    Thank you for the way in which you wrote your comments; I appreciate your positive attitude.

  23. I couldn’t agree more about the usefulness of many things from *the olden days*! In this disposable world, many of those skills are also very green. Speaking of green skills, my husband is currently sewing a giant patch of screen on our patio door. Our young dog got a little excited over a squirrel and blew right through it!

    As for penmanship, how is a person to sign their name or read another’s signature without it? I was just asked for my signature this morning at church when I gave blood.

  24. I love this post, Brandy. I also happen to love penmanship. I use it for grocery lists, to-do lists and scheduling. Most importantly I use it to write letters to my children who live a few hours away. It is so nice to walk into their homes and see my hand written card or letter, From time to time I see my daughter has my letter open as if being read or propped up against a framed photo. It’s a part of me. Once I even saw one of my letters folded in 16ths fall out of my son’s wallet!

    I am 60yo now and am an occupational therapist and have an interest in preserving the mind and fine motor skills. I recently found an article about handwriting and how it uses so many more parts of your brain. I will continue to use handwriting as enjoyment and an overall brain exerciseHere is the article if anyone is interested:

  25. Yep, they stopped teaching cursive here in Ohio in 2010. My son’s kindergarten teacher specifically told us that the school district used the D’Nealian alphabet as it made it easier to teach cursive in 2nd and 3rd grade. Well, now they don’t teach cursive. Just teach to the state standardized tests. Sad state of affairs our public schools are. The next state over, PA, my nieces, one of whom is in the same grade as my son, knows how to read and write cursive.

  26. i love to write in cursive! (I was told even at a young age that i write like a teacher). I also love fountain pens. when i write cards or letters, that’s what i use. They force you to slow down when writing and really think about the words you are putting on the page.

  27. This was all very interesting. I have heard of copperplate, but not the others. I know our church school teaches cursive and I checked with my daughter in law and she says the public school still does too.

    I have a cousin that does calligraphy and she did her own wedding invitations (she made a master and took that to a printer) but she hand did all the envelopes. A present from her is almost always a hand lettered item…bookmark, framed Bible verse. For our birthdays she just gave my sister and me booksmarks with our initials, the illuminated ones with swirls and flowers and little animals and birds. Very pretty, extremely detailed. She also does works to sell at art shows and by word of mouth.

  28. Going to a catholic school, I used to think that learning cursive was silly. Now in a profession where being able to both write well and be able to read what someone has writen I understand all those hours of practice. It is a shame it is not taught anymore.

  29. This is a great topic Brandy!
    My son is left handed and my daughter whom is seven years older than him insisted that he learn to write legibly. She said most left handers tend to have poor penmanship unless they practice. When she was about 13 years old and he was 6 years old, she was babysitting him while I was working. He called me at work and said his sister said he had to do one page of penmanship before he could have his breakfast!! I told him one page of penmanship would not hurt him and to do as he was asked but then I told his sister to give him his breakfast immediately. Thanks to the insistence of his sister, my adult son does indeed have very nice penmanship and so does my daughter.

    I work in the legal field and I am always surprised by how many people can no longer sign their name in cursive. I am of the belief that a printed signature is not legal. Your cursive signature is your individual identity and should be given the proper attention. It should be almost as individual as your fingerprint thereby making it difficult to duplicate or forge.

    I am also surprised when I ask someone to write a couple paragraphs for a police report or a protection order. So many people complain that writing out two paragraphs by hand is just too difficult! They struggle and many cannot complete this simple task! They are so used to writing in limited characters on their phone that the thought of writing out a statement in long-hand is over-whelming!! They often revert to using their own short-hand such as u for you- because this is what they use on their phone. I wonder if anyone in the future will be able to understand our current written language.

  30. I saw those years ago and had considered them, but I wanted to give them something a bit nicer (and not disposable; those can’t be refilled if I remember correctly) as a reward for their achievement.

    The price I saw before was $5 each for them; the price at the link you gave is a lot less. It would certainly make it easy to carry a fountain pen in a purse without worrying about losing it.

  31. My great grandfather was required to learn Spencerian penmanship in business college. I have always wanted to teach myself. Thank you for the links to the books.

  32. I think this is just lovely 🙂

    I am working on a home decor project and am hoping you might be able to help. I want to have sketches of various herbs and their medicinal uses (in a beautiful script like this) to hang in my kitchen, art and a quick reference guide!. I’m struggling to find the pictures I want though, most are just photographs but I want more of the old fashioned botanical sketches. Any idea where I could find/purchase these? Thanks!

