Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pen and Ink

Inkwell, pen and family letters. This pen is engraved with EHF, Elizabeth Hardy Fair, my husband's great aunt from his father's side. She was a contemporary of Edith's and General Douglas MacArthur's first cousin. She went to Europe in 1910 and I posted bits from her diary on this blog.

I'm not sure what pens the Nicholsons used to write their letters in 1910. There are no blotches in the letters, however hastily penned, but the pens still must have been fountain pens. Herb sometimes used a typewriter.

A few blogs ago I wrote about the CBS program Sunday Morning, and how they had a feature on Handwriting.

The report discussed handwriting through the 20th century, how it has declined in importance, but is still taught in elementary school.

I had written an essay in a similar vein in 1998. My son's final grade 3 report had a notation: Should try to improve his handwriting over the summer. I was wondering, back then, whether handwriting mattered anymore.

It just occurred to me: Handwriting played a big part in this 7 year (and counting) Nicholson Family Letter Project.

In 2003, when I found the huge stash of letters in the old trunk in my father in law's basement, (while I waited for the washer to complete its spin cycle) it was all Greek to me.

The first item I pulled from the trunk was a 1916 3-fold cardboard flyer for Crisco, addressed to a Mrs. M. Nicholson, and I had no idea who she was. (Hmm. Very modern of them: women were usually addressed as Mrs. N (as in Norman) Nicholson. But I have since learned it was a woman advertising pioneer who created this particular campaign for J. Walter Thompson.)

Then I glimpsed the letters, piles of them, in packs tied with string. (One pack had been opened.)

Being the creative type (and not an academic who would have understood the importance of keeping everything in perfect order)I decided to dip my hand in and randomly pull out letters to read.

The problem was: only Flora and Marion had legible handwriting, so I started with their letters. And after a short time I realized that there was a story here, the story of Flora's year at Macdonald Teachers College.

That, of course, impressed me. And the rest is history, social history, family history, Canadian history.

Now, had none of the Nicholson had nice handwriting, I might have given up right then and there. (I think I probably would have.)

It took me a couple of months to read and 'decipher' all the letters from the 1908-1913 era and just two back-breaking weeks to transcribe them. By 2005 I was ready to post them online.

(I contacted a literary agent, who told me 'letters are boring' although he was ready to work with me on another project. A small local publisher from Ste. Anne de Bellevue, however, was ready to receive the letters, "I love letters," said the publisher, but I soon discovered I wasn't ready to deal with them.

It has taken me 7 years to acquire enough background to wisely edit the letters down.

That's what I am doing now: starting in May 1911, that happens to be 100 years ago.

I posted 8 of these letters of this Flo in the City blog and have started a Nicholson Family Saga blog to post the rest.

And I am linking the first letter here so that the crawlers find it.

It says the Carbon Files, the previous name of the blog, but I have to figure out how to change that.