SCOTTISH HANDWRITINGin the Eighteenth and Nineteenth


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SCOTTISH HANDWRITING
in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
A CONCISE GUIDE
Compiled by Kenneth Veitch

CONTENTS

Introduction

3

Letter Forms

4

Abbreviations

41

Punctuation

60

Other Marks

73

Further Resources

78

INTRODUCTION
It has been estimated that at the beginning of the eighteenth century about 75 per cent of men and between 25 and 30 per cent of women were able to sign their names. The documents used to arrive at these figures indicate that being able to write was influenced not just by gender, but also by social status and occupation. They also reveal strong regional differences, notably between the Highlands and the Lowlands, but also between urban and rural areas in the Lowlands. These distinctions steadily eroded over the following two hundred years or so: by the 1860s about 89 per cent of men and 79 per cent of women were able to sign their names, and by the opening decades of the twentieth century the ability to write among Scots was more or less universal.
This expansion in the ability to write was accompanied by equally significant developments in Scottish handwriting. Most notably, the various styles that had characterised it for three hundred years or so were gradually replaced during the eighteenth century by a style known as English Roundhand. Created primarily to meet the needs of British commerce, it was relatively easy to learn and could be written quickly and with clarity. A distinctive form known as Copperplate had developed by the end of the eighteenth century and was widely taught in schools until the mid nineteenth century, when a simplified form known as Civil Service Hand became popular.
The letter forms of both Copperplate and Civil Service Hand are instantly recognisable as they are either the same or very similar to modern forms. This does not necessarily make eighteenth- and nineteenth-century handwriting easy to read, however. Some hands are excessively cursive, resulting in badly formed, ligatured or missing letters. In other hands, confusing idiosyncrasies reduce legibility. Sometimes the handwriting is simply bad. This need not always indicate a low level of schooling. Some people were not in the habit of writing, and lost competence through lack of practice. Poor quality writing materials, from shoddily cut quills and badly mixed inks to inferior paper, also contributed to bad handwriting. Importantly, handwriting quality also depended on the purpose and likely audience of the document. For informal documents or ones that were intended primarily for personal reference, people often employed a hand that was more cursive, irregular, inconsistent and abbreviated than the one they used for more formal or public documents.
With this in mind, it was decided that a brief guide to some of the basic aspects of Scottish handwriting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would be useful for those engaged in transcribing documents for the Sources in Local History series. As will be seen, the focus is on writing in English and Scots.
Kenneth Veitch
European Ethnological Research Centre

Letter forms
Being able to recognise standard letter forms and their variants is an essential skill for transcribers of historical documents.
The great majority of letter forms encountered in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Scottish documents belong to English Roundhand and its successor scripts, and examples of both capital and small forms are given here for each letter of the alphabet. Although the use of Secretary Hand was in decline by the beginning of the period, some of its letter forms survived in hybrid hands well into the eighteenth century and examples of these are also given.
A Two forms of capital letter A can commonly be found in documents from the period.
One is angular and became the standard Copperplate form:

(c. 1704)

(1742)

(1799)

The other looks like a larger version of the small letter a:

(1842)

(1726)

(1801)

(1834)

(1848)

a

The small letter a looks very much like its modern form:

(c. 1704) (1743)

(1792)

(1799)

(1842)

(1897)

(1847)

(1848)

(1873)

(1900)

In some hands, the lobe is not closed and it can consequently look similar to a small letter u, as shown here:

lands (1799)

When an open lobe is combined with a looped stem it can sometimes look similar to ce, as shown here:

Dornach (1757)

B

The lower lobe of the capital letter B is generally open and in eighteenth-century hands does not always sit immediately under the upper lobe:

(1716)

(1721)

(1743)

(1768)

(1810)

(1825)

(1834)

(1842)

In some hands, it can look like a collapsed capital letter M:

(1897)

Bearer (1792)

b

The lobe of the small letter b was written anti-clockwise and was usually left open, especially in Copperplate hands:

(1700)

(c. 1704)

(1742)

(1799)

(1801)

(1834)

(1842)

(c. 1870)

(1897)

In some hands, the combination of a very open lobe and a low joining stroke (or ‘link’) can make the letter difficult to distinguish, as shown here:

befor[e] (1799)

C

The capital letter C is often looped at the top or bottom or both:

(1701)

(1742)

(1799)

(1834)

(1838)

(1842)

(1867)

(1897)

When excessively looped, it can look similar to le, as shown here:

Constable (1849) In some hands, it goes below the line:

Cottbank (1768)

China (c. 1790)

Carriage (1793)

c

The Secretary Hand small letter c can still be found in some hands of the early eighteenth century:

(1700)

(1706)

(1716)

While it can look similar to the later, Copperplate small letter r, the two letters usually have distinct forms in such hands, as this example shows:

concern (1716) The Copperplate version is very similar to the modern form:

(c. 1704) (1743)

(1799)

(1838)

(1842)

(1848)

(1873)

When looped, this form can look similar to the letter e, as this example shows:

deck (1900) In some hands, the top curve of the letter is missing, as shown here:

adjacent (1721)
D The capital letter D usually has a flourish:

(1732)

(1791)

(1801)

(1834)

(1842)

(1868)

(1897)

(1899)

d

Both Secretary Hand and Italic forms of the small letter d can be found in documents of the eighteenth century. An Italic influence can also be seen in some nineteenth-century

hands. In both forms, the ascender has a prominent leftward curl:

(1701)

(c. 1704)

(1709)

(1716)

(1730)

(1745)

(1747)

(1748)

(1791)

(1829)

(1830)

(1868)

A form with a straight, slightly right-leaning ascender was in use at the beginning of the period and became the norm in Copperplate hands:

(1706)

(1746)

(1748)

(1751)

(1781)

(1791)

(1801)

(1834)

(1838)

(1848)

(c. 1870)

(1878)

(1897)

Both forms can be found in some hands. In such cases, the form used was often determined by the letter’s position in the word, with the looped d most commonly being used terminally, as these examples show:

declared (1747)

produced (1791)
In some hands, however, there is no consistency, as these two examples of the same word from a letter of 1792 show:

deliver

deliver

E

A capital letter E with curled arms became the standard Copperplate form:

(1703)

(1743)

(1762)

(1799)

(1835)

(1850)

(1897)

A variation looks like a larger version of the small letter e:

(1709)

(1727)

(1844)

(1848)

(1859)

The latter can sometimes look similar to a capital letter C or a small letter l, as shown here:

East (1768)

e

The Secretary Hand small letter e survived into the eighteenth century:

(c. 1700)

(c. 1704) (c. 1704)

(1757)

(1759)

Its upper lobe (or ‘eye’) distinguishes it from the similar-looking small letter o, as shown here:

Anderson (c. 1704)
A smaller version of the curled capital letter E can also be found in documents of the early eighteenth century, as shown here:

free (c. 1704)
A form similar to the modern small letter e gradually gained prominence and became the norm in Copperplate hands:

(1730)

(1744)

(1794)

(1801)

(1842)

(c. 1870)

(1897)

All three forms can sometimes be found in the same document, as shown in these examples from a letter of 1700:

several

taken
In the following example, two forms of the letter are given ‘attacking strokes’, an earlier handwriting practice that survived in some hands of the eighteenth century:

boehea (1715) When the eye of a small letter e is closed, it can look similar to a letter c, as shown here:

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SCOTTISH HANDWRITINGin the Eighteenth and Nineteenth