Book Review: The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting by Anne Trubek

This may come as a surprise, but a lot of people have strong feelings about handwriting. Ask a few friends, “should children be taught cursive at school?” and you’re bound to receive a variety of vigorous opinions. Anne Trubek, author of The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, may have learned this the hard way. In August of this year, just prior to the book’s publication, Trubek penned a New York Times op-ed piece headlined Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter, and it received over one-hundred comments and letters. Almost all of these reader responses disagreed with Trubek’s call for schools to refocus handwriting education elsewhere, and one reader even went far enough to call keyboards “offensive tools.”


In some ways Trubek’s newly released book is a 154-page extension of that NYT op-ed, but it’s more aptly characterized as a simple history book. While she eventually gets around to discussing the digital age, Trubek fills most of the book’s pages by explaining the cultural evolution of writing, from early cuneiform and hieroglyphics to the common Palmer and D’Nealian cursive fonts that most of us use today. It covers a lot of the same ground as Paper by Mark Kurlansky, though Trubek’s narrower focus makes for a much quicker read.

When Trubek gets around to discussing the future of handwriting near the end of the book, it’s a lot less controversial than I’d expected given much of the ire it has created. Her argument boils down to this: writing’s role is changing in the digital age, as it has throughout history. Just as the printing press reduced the need for scribes, computers reduce our need for handwriting. It’s simply not as critical as it once was, and perhaps the time children spend learning handwriting could be reallocated toward something more useful (like computer skills). I’m unclear whether Trubek’s argument extends to learning basic, legible print handwriting – something which still has a lot of utility – but her main contention seems to be with cursive.

Trubek goes on to discuss the benefits of handwriting that are presented by its advocates, though she largely dismisses them as being cultural arguments. However, the cultural element of cursive is, in my opinion, the best reason for including it in a school curriculum. At least for the time being, cursive is still in use, and everyone would benefit from knowing the script to some extent. Though it should be pointed out that Trubek still envisions a place for cursive, at least as an art form, a hobby, or a tool for developing fine motor skills.

Whether you agree with Trubek’s main argument or not, anybody with a passionate opinion about this topic will be fascinated by the bulk of this book. The history lesson it contains is worthwhile, and the book is short enough to complete within a few sittings. And, who knows, after finishing the book you might be inclined to write the author a handwritten note in response.

Nib Novice, Part 6 – Vintage Parker 51

This is the sixth part in a series in which I’m learning to use fountain pens. For all the previous installments, click here.

Meet the Parker 51 fountain pen.


First produced in 1941, the Parker 51 would go on to sell tens of millions of units before being discontinued in 1972. It’s possibly the most popular fountain pen ever made, and has a long history to show for it. In the vintage pen world, Parker 51s aren’t particularly rare, and their individual values depend greatly on age, condition, and style. But nevertheless, each one is a classic.

This particular Parker 51 was given to me as Christmas gift last year, but was probably originally produced sometime during the 1950s. However, as I’ve gathered from the wonderful resource page at Richard’s Pens, it can be difficult to nail down a specific production date. Regardless of its exact age, this pen has weathered the decades extremely well; it still writes great, despite a bit of leaking around the nib.

The Parker 51 is obviously designed to be a working man’s pen. It has a professional look, a sturdy clip, and the cap pulls off quickly (as opposed to most of my other fountain pens, which have caps that screw on and off). It also has a hooded nib that allows ink to start flowing quickly. But, above all, my favorite feature is the aerometric filling system.

With this filling system there is a flexible ink sac built into the barrel that acts a lot like a pipette bulb. A small cutout inside the barrel will allow you to compress the sac, squeezing air out of it. With the sac still compressed, all you need to do is dip the nib into a bottle of ink and release the sac – ink will be sucked inside. It’s a very simple mechanism, yet one that is rather unique.


I like this Parker 51. It’s such a classic that every fountain pen enthusiast should probably own one. If it weren’t for that slow nib leak, I’d probably carry this one around with me a lot more. As it stands, I’m a little paranoid about it, but I’m hoping that the problem will be solved by using a different ink. Currently, it’s filled with Noodler’s Black, which looks great but seems a little on the thin side.

