Happy National Handwriting Day!

Did you have a good National Handwriting Day? What? You didn’t know that penmanship-appreciators across the nation celebrate January 23 as National Handwriting Day? The rising popularity of typewriters and word processors in the 20th century, and today’s culture of quippy texts and tweets have led many to mourn the decline of penmanship. The Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA) instated this little-known holiday in 1977 in the hopes of combating handwriting malaise.

WIMA chose January 23 in honor of the Founding Father with the most iconic—and sizeable—signature, John Hancock. Hancock was born on January 23, 1737, in Massachusetts, and went on to become a prominent merchant, patriot, and president of the Continental Congress. What Hancock is perhaps best known for, however, is his larger-than-life signature on the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

Handwriting appreciation is key to history scholarship—the ability to read the seemingly archaic handwriting of the past gives historians the understanding necessary to decode the documents held sacred in archives. Many students today would find it impossible to read a historical letter without a transcript, the highly stylized letters looping and curling elusively before their eyes. Take a look at the slideshow below and try to decipher some of the Gilder Lehrman Collection’s most iconic handwritten documents.