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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Typ 473.22

Specimens of penmanship from writing schools in Boston


201 specimens of penmanship from 18th-century Boston.


  • 1748-1782

Language of Materials


Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.


1 linear feet (2 boxes)
201 single leaves generally copying a moral text or business account. Some use ornamental scripts and calligraphic drawings. Items are 32 x 41 cm or smaller. Many are in iron gall ink.

Includes specimens from: the South Writing School (50 items numbered SWS 1-50), including signed work of Abiah Holbrook (SWS 1-6, dated 1766-1770); the North Writing School (20 items numbered NWS 1-20); the Writing School in Queen Street (10 items numbered QSWS 1-10); unknown writing schools (109 items, numbered UWS 1-109), including signed work of John Fenno (UWS 33-36, dated 1764-1765); and Miscellaneous engravings including: engraved specimens of writing for copying (4 items, numbered MISC 1-4); sheets with decorative engraved borders (8 items numbered MISC 5-12, 59 x 31 cm or smaller), including borders printed by George Bickham, Henry Overton, and J. Deverson.

Biographical / Historical

The public schools of colonial Boston consisted of two grammar schools, the North and the South (called the Latin School) and three writing schools. The writing schools were the Writing School in Queen Street (opened in 1684), the North Writing School (founded in 1700), and the South Writing School (from 1720). The writing schools taught spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, and the catechism.


Arranged into the following series:
  1. I. South Writing School (SWS)
  2. ___A. Abiah Holbrook's work
  3. ___B. Student papers
  4. II. North Writing School (NWS)
  5. III. Queen Street Writing School (QSW)
  6. IV. Unknown writing schools (UWS)
  7. V. Miscellaneous engravings (MISC)

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

No accession number. Gift of Miss G. E. Holbrook; received: 1904 May 23.


For further description see: E. Jennifer Monaghan in Visible Language 21:2 (1987): 167-214.

Processing Information

Processed by: J. F. Coakley and Bonnie B. Salt
Link to catalog
Specimens of penmanship from writing schools in Boston, 1748-1782: Guide. MS Typ 473.22
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

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