Overall, however, I’ve found the vintage fountain pen world to be fairly daunting. There’s really a lot to learn in order to properly become a vintage collector. Still, I’ve had fun getting my feet wet with the Parker 51, and I can easily see myself buying another one someday.



Review: Pilot Couleur, Ballpoint, 0.5mm

At just over 3.5″ in length and weighing less than one-third of an ounce, the Pilot Couleur is certainly a tiny fellow. But tiny can also mean mighty – the Couleur is a durable pen with metal trim, a solid clip, and vigorous clicker. It is also wrapped in a matte finish that gives the barrel a nice texture.

As the pen’s name (sort-of) indicates, there are a bunch of color options available for the barrel, but the Couleur only includes a black ballpoint refill. The ink flows out sharp and smooth, though it’s not particularly dark. The refill is slightly above average on the whole, but nowhere near Pilot’s own Acroball ink.

Due to its size, the Couleur probably shouldn’t be used for tasks that require a lot of writing. It just isn’t comfortable for anything longer than a sentence. Rather, it would work best as a datebook companion or an ‘everyday carry’ pen, as it will easily slip inside a pocket or purse.

Overall, it’s a reliable little pen that can definitely take some abuse.

Review: Spiffy Lab Carbon Fiber G2 Pen, Gel Ink, 0.5mm


Originally crowdfunded on Kickstarter to the tune of $23,181, the Carbon Fiber G2 Pen by Spiffy Lab is a monster. Its long, rotund barrel reminds me of a Maglite, and its machined-aluminum and carbon fiber body makes it look like something that ought to be stored in a tool bench. On seeing it, I was enamored, and I didn’t think twice before throwing $25 at the Kickstarter campaign so that I could secure a pen for myself.

When I received the pen a while later, I quickly discovered that the Carbon Fiber G2 Pen isn’t really an item I can use on an everyday basis. I should have known better; it’s really too large to comfortably fit in a pocket. Moreover, the cap screws on and off, requiring three full, squeaky rotations. And to make things a little more difficult, the cap doesn’t post to the end of the pen, and the clip juts out much too far for most practical purposes – though you can remove it with a hex wrench if you’d be okay with no clip at all.


On the positive side, I find the thick barrel fairly comfortable to write with, and I especially like the carbon fiber texture. If there’s one lesson I take away from this pen, it’s that carbon fiber should be used more often. And given its size, it weighs less than you might expect, though anyone with smaller hands might still have some trouble. Also, as indicated by the pen’s name, it includes a 0.5mm Pilot G-2 refill, which shouldn’t dry out if left uncapped for an extended period of time. However, the refill included with my pen seems to be a dud – it skips in and out a lot. Luckily, G-2 refills are easy to replace, as they are available nearly everywhere, in many sizes and colors.

While the Carbon Fiber G2 Pen probably isn’t sensible for most situations, I still like it. Though, honestly, I probably wont get much use from it. But for those that might be interested in this gargantuan pen, it looks like you can still order one through the Spiffy Lab website for $55. That’s a markup from the Kickstarter campaign, but it will at least feel like you’re getting something substantial for the money.

Retro Talk: The Pen Addict Tornado


Over the past year, I’ve become a fan and collector of the Retro 51 Tornado, but it was an old episode of The Pen Addict Podcast that first brought the pen to my attention. So, last month, when Retro 51 announced a new Tornado made in collaboration with Brad Dowdy, the creator of The Pen Addict website, I jumped at the chance to order one. And it turned out that I was lucky to act so fast, as this edition – limited to 300 pieces – sold out within a week.


Made in the image of The Pen Addict, this Tornado has a shiny, orange lacquered barrel (like the one first reviewed by Dowdy in 2012) with weathered, metal hardware. However, the principal element is the finial, the little disk inset at the top of the twist, which features The Pen Addict logo. I’ve always felt that the pen-syringe hybrid is one of the more clever logos I’ve seen.

Though you can no longer purchase The Pen Addict Tornado, it is very similar to the orange Classic Lacquer Tornado, which is still widely available.  Personally, I would have preferred a brighter orange, like a safety yellow or an umbra orange, but I’m not complaining. Cheesy as it may sound, I feel like I’ve got myself a small piece of history.


…and if you haven’t had your fill of orange, check out this, this, and also this.