Illegible Signatures

By Kathleen Strange
Date Added: 17/07/2009


A letter, signed by myself, appeared in the OBSERVER early in 1955 appealing for the illegible signatures of well-educated people. Let me quote from some of the 101 replies I received:

From a clergyman: 'I have recently reformed my handwriting in order that my friends may read it more easily, but I have not dared to vary my signature.'

From a yachtsman-journalist: 'Writing is the curse and bane of life, and like all artistic things those damned schools ruin it in the young before it has had time to flower. Thin pen or thick, mine is a tortured hand. Lord, how I wish I could write!'

From a musician, about a Professor of Literature: 'His letters caused much amusement. They were handed round the breakfast table and were examined with a magnifying glass; and somebody would suddenly cry out: "I've got a word!"'

From a stockbroker; 'I am VERY ASHAMED of my writing.'

From a very legible sailor, of a Master Mariner: 'He is a well-spoke well-mannered man ... I am sending his signature without his permission through revenge because he had the nerve to turn round and tell me that MY signature was illegible.'

From a university lecturer: 'Writing - abandoned as hopeless by headmaster. Is M.A. (Cantab) Ph.D. (Lond).'

From a wife: 'My husband is a M.A. of Balliol. I have yet to meet anyone able to read his handwriting, including himself.'

From a clergyman: 'A person who writes, or signs illegibly will be found to be someone who is not prepared to make concessions to conventional thoughts or practice.'

From a chemist: 'On one occasion it took three qualified and experienced dispensing chemists twenty minutes to decipher one signature with a powerful reading glass.'

These are only a few remarks from the many interesting letters I received. There must be widespread concern about legible handwriting if newspaper readers can take the trouble to write to an unknown person who is collecting illegible signatures for an unspecified purpose.

What, anyway, was my purpose? It was to acquire on a bigger scale & collection of 'illegibles' such as Peterborough has reproduced in his 'London Day by Day' in February 1953. His comment, underneath the reproduction of seven ridiculous squiggles, was 'Between them, these gentlemen must have wasted a fantastic amount of other people's time'. In compiling my scrapbook, which incidentally won a prize in the Eccentrics' Corner of a local Hobbies Exhibition, I hoped I should find an answer to the question 'Why do well-educated people write illegibly?' It seems to me now that there is not one answer, but several, such as carelessness, over emphasis on speed, or conceit. There seems to be a false idea that illegible signatures are stylish, clever, or impossible to forge. I cannot find one GOOD reason.

The majority of my correspondents were middle-aged men holding jobs of considerable responsibility. I sent postcards to them all, and I wanted to urge all of the bad writers to join the SIH at once!