It is possible for a trained expert in handwriting to tell with a fair
degree of accuracy the nationality, sex, and age of any one who
executes writing of any kind. A study of the handwriting of the
different nations makes it comparatively easy to recognize in any
questioned specimen the nationality of the writer. The aggregate
characteristics of a nation are reflected in the style of handwriting
adopted as a national standard. The style most in use in the United
States is the semi-angular, forward-slant hand, although the vertical
round-hand is now being largely taught in the public schools and will
affect the appearance of the writing of the next generation quite
Frequently educational and newspaper critics compare unfavorably
American writing with that of other nations. The writer has
investigated the subject by collecting from many countries copy-books
and specimens of writing from leading teachers of writing, students in
various grades of schools, clerks and business men.
America is so far in advance of any other country in artistic and
business penmanship that there is really no second. Americans as a
whole write at a much higher rate of speed and with a freer movement
than any other nations, and, consequently, many critics stop when they
have criticized form alone, not making allowance for quantity.
Nervous, rapid writers (and such the Americans are) produce writing
more or less illegible, but it is not the fault of the standard so
much as the speed with which the writing is done.
The writing of England is either angular (for rapid business style),
or the civil-service round-hand--too slow for the every-day rush of
business. England's colonies, influenced by her copy-books and
teachers, write about as England does. Canada is an exception, as her
proximity to the United States causes her to mix the English and
American styles, with the American gaining ground.
The German and French write two radically different styles. Hence the
identity of the nation producing the writer as well as the identity of
the writer himself usually can be established. Before the writer is
known this frequently is of great benefit to the cause of justice as
it narrows down the search.
A case such as the Dreyfus affair has a tendency to confuse the public
mind and leads to wrong conclusions. In initiating the prosecution of
Dreyfus the French government submitted the documents to expert
Gobert, of the Bank of France, who is considered the leader in this
line in France. Gobert reported that Dreyfus did not write the
incriminating documents. The prosecutors then placed the papers in the
hands of Bertillon, the inventor of the anthropometric system of
measurements (used principally on criminals) which bears his name. It
mattered not that Bertillon had never appeared in a handwriting case
before, or that his skill in this line was unknown. He was a man of
science, of great renown in other lines, and the government relied on
these facts to bolster up its claim that Dreyfus wrote the
incriminating papers Bertillon reported in favor of the government's
contention, and it was an easy matter to get some alleged
experts--weak as to will and ability--and one or two honest but
misguided men to agree with him. Some of these afterward changed their
opinions when better standards of writing were given to them.
Dreyfus' friends sent engraved reproductions of standards and disputed
documents to the best-known experts all over the world, and without
exception these reported that Dreyfus was not the writer of the
disputed papers. On the side of the French government were a few
so-called "experts," headed and dominated by a man with no experience
whatever. The experts of skill and experience in France and the world
over were practically unanimous in favor of Dreyfus. A critical
examination of the documents in question produced an absolute
conviction that they could not possibly have been written by Dreyfus.
Unless the individual is fitted by nature and inborn liking for
investigations of this character, no amount of education and
experience will fit him. But, given natural equipment and inclination,
it is necessary first of all that the expert have a good general
education. He should have a sufficient command of language to make
others see what he sees. He should have a good eye for form and color,
and a well-trained hand to enable him to describe graphically as well
as orally what his trained eye has detected. A few strokes on a
blackboard or large sheet of paper will often make a clouded point
appear much plainer to court, jury and lawyers than hours of oral
description. The ability to handle the crayon and to simulate well the
writings under discussion is a great aid.
A very interesting case was involved in the will of Miser Paine in New
York in 1889. Here a deliberate attempt to get away with something
like $1,500,000 was made, which was frustrated by a handwriting
expert. When quite a young man, James H. Paine was a clerk in a Boston
business house. He absconded with a lot of money and went to New York,
where all trace of him was lost. He speculated with the stolen money,
and everything he touched turned to gold. He soon became a
millionaire. Then he became a miser. He went around the streets in
rags, lodged in a garret with a French family on the West Side, who
took him out of pure charity, and lived on the leavings which
restaurant-keepers gave him. There was only one thing that he would
spend money on; that was music. He was passionately fond of music, and
for years was a familiar figure in the lobby of the Academy of Music
during the opera season. He would go there early in the evening, and
beg people to pay his way in. If he didn't find a philanthropist he
would buy a ticket himself, but he never gave up hope until he knew
that the curtain had risen.
Finally Paine was run over by a cab in New York. He was taken to a
hospital, but made such a fuss about staying there that he was finally
removed to his garret home. He died there in a few days. Then a man
came forward with a power of attorney which he said Paine gave him in
1885 and which authorized him to take charge of Paine's interest in
the estate of his brother, Robert Treat Paine. The closing paragraph
empowered him to attend to all of Paine's business and to dispose of
his property without consulting anybody, in the event of anything
happening to him. Nothing was known then of Paine's possessions. Later
the French family with whom Paine lived opened an old hair trunk they
found in the garret. In this trunk they found nearly half a million
dollars in gold, bank notes, and securities. Chickering, the piano
man, came forward then and said that some years before Paine gave him
a package wrapped up in an old bandana handkerchief for safe keeping.
He had opened this package and found that it contained $300,000 in
bank notes. Other possessions of Paine's were found. Relatives came
forward and employing handwriting experts proved that the power of
attorney presented was a forgery and the estate went to the relations
of Paine. This was a celebrated case in its day and called attention
to the value of experts in this line.
Ovid, in his "Art of Love," teaches young women to deceive their
guardians by writing their love letters with new milk, and to make the
writing appear by rubbing coal dust over the paper. Any thick and
viscous fluid, such as the glutinous and colorless juices of plants,
aided by any colored powder, will answer the purpose equally well. A
quill pen should be used.
