Penmanship Mightier Than the Scrawl

Scripto, the pen people of Rancho Cucamonga, had this idea: Why not a national campaign to stamp out “chicken scratching,” the illegible scrawl practiced most notably by doctors and journalists?

First step: selection of an executive director. Scripto chose Charles Lehman, perhaps America’s preeminent expert in the fields of handwriting/calligraphy. “I told them, ‘Surely you want a handsome young man who’ll look good in front of the cameras,’ ” said Lehman, 51, from his home near Portland, Ore. “They said, ‘No, we prefer someone who knows what he’s talking about.’ ”

And Lehman does. “It’s a question of pride, of craftsmanship,” he said. “Writing does deteriorate, particularly under stress, but there’s no question that an inveterate chicken-scratcher can relearn penmanship. I haven’t lost a patient yet.” To Lehman, it’s a question of “the five S’s: slope, shape, size, spacing, speed.” Speed? “Oh yes. If you move along too fast, you feel like a pig on ice, sliding all over the place. . . .”

But in a Computer Age, hasn’t handwriting taken a back seat? “On the contrary,” says Lehman, who also teaches computers. “Kids entering school have at least 12 years of penmanship ahead. And then there’s letter writing, making visible thoughts and emotions. They paint a portrait of the writer.”


Apropos, the Coalition to Stamp Out Chicken Scratching checked out presidential contenders before the primaries. Least legible signatures were those of Paul Simon and Jack Kemp: “Atrocious,” Lehman said. Best signatures? Michael Dukakis and George Bush. There’s got to be a moral. . . .