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Spencerian Script Penmanship Kit

by Michael Sull

Reviewed by Martha Robinson

Purchase details: Spencerian Script Penmanship Kit ($55 with a plastic oblique penholder or $75 with a wooden penholder) and supplements from Michael R. Sull. Available from

Have you ever noticed the beautiful signatures and inscriptions in books from the 1800's? Michael Sull, an expert in the field of penmanship, and his wife, Debra, have put together a kit to teach the almost lost art of Spencerian script, the lovely penmanship of the nineteenth century. With this kit and the supplements offered through their Mission, Kansas, studio, anyone willing to practice can master this form of handwriting that combines speed with beauty.

The Spencerian Script Penmanship Kit includes the spiral-bound text, Learning to Write Spencerian Script, and a number of components bound together in a three-ring binder. A two-page "recommended lesson plan" suggests what to read in the text and practice exercises for the first two weeks. After that, the student should continue doing exercises and adding new letters, the formation of which is explained in detail in the text. The text is thorough in its presentation of tools and techniques. Exercise sheets for "cross-drills," blank lined-practice sheets, and blank paper, under which you may use a "guide sheet" with lines, are included along with twenty-nine copybook sheets with positively beautiful handwritten words and sentences, many drawn from the Bible, to model. A cushion sheet to go under the paper when using the steel point pen is also included.

Ink, pen points, and a choice of a plastic or wooden oblique penholder are additional components to the kit. Mr. Sull recommends an oblique penholder for students aged twelve and up, but he suggests that all students should start with a pencil in order to establish "writing rhythm," the spacing and formation of letters and flow of movement. A plastic oblique penholder is a good starting pen, but for those who love beauty, the wooden penholder is best and also reputed to be more comfortable to use.

A family may purchase one kit, but each additional student will need a packet of handwriting practice sheets ($15) and a cross-drill tablet ($7.50). If the students are ready for pen use, an additional penholder, pen points, and cushion sheet will be required. All materials including ink and pen points are available through the Sull's website. Mr. Sull offers a one week seminar each year called the Spencerian Saga for those who want intensive instruction.

Learning to Write Spencerian Script video (for beginners, 57 minutes, $30) -- An optional video is available as a supplement to the Spencerian kit. This professionally done video shows Mr. Sull explaining and demonstrating the techniques of penmanship. He begins with a fascinating history of Mr. Platt Spencer and Spencerian penmanship. After discussing the care and use of the tools and equipment required, Mr. Sull tells about muscle use and the importance of posture in good penmanship. He then demonstrates the basic strokes and the formation of every lower case and capital letter. Mr. Sull anticipates the potential frustration of those trying to reproduce his lovely hand and offers encouragement that through diligent practice of twenty to thirty minutes per day everyone can succeed.

Off-Hand Flourishing Techniques video (for advanced students, 94 minutes, $35) -- Perhaps you have seen, in older books, beautiful designs at the beginning of each chapter surrounding the chapter number or perhaps going down the side of the page, or maybe you recall the fancy designs on certificates and diplomas from many years ago. This optional video shows Mr. Sull teaching how to make flourishes and amazing birds. After offering a historical overview and information on tools and equipment, he patiently explains how an advanced student using an oblique penholder can create exquisite beauty. This lengthy tape finishes with pictures of some unbelievably gorgeous examples of off-hand flourishing from bygone days.

Recommendation: If you have an interest in beautiful handwriting for yourself or your children, the Spencerian Script Penmanship Kit is an outstanding investment. (Spencerian may be used as an initial cursive technique.) I recommend getting the Learning to Write Spencerian Script video because it is so much easier to understand the formation of the letters when you see someone doing it. But, if the extra $35 is not in your budget, you will do fine by following the diagrams in the text. If you are not willing to make daily investment in practice, this kit would not be a good expenditure. The author is very honest in pointing out that diligence is the key to mastery of Spencerian penmanship.

The advanced video, Off-Hand Flourishing Techniques, was truly eye-opening for me. Never having noticed this sort of art, I spent the entire video in awe of the beauty that can be created with a pen. This video is sure to motivate you to practice a little harder so that you can produce these lovely drawings.

Make sure to read's interview with Michael Sull. resources related to this review:

Review of An Elegant Hand, a book about the history of penmanship
Interview with Michael Sull, master penman
Review of Italics, Beautiful Handwriting for Children
Review of Handwriting Without Tears
Review of Cursive First
Review of Educational Fontware
Review of SmithHand Handwriting
Interview with Bruce Smith, Ph.D. on developing elegant handwriting
Interview with Dave Thompson, president of Educational Fontware

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