  33. Thank you so much for the ideas in this post! I played around with the print this morning and now have a beautiful piece of art for my schoolroom. And, thanks to your idea of presenting your children with a fountain pen, my son is now excited and anxious to learn cursive rather than dreading and fighting it. I really can’t thank you enough for that inspiration!

  34. When I was in school, I used to admire another student’s beautiful handwriting, and I would work very hard to copy hers. As a result my handwriting is very good, although still not as beautiful as hers was. I have addressed the wedding invitation envelopes for me and all of my siblings and some friends when they got married, as well as many other party invitations. I think it is a nice touch (nowadays most people use a computer to address them).

    They DO still teach cursive in some public schools. My son just finished 3rd grade in North Carolina and he learned cursive. And my oldest was in school in Virginia where she also leared cursive. I don’t know if they spent as much time on it as we did when we were back in school, though.

    I do agree that it’s important for reading old documents and letters. I, too, am into geneology and all of those Census records, old letters, etc. are all in cursive!

  35. This is a topic close to my heart! We were always rewarded/punished for good/bad penmanship when I was growing up. I always took pride in writing beautifully on cards etc. but I was so saddened that my son going to public school in the US not that long ago was never told to write neatly in cursive. He was taught to write cursive in 3rd grade but teachers didn’t care if he printed or wrote in cursive in later grades. So he obviously took the easy way out. Me insisting on good penmanship at home didn’t go far as his answer was “my teacher doesn’t care for neatness as long as I get the answer right and she can read/grade my homework”! My reply always was “your teacher gets paid whether you do well in life or not but we as parents care for your future as you should”! Fortunately, he turned out well and is entering Phd in Science now despite not having good penmanship! I really think it’s a lost art. More seriously, doctors have the worst handwriting these days as most people know. That has indeed caused many a pharmacists to fill the wrong prescriptions!! That’s why, many are now resorting to digital technologies to transmit prescriptions to pharmacies. There are artistic as well as serious reasons to write well lol! I will check out the fountain pens and all the wonderful links you have provided here. So glad to have come here via GF site!!

  36. It’s nice to know there’s still appreciation for penmanship, and that you’re passing it on to the next generation! Your books and pens are a great idea. I have several old autograph books (or friendship albums) with beautiful writing. Like the previous comment, I have a funny way of holding a pen, but it works for me — others comment on my ‘neat’ writing.

  37. My daughter goes to an international school and follows the Spanish curriculum. She was taught in Kinder to write in cursive – the same size they use now in 4th grade ! So don’t let the size stop you! They can learn just fine (though I thought it was strange at the time, now it just feels normal! ).

  38. Brandy,

    Could you help me? I have read your blog for quite a while now and I also homeschool my children. I have five children but only three are old enough for homeschooling. I purchased the Spencerian workbooks that you use and I was a little confused as to how you use them. How much work do you assign each day? Do you have your children fill out the whole grid for each page? Do you just use pencils or something else? Do your children have any trouble with the grids being so small? I would appreciate any help you could give?

  39. I assign them 3 lines each day. When they get to a new page, I show them how to do it so that they are writing the letters correctly. We do them in pencil.

    Before this they have written on bigger paper, and then regular notebook paper. This is a bit smaller but they have adjusted to writing smaller fairly quickly.

    We usually start these in second grade.

  40. Brandy, you might like to check out They are a great source of inexpensive fountain pens and ink that we’ve enjoyed. My husband loves their pens from China. Also, the business owner checks every nib before sending it, so the quality is very nice.

  41. I remembered this post, and came back to it, wanting to improve my penmanship. I was taught cursive growing up, but later defaulted to some version of half cursive and half printing. I need a refresher because my hands are arthritic now. I want to pull out my fountain pen and get back to it. I so appreciate all this information. I used to do calligraphy, but I never got good enough to feel professional about it. However, I was asked to do many invitations to weddings and even professional events when I was working as soon as someone found out, I could do calligraphy. I really want to get back to it and I think it will be good for my arthritic hands as a form of exercise. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post again. And FYI I was going to teach my neighbor kids cursive if they turned out to not teach it, but apparently in California they still do.

    I really appreciate seeing these different styles, I can remember not being able to read my aunts handwriting when I was a child even though I did know cursive. Mom always had to interpret. I absolutely remember them using a different style of I, from the way I was taught as well. My friend is transcribing letters from the 1800s of her family. This includes many business letters, as well as personal correspondence. Several of them are using a more Victorian style script, but at the same time writing quickly leaving us both scratching our heads as to what some words say. Ok, lots or words. I wish I had reread this post before we went through all of those letters, it may have helped. Thank you!

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