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Making sense of old handwriting

Alphabet Charts

Examples of the 4 Main Scripts

Below are sample alphabets of the four major scripts used in early modern English-language documents.

To learn more about these scripts, visit the Handwriting History section under Techniques and Tools.

Secretary Hand

Pay particular attention to the lowercase c, e, h, r, s, u/v, w, and x.

Safe Copy.PNG

Court Hand

English Court Hand

Italic Hand

"Italique Hande", a page from a copy of A booke containing diuers sortes of hands... by Jehan de Beau-Chesne and John Baildon (1570), from the 1602 edition, with practice letters written on it
From "Learning to write the alphabet" by Heather Wolfe at
The Collation: a gathering of scholarship from the Folger Shakespeare Library

English Round Hand

English round hand script edited by Philip Hofer and engraved by George Bickham; from The Universal Penman (1743).

From "Round hand script" at


Paleography Introduction