Can You Read This? (or, Is Cursive Dead Yet?)

As far back as the early 1990s, I thought that any school curriculum lacking instruction in typing was shortsighted. Had I been asked to jettison cursive writing to make room for keyboarding, however, I would have been surprised and doubtful. But today that is exactly what has happened in many elementary-school classrooms. Already, we hear, there are high-school and college students who when asked to read memos in longhand might as well be asked to read Linear B.

In future, I imagine families scanning Grandma’s love letters into translation software. Calligraphied wedding invitations will have to be mailed inside typed envelopes. Deciphering handwriting will become a required graduate course for future English scholars.

Even for those of us raised on the Palmer method, handwriting can be hard to read. I have one elderly aunt whose Christmas-letter scrawl might as well be in Norwegian; if I want to know how she’s doing, I have to phone. There are times I can’t even read my own writing. Years ago, I switched to typing my diary for just that reason.

It occurs to me that the Lingua Franca demographics suggest a vast audience of handwriting experts. So I’m going to take advantage of your skills (while you still have them) to solve a puzzle I’ve been working on.

My friend John, who earns money reselling books, happened upon A Theatre for Everybody: The Story of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells by Edward J. Dent (London: T.V. Boardman and Company, 1946). Although copies of the book are selling for as little as $4.67 online, my friend’s copy is special: one fly leaf is covered with signatures, some of them (all of them?) famous British actors of the day. John is hoping this makes his copy of the book worth a few dollars more.

I’ve shown the scan of the signatures to several people, and so far we’ve accumulated these best guesses:

L[aurence] Olivier
Sybil Thorndike
Ralph Richardson
Diana Maddox
Michael Warre
Nicolette Bernard
George Cooper
Sydney ____
Margaret Leighton
William Mantz?
Nicholas H ____
Harcourt Williams
Miles Malleson
Alfred Brent
Harry Andrews
George Relph
Robin Lloyd?
Michael Raghay?
George Rose
Joseph ____

Perversely, handwriting is easy to read only if you already know what it says, so in this case, the more famous actors’ names came most easily to mind. I figured out some of the others by taking a guess and then Googling, for instance, “British actor George Relph,” and seeing what came up. If anyone can fill in the blanks, correct mistakes, or add to the list, I’ll pass along the news to John. (And if you think we’re fantasizing that Olivier signature, take a look here or here or  here.)


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