Minums for handwriting practice

Minums copyAs I’ve been practicing English Round-hand, a Regency era handwriting style, I’ve worked on lower case letters, joining letters together, and Capital letters. Just lately I’ve been doing a handwriting exercise that lets me practice all those elements at once!

The exercise comes from a page of George Bickham’s Young Clerk’s Assistant titled “Minums in Round-hand and Italian.” What is a minum? In this case, a minum appears to be a nonsense word that includes several forms of a letter, with m in the middle to practice spacing and joining. I haven’t found a reference anywhere else to this kind of minum, but I imagine the word derives from the writing term “minim,”  which refers to the small basic stroke – a dotless i –  that makes up the letters m, n, i, and u in many historical European hands.

In the plate from Bickham’s book, shown below, each minum begins with a capital letter followed by the lower-case form of the same letter, then m and one or two additional lower-case letters. This series allows the learner to practice all the slightly different ways a letter might be formed when it falls at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Take a look at the Round-hand minum for S: the first lower-case letter shows the word-initial form, while the double s at the end shows how the long s is used as well as the word-final form of the letter. Some letters, like d and g, have an extra swooping flourish when they come at the end of the word. Others, like e and p, just have a little additional curl.

Minums, plate 15 of George Bickham’s Young Clerk’s Assistant (1787 edition, Google Books)

Comparing this plate with the other Bickham plate I’ve been working with, titled “Learn Round-hand without a Master,”  some of the Capitals are formed quite differently. M and N on this plate are much more like the lower-case versions. It’s another sign that the “Learn Round-hand” plate was inserted into the book at some point after original publication, and possibly engraved by a different person. The Young Clerk’s Assistant seems to have been reprinted many times since its debut in the 1730s, and the 1787 edition digitised on Google Books has some differences from the 1733 edition reprinted by Dover Books.   Variations in letter-forms seem to be the rule rather than the exception among the different writing masters, so I’ve been practicing lots of the different capital letter-forms found in my sources.

I was getting a little frustrated with my capital letters until I started practicing with minums. I like how they work a little more like actual words, so my hand feels the familiar slant and spacing of the lower case letters in between each capital. In most cases, capital letters need to work closely with the lower-case letters following them, so it makes sense to practice them together.  Unlike real words, though, they’re short and have no potentially distracting meaning.  Doing each minum in order gives each letter a thorough “work-out,” too.

Bickham’s plate contrasts “Round-hand” with “Italian” handwriting. “Italian” hand is very similar to Round-hand, but is slightly more sloped (like Italic fonts), uses a narrower downstroke, and less contrast with thicks and thins. Throughout The Young Clerk’s Assistant, Round-hand is associated with young men and Italian with women.  There are two sets of moral maxims with heavily gendered content, one “for the Practice of Youth in the Round-hand” and the other ‘For the Practice of the Ladies in the Italian Hand.”  While ‘youth’ are given the sentence “Fortune’s a fair but fickle mistress,”  ‘the ladies’ are to copy out “Fame once lost can never be regained.”  I should probably follow Bickham’s suggestion and learn the more lady-like Italian style one of these days, so I can express such high-minded sentiments in the most feminine hand! In the meantime, I’ll stick to my nonsense words.

From a scrapbook of engraved plates on handwriting. (Bibliotheque Nationale de France)

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