Sunday, February 7, 2016

To Have a Fine Hand

The signature below is probably the most famous in the history of our country.  It is that of the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, a prominent and wealthy Massachusetts patriot.  John Hancock also possessed what used to be called a "fine hand."

The look of this signature was so emblematic that an American insurance company adopted his name and signature as its logo in 1862, presumably because it suggested steadiness and good citizenship.

For many generations and well into the 20th Century, when the moment came to write one's name on a legal document, the request was "Please put your John Hancock here."

(Nowadays we are not asked to sign so often, but rather to state our birth dates and recite our "socials.")

Handwriting in History

Back in the day, it was important to have legible handwriting.  Yes, documents and newspapers and books were set in type for printing and distribution, but the writers did not do the typesetting.

Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence out longhand, signed his name thus:

George Washington's signature also was recognizable.

Fine novelists also turned out handwritten scripts.  Here are a few of their renderings of their names, all perfectly readable.


It has always been important for artists to have recognizable signatures, given the occasional
incidents of false provenance in the art game.    Here are a few:

Signatures Today

Even the luminaries who converted us all from hot type to computer printing seemed to know their handwriting.  A couple examples:  

But, over time, the fine hand seems to become less fine.  Below is what appears to be a signature of Mark Zuckerberg, a younger billionaire.


 I do not know whether this is good or bad, but it does seem to be a trend.

Current Leaders

I would say that our current president has a good hand.

Personally, I prefer not to examine all our politicians' signatures.  This is an election year, and it is going to be a long enough one for us as it is.  

But I will raise the following point:  What about our currency?


I do not know believe the signature of our first Treasury Secretary was on our continental currency.  That estimable fellow, Alexander Hamilton, had a fine hand, like others of his group.  Here is a quite readable fragment I found online.

If my research is correct, and I believe it is, American currency did not carry the signature of the U.S. secretary of the treasury until late in the 1860s.

Here is a signature from our current Secretary of the Treasury,  Jacob (Jack) Lew:

I have looked online and found other purported Lew signatures, including the one below.

Interestingly, this same signature has been attributed to Johnny Depp, the actor who played Jack Sparrow in the Caribbean Pirates movies.

Certainly Mr. Lew, whatever his attributes, cannot be said to have a "fine hand." Perhaps neither can Mr. Depp, and it behooves us all to be skeptical of "information" posted on the interwebs.

But how are we to tell which is which?

It would not be amiss for us to check our wallets (as I will soon) and for the Department of the Treasury might want to look into the matter.


Perhaps there is something to be said for a having a fine hand, after all.

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