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You’re Doing it Wrong… Oh, Wait.

Posted by Dirck on 24 April, 2013

The correct grip, aka the tripod (old-style, index finger atop)

The correct grip, aka the tripod (old-style, index finger atop)

Those who are familiar with the whole of my work (or at least that which is permanently accessible and admitted to) will have seen me comment in one or two places on the correct way of holding a pen.  I make much of this on my site, devoting several paragraphs and words to the effort.  I’m not alone in this notion of the correct grip;  I can point to German pens have such serious finger-directing shapes that in their cases I capitalize the matter as Correct Grip.  It’s not a new development, either, since this sort of sculpting of pens goes back to at least the Parker VP, and as I point out on that page on my site there are pictures dating back many centuries showing this same grip.  When I say, to myself or others, “Hold your pen properly!” I mean either the sort of thing shown to the right here, or the more modern version the Germans urge, with the middle finger beneath while the thumb and index finger are on the upper curve.

Let us turn from these dry academic matters for a moment.  A while ago, I saw an unfamiliar Lon Chaney film coming up on TV– The Ace of Hearts, and it appeared that it Chaney’s character in it was not predicated on his willingness to tie his arms behind his own back or stick wires into his eye sockets, so I was very interested to see what he’d do without the gimmicks.  There was an element of that sort of self-destructiveness to be seen, as it seems he was subjected to both wind and rain machines for a very long time… and I have suspicions that he may have stapled his hat on in the same way as Harrison Ford did for the chase scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I don’t, I’ll say, particularly recommend it, as it’s a very silly melodrama (although it is interesting to see the notion of a conspiracy to attack the wealthy had currency even a ninety years ago) but I’m glad to have watched it for other reasons.

Technically, still a tripod grip, but that's not quite what we mean.

Technically, still a tripod grip, but that’s not quite what we mean.

Early in the film, the counter-plutocrat brotherhood meets to compare notes on a particularly odious oppressor they mean to slip a bomb under.  Because a good terrorist conspiracy needs to follow Robert’s Rules, Chaney volunteers to keep minutes.  I was dumbfounded by what followed– I had almost never seen someone hold a pen like he was holding it.  It looked comfortable enough, and that “almost” comes about because it was very similar to the grip my son habitually takes when he’s writing, something I was griping about not long before the film was shown.  Amazing!  Even more amazing that I could find a picture of it!

The picture is one I had actually seen before but hadn’t quite registered.  I happened upon it again because someone in a forum had enquired about the meaning of a Waterman point having the word BALLPOINT impressed on the back of it.  I referred to my 1925 catalogue, in which that and a remarkable assortment of other points are available at the time (when’s the last time you heard of a falcon-point in a Waterman, eh?).  The ballpoint was an amendment to make life easier for the left-handed writer, and the page all this appears on has examples of different writing grips which may profit by specialty points.  The Waterman company apparently suggests that Chaney take up an extra-firm point, and offers other suggestions for…



people "afflicted" with left-handedness,...

people “afflicted” with left-handedness,…

and even (shudder) accountants!

and even (shudder) accountants!

So, it appears that my firm stance on grip is… narrow.  Possibly even foolish.  I’ll defend myself by pointing out that the 1920’s were a writhing stew of unconventionality, what with its speakeasies and its flappers, but I’ll also work to be a little less judgemental.  As long as the pen doesn’t mind, I shouldn’t.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Mini
Today’s ink: Pelikan Royal Blue


6 Responses to “You’re Doing it Wrong… Oh, Wait.”

  1. I seem to recall another post of yours about pen grip recently. My grip is a little unorthodox, I have the index finger on top but I rest the pen on my ring finger instead of my middle finger. My middle finger rests on the pen just beneath the index finger. I’ve always written that way, it feels unnatural if I try any other way. One thing I found fascinating—and you may already know this—is that before ballpoints came around, people writing with fountain pens moved their hands/arms in a completely different way when they wrote. They wrote more with their whole arm rather than just moving the wrist and hand. I find that really interesting, and also really difficult to envision.

    • The previous post was the one about my son’s unorthodoxy, which I guess I’m going to have to start calling by some other term. I think I said something then about wanting to say “If it feels good, do it,” and here’s ancient evidence pushing that policy on me!

      As far as envisioning the whole-arm writing– it’s the same action as writing on a blackboard, so the kids at the back can see. It’s an eminently comfortable way to shove a pen around, and I try to make a practice of it… but as I tend to let my elbow to the driving, I can’t claim either virtue nor lasting success. Yet!.

  2. Tim said

    I find the graphics interesting and am curious about the one labeled accountant. Is this to suggest that there is such a thing as accountant writing style, distinguished by a more vertical holding of the pen? Would this explain anything about nibs designated as accountant nibs (other than firmness)?

    • It’s a bit of a mystery to me. The accompanying text doesn’t really illuminate the matter, just saying something along the lines of “accountants, who usually hold their pens like this, will enjoy our fine, firm accounting points.” It could be there was one guy in the company’s book-keeping department that wrote like that, and he stuck in the collective mind of the advertising department.

  3. Appropriate to the topic here, I find belatedly an article in The Atlantic which refers to an Elizabethan penmanship manual: A Nevv Booke, containing all sorts of hands vsvally written at this day in Christendome, as the English and French Secretary, the Roman, Italian, French, Spanish, high and low Dutch, Court and Chancerie hands: with Examples of each of them in their proper tongue and Letter. Also an Example of the true and iust proportion of the Romane Capitals. Collected by the best approued writers in these languages. It’s a little more prescriptive than one might expect from people who haven’t decided how many “e”s there are in “Bun”.

  4. […] “Taking Minutes at the Anarchist’s Meeting” scence in The Ace of Hearts, which I referenced in the spring.  In my current state, that’s a rather more comfortable grip than my […]

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