"Etiquette and Typography" at TypeCon 2008

We burned our bras and the traditions of polite society in the 1960s. Perhaps the post-Victorian, war-torn, Democracy-mongering notions of social form became outmoded, but, with the ruin of rules for civil engagement, how have three generations of Americans learned to get along.

By looking at examples of communication tools for written correspondence we can perhaps get a glimpse at what we have learned about polite society and what we have lost.

I will be presenting this engaging topic on Sunday, July 20 during the afternoon session of "Type in 20".

I will talk about the usefulness of the hand written note and about the outstanding successs rate for sending a real live letter through the mail to a new friend or potential client. All attendees will walk away with instruction in and a copy of "How to Write a Personal Letter".


"I have been engaged with the process of commercial engraving for the purpose of making social stationery since 1977. Since then I have watched the rich polish of polite society decline to a harsh commercial glare."--Nancy Sharon Collins Artist's Statement, "History in Small Places" solo exhibition of large format archival prints, 2008, Abingdon 12, New York City and TypeCon 2008, Buffalo, New York and Hill Memorial Library, Special Collections, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge in the Spring.


You are right about the getting a live letter opposed to an email or an im. I have not received a real letter since the one that Leah sent me for class. It was actually exciting to the mail box and have somebody taken time out of their day to write me. It makes you feel special and that someone cares alot. I feel like polite society has pretty much disappeared since the introduction to technology. I feel that actual physical interaction is not that important to people any more which is sad.


I am reading, "Custom of the Country" by Edith Wharton written in 1913, do you know her work? Although she was a rich white lady from the north east, she was very bright and speaks a lot about what "polite society" required of women at that time. I first read her about twenty years ago and have not had much patience for her since.

However, something about her messages or stories resonate today.

During the last (and every) industrial revolution where technology runs wild ahead of our creative control, it seems that vast wastelands of humanity lie in its wake. Maybe now that smart, young people are slowly gaining control of all this crazy hard wiring and software we can all find a little bit of humanity again. (At least for another hundred years before the next big wave.)

Nancy, as much as I agree with you about the value of hand-written letters, I’m scared to death that my lawyers friends might expect me to read the output of wrists warped by endless note-taking and Blackberry messaging. It’s something like reading prescriptions by Steadman.

Anyway, this year I moved up from embossed thank-you cards to handmade cards and envelopes. It was quite gratifying.

I have not heard of her work but I will look for it and read her. I hope you a right about us being able to find a bit if humanity again because at the moment it does not feel that way. It would be nice to get back to hand written letters as well as actually talking to people more opposed to how it is now.

Dear James,

I have a very dear friend who is rather successful and has been on the Esquire "Best Dressed" list several times (for whatever that's worth) so he is an "expert" of sorts about style. He always writes hand written correspondence. I don't get to see him often but I do occasionally receive something from him in the mail. His handwriting is not legible, at all, but his writing is distinctive and is a delight to see amongst the junk we bring from the box of mail. Even though I can barely read a word I can tell that he is okay. To me, it is the same feeling I get when I run into him and I actually get to see into his stylish face directly.

After 9/11 and the anthrax attacks I was wondering if we would ever correspond by mail again. This is when I started writing my return address on the face of envelopes that I address in cursive. I recommend my clients do this too even when sending out multiple invitations. That cover–that face of a letter IS the same as a person's facial expression. You can usually see if it is a happy hand or one cramped and mean. I remember when my Father's hand began to look infirm, this was when my Mom got really ill and she went into hospital for the very last time. I thought this change would go away but even though he writes correspondence every single evening, his hand never regained that confidence or strength. And he looks now like an old man which he did not used to.

I have been told that less and less cursive (or penmanship of any kind) is being taught in schools. The thoughts generated by the deliberate quality of taking pen to paper uses a different portion of the brain than keystroking.

I will get the book citation and post it–about two years ago a reference handbook was published by librarians about "computer mediated information".

When I keystroke, or type, a machine mediates my thoughts. With a pen or pencil in my hand my thought process feels different, more reverential, as if I am actually taking the time to think about what I am saying. This is a practical notion because it is a lot easier to delete and re-type electronically than it is to correct a letter in long hand.

Congratulations on handmade cards and envelopes, feels good, doesn't it?

Funny old monogram.