The most common method is to pen an epistle in ordinary ink,
interlined with the invisible words, which doubtless has given rise to
the expression, "reading between the lines," in order to discover the
true meaning of a communication. Letters written with a solution of
gold, silver, copper, tin, or mercury dissolved in aqua fortis, or
simpler still of iron or lead in vinegar, with water added until the
liquor does not stain white paper, will remain invisible for two or
three months if kept in the dark; but on exposure for some hours to
the open air will gradually acquire color, or will do so instantly on
being held before the fire. Each of these solutions gives its own
peculiar color to the writing--gold, a deep violet; silver, slate; and
lead and copper, brown.
There is a vast number of other solutions that become visible on
exposure to heat, or when having a heated iron passed over them; the
explanation is that the matter is readily burned to a sort of
charcoal. Simplest among these are lemon juice or milk; but the one
that produces the best result is made by dissolving a scruple of
salammoniac in two ounces of water.
Several years ago Professor Braylant of the University of Louvain
discovered a method in which no ink at all was required to convey a
secret message. He laid several sheets of note paper on each other and
wrote on the uppermost with a pencil; then selected one of the under
sheets, on which no marks of the writing were visible. On exposing
this sheet to the vapor of iodine for a few minutes it turned
yellowish and the writing appeared of a violet brown color. On further
moistening the paper it turned blue, and the letters showed in violet
lines. The explanation is that note paper contains starch, which under
pressure becomes "hydramide," and turns blue in the iodine fumes. It
is best to write on a hard surface, say a pane of glass. Sulphuric
acid gas will make the writing disappear again, and it can be revived
a second time.
One of the simplest secret writings, however, to which Professor Gross
of Germany calls attention is the following:
Take a sheet of common writing paper, moisten it well with clear
water, and lay it on a hard, smooth surface, such as glass, tin,
stone, etc. After removing carefully all air bubbles from the sheet,
place upon it another dry sheet of equal size and write upon it your
communication with a sharp-pointed pencil or a simple piece of pointed
hardwood. Then destroy the dry paper upon which the writing has been
done, and allow the wet paper to dry by exposing it to the air (but
not to the heat of fire or the flame of a lamp). When dry, not a trace
of the writing will be visible. But on moistening the sheet again with
clear water and holding it against the light, the writing can be read
in a clear transparency. It disappears again after drying in the air,
and may be reproduced by moistening a great number of times. Should
the sheets be too much heated, however, the writing will disappear,
never to reappear again. This system is used extensively in Germany.
An interesting study is the handwriting of authors, as it indicates to
a greater or less degree their personal temperaments.
Longfellow wrote a bold, open back-hand, which was the delight of
printers, says the Scientific American. Joaquin Miller wrote such a
bad hand that he often becomes puzzled over his own work, and the
printer sings the praises of the inventor of the typewriter.
Charlotte Bronte's writing seemed to have been traced with a cambric
needle, and Thackeray's writing, while marvelously neat and precise,
was so small that the best of eyes were needed to read it. Likewise
the writing of Captain Marryatt was so microscopic that when he was
interrupted in his labors he was obliged to mark the place where he
left off by sticking a pin in the paper.
Napoleon's was worse than illegible, and it is said that his letters
from Germany to the Empress Josephine were at first thought to be
rough maps of the seat of war.
Carlyle wrote a patient, crabbed and oddly emphasized hand. The
penmanship of Bryant was aggressive, well formed and decidedly
pleasing to the eye; while the chirography of Scott, Hunt, Moore, and
Gray was smooth and easy to read but did not express distinct
Byron's handwriting was nothing more than a scrawl. His additions to
proofs frequently exceeded in volume the original copy, and in one of
his poems, which contained in the original only four hundred lines,
one thousand were added in the proofs.
The writing of Dickens was minute, and he had a habit of writing with
blue ink on blue paper. Frequent erasures and interlineations made his
copy a burden to his publishers.
Horace Greeley could not decipher his own writing after it got cold.
Mark Twain writes a cramped, plain hand, and writes with haste.
For an evening entertainment when a few friends happen to drop in ask
each one to write any quotation that pops into his head and carefully
sign his name in full. Pen and ink are better than pencil, but the
latter will answer in a pinch. If the writing is dark this shows a
leaning toward athletics and a love for outdoor life and sports. If
the letters are slender and faint the writer is reserved and rarely
shows emotion or becomes confidential. Sloping letters indicate a very
sensitive disposition, whereas those that are straight up and down
evince ability to face the world and throw off the "slings and arrows
of outrageous fortune."
Curls and loops are out of fashion nowadays, but any inclination to
ornate penmanship is a sure indication of a leaning toward the
romantic and sentimental, while the least desire to shade a letter
shows imagination and a tendency to idealize common things. If the
same letter is formed differently by the same person this shows love
of change. Long loops or endings to the letters indicate that the
writer "wears his heart upon his sleeve," or in other words, is
trusting, non-secretive, and very fond of company. If the "y" has a
specially long finish, this shows affectation, but if the same person
is also careless about crossing the "t's," the combination is an
unhappy one, as it points to fickleness in work and to affectation. A
curved cross to the "t," or the incurving of the first letters of a
word shows an affectionate and good-natured disposition if taken
separately; but if the two are indulged in by the same writer it is a
sign of jealousy.
Writing that is rather small points to cleverness, quick intuitions, a
liking for one's own way, brilliant intellect, and fine powers of
penetration. Round, jolly, comfortable-looking letters betoken a
disposition to correspond.
With these hints in mind it will be surprising to find how many caps
may be found to fit ourselves and our friends.