A Penmanship Copybook

A nice example of a penmanship copybook  is in the Pioneer Collection at the California State Library. The Pioneer Collection consists mostly of letters and oddments that don’t fit into other collections, or don’t rate their own separate collection.

DSCF5474This is a copybook that was given to Miss Anne Lamont by J. P. Blakely, presumably a teacher of penmanship, in 1849. Miss Lamont (who later became Mrs. Robert Brownlee) brought the book with her to California.

You can see what a show-off piece of work this title page is. This calligrapher really knows how to wield a pen!

The idea of a copybook was to present samples of handwriting, in various styles, for the student to copy. So a page might be headed by a bit of poetry, a suitable sentiment, or a series of long words that would test the student’s ability to keep an even, steady hand. The rest of the page would be left blank for the student to practice in.


This page shows a verse about the Penman’s art, with the top sample done by the teacher, and the copy by the student (followed by four more copies). Notice that this is printing, rather than cursive.


A very fancy example, suitable for titles. If you are having trouble reading it, it says “Penmanship commend.”


“Good manners, grace and truth are ornaments in youth.” A nice example of unornamented “running hand,” used for ordinary letter writing.

It was a treat to come across this example of the lost art of penmanship.


About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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1 Response to A Penmanship Copybook

  1. John Gallardo says:

    Beautiful! We have a number of such samples at the Stansbury Home, though much later — circa 1900, etc. -John Gallardo

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