On the 22nd  last week my family enjoyed Romp n Stomp at Melbourne Museum. In the afternoon I left my boys to head home while I trammed to PROV for a Reading 19th century writing workshop.

I soon discovered Lee Hooper and Christine Little were our teachers for the afternoon. So I sat down, pen out ready to take notes. The workshop filled us in on:

  • a brief history of how 19th century writing came about,
  • how to compare some letters that can look very similar,
  • commonly used abbreviations in 19th century documents,
  • finishing up with few tips to guide us through the process of reading 19th century writing and tips to remember while transcribing.

After all this  we had a chance to test our new knowledge on some examples from the PROV repository.

The 19th century style of writing is called “copperplate” which evolved in the 16th century as an alternative to calligraphy for business writing. If you type #copperplate into facebook or twitter you will receive results detailing some very lovely examples of copperplate writing.

In 19th century writing lower case letters like ‘e and n’ , ‘i and j’, and ‘m and w’ can look very similar.

In 19th century writing upper case letters like ‘I and J’, ‘L and S’, and ‘T and F’ can look alike.

Most 19th century documents have abbreviated common words and names. Here is an example of a few abbreviations:

  • sd – said
  • decd – deceased
  • do – ditto
  • chh – church
  • Benji – Benjamin
  • Jas – James
  • Eml – Emily

The number one rule to remember while reading old handwriting is to compare and match. Do this with unknown letters and words on the same page or pages before and after it. Some other tips include:

  • If you can, read the remainder of the sentence to find out what word would make sense. Don’t assume anything!
  • Look out for flourishes at the end of a word which could be hiding a ‘e’.

Other resources for studying Reading 19th century writing:

Till next time!
DFTBA (Don’t Forget to be Awesome)

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