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What Is round Hand?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated: May 23, 2024

Round hand is a type of handwriting originating from Italy, but first found in England during the mid-1600s. It is characterized by the slight contrast between thick and thin lines, but is best known for its sweeping curves rather than an angular fashion. The script was able to come about because of the development of metal-pointed nibs on quills and pens. Round hand is also called copperplate and foundational hand.

The style got its name from being centered around the curve of the ‘o.’ The flowery and looping effect is achieved by writing at a 30-degree angle to the paper. The effect of round hand also serves to exaggerate the size of the upper elements of the letters when written in a sentence. This relates to a theory that the eye concentrates or focuses on the top element of a sentence when reading and not the bottom element.

While round hand gained popularity in the 1660s in England, it owed its origin to much older manuscripts, perhaps as early as the 10th century. The style was definitely used by the Apostolic Camera, a financial board within the Papal Administration of Rome. The Apostolic Camera used the script when making financial reports for the Vatican and the Catholic Church’s Curia. In England, the style is best demonstrated by writers such as Sarah Cole and John Ayres.

The function of round hand was to produce a legible script for official documents. As any person who has tried to decipher medieval and early modern texts will know, handwriting is often impossible to understand or transcribe. Round hand was rarely applied to minor documents such as censuses, death, birth and marriage certificates, but was used for pamphlets, book covers and certificates. Its chief function was replaced by the typewriter and then by the personal computer in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively. Round hand, however, continues to be used for things such as university certificates and commendations.

John Ayres helped to popularize round hand in the 17th century. The style was originally called ‘the rhonde’ after its French name. The script’s advantages were advertised to businesses, but were mostly taken up by individual writers. As well as John Ayres, the script was popularized and exemplified by writers such as Edward Crocker, George Snell and George Bickham.

Like many scripts using ink pens and quills, it is easier to write when the writer is right-handed. Naturally, the left-handed writer has to be careful of smudging the written words. It is a script that is written slowly, but passionately. The script requires the writer to create each letter with careful strokes and is not a script used when the writer is in a hurry.

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