The Story of Graphology


Graphology has been in existence for a very long time. In the 2nd century the Roman historian Suetonius Tranquillus concluded that the handwriting of Augustus Caesar was not separated sufficiently to read plainly and that he was therefore mean. Nero also deduced from the writing of one of his officers that he was untrustworthy. Ancient Chinese philosophers could distinguish the distinct writing style of certain calligraphers and made deductions regarding their characters.

But it was in Italy during the early part of the 17th century that Alderisius Prosper wrote the first known article on the subject called ‘Ideographia’. This was followed in 1622 by a slim volume on how to tell a person’s nature by his or her handwriting, written by Camillo Baldo, a physician in Capri. This book was probably used by entertainers who travelled from castle to castle giving character readings.

Very little attention was paid to handwriting analysis dur­ing the next 100 years or so. Later, the subject captured the attention of writers such as Balzac, Lavater, Goethe, Edgar Allen Poe, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens, all of whom began to use handwriting analysis with accura­cy. Other known handwriting analysts were George Sand, Robert Browning, Chekhov and Albert Einstein; there was also Sir William Herschel, the father of the science of finger­printing. We know too that the artist Gainsborough kept on the side of his easel a sample of the handwriting of the per­son whose portrait he was painting.

It was in about 1830 that handwriting analysis really took off in France, when a group of senior ecclesiastical men became seriously interested in the subject. They were the Archbishop of Cambrai, Bishop Soudinet of Amiens, Cardinal Regnier, and Abbe Louis Flandrin (1808-81), who taught handwriting analysis. And it was with his pupil, the Abbe Jean-Hippolyte Michon of Paris, that the serious investigative study of handwriting analysis really began. Indeed, it was he who, in 1871, coined the name ‘Graphology’ meaning roughly ‘knowledge of writing’. He published a book in 1872 called Les Mysteres de l’Ecriture and this was followed by La Methode Pratique de Graphologie. These volumes provided the basis for further research and led to the establishment of the first graphology society in Paris.

Michon, however, made no connection between grapholo­gy and psychology, and he was later known as an interpreter of fixed signs. He compared thousands of handwriting samples with what was known about the writers, and listed the graphic details common to people with the same qualities. He made a very extensive list of signs, each of which related in the forms of the letters and had a fixed meaning. He believed that the presence of a certain sign in the writing meant that whatever that signs represented in terms of per­sonality or character was to be found in that writer. If the sign was absent then so was the quality it represented. We are now aware that this does not give an accurate assess­ment. We need to validate the form with a confirming move­ment; the findings must be co-ordinated as a whole, as was discovered by Jules Crepieux-Jamin (1858-1940), a French physician and psychologist. However, the valuable work Michon did set the scene for subsequent research.

Crepieux-Jamin published many books, but the most important was L’ABC de la Graphologie, published in 1929, which was the result of his extensive studies. He then enlist­ed the help of Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test, who had himself studied and researched graphology at the Sorbonne, to report on his findings. Binet related it to psy­chological testing with respect to intelligence and integrity and found it reliable, thereby giving graphology further credibility and generating further research by his enthusiasm.

In about 1880, three German doctors approached the sub­ject from a psychological standpoint and published their extensive research. One of them, Ludwig Klages (1872 – 1956), a physicist, philosopher and psychologist, became a leading graphologist. It was he who created Form Level (the overall standard of the writing), the basic quality of a handwriting which plays an essential part in the compilation of an assessment, and in the decision whether a positive or negative interpretation is to be applied. Klages also researched in great depth the rhythmic quality of hand­writing – speed, spacing and pressure – putting it on a more scientific basis. With Hans Busse he founded the German Graphological Society in Munich and edited a periodical which brought graphologists of the day together and featured at length the various graphological discoveries that had taken place. Most of the readers were, of course, amateurs since graphology was still in its infancy.

Another of the three Germans, Dr William Preyer, conduct­ed research into signatures and found that they relate to how people see themselves and how they want others to see them, and should not be assessed without a sample of the writer’s script to hand, because the two can be at variance. He worked with soldiers who had lost their writing hands and he discovered that the basic structure of the writing they produced with the other hand or, when both hands had been lost, with their mouths or feet, had not altered. He therefore declared that handwriting was really ‘brainwriting’.

The third doctor, George Meyer, investigated the meaning of writing movement, speed and pressure, and the relation­ship between writing and emotional reaction. He also distin­guished between spontaneous (natural) writing and unspontaneous (unnatural) writing in graphically mature writers, which is valuable where a document is suspected of being forged. He looked into initial (beginning) strokes and terminal (end) strokes and what they represented in terms of the mental preparation the writer needed before starting and continuing a task without interruption of thought.

Speed was also an important consideration for Robert Saudek of Czechoslovakia who immigrated to Britain in about 1925. He did research into how a writer is influenced by the school copybook style he or she is first taught and how this style is modified into a unique, personal form by the writer over the years.  Saudek was particularly interested in how handwriting in Britain differed from Continental styles, especially in rela­tion to the use of block capitals instead of script for official and commercial names and addresses. His book The Psychology of Handwriting was published in 1925, and reprinted in 1954. It was written in the hope that national handwriting tendencies would create a common ground for further investigation into what he termed ‘the new science of Graphology’.

The great Swiss graphologist, Dr Max Pulver (1899-1952), a philosopher at the University of Zurich and an associate of the psychologist Dr Carl Jung, conducted research into the symbolism of space (margins and the space between lines and words). In 1931 he wrote a famous book entitled Symbolik der Handschrift (now available in English as The Symbolism of Handwriting, in which psychology is extensively featured. He extended Klages’s system of graphology and introduced a third dimension, depth (pressure), in addition to vertical and horizontal movements. He also made a study of the graphological signs of lying or economy with the truth in relation to speed.

He also applied psychology to the upper, middle and lower zones, explaining that in fulfilling the purpose of communication, each movement is directed towards the other person and, as it originates in the Ego (real self) and is direct­ed from the I to the you, the writing movement shows the path of expression. It is the bridge of communication. According to the character of the writer each movement will go in either a straightforward direction or will make detours through the upper and lower parts of the script with a ten­dency to waste time and effort.

Graphology did not really make headway in the UK Until 1936 when H J Jacoby arrived from Germany and pub­lished his main work entitled Handwriting Analysis: An Introduction into Scientific Graphology, the first book to use photographs of the handwriting examples. Then in 1938 Dr Eric Singer, a Doctor of Law from the University of Virginia, moved to London, where he opened a graphology practice, specializing in recruitment and marriage compatibility. His research included ego symbols, ie the personal pronoun I (PPI). He wrote three books which were condensed into one in 1969, under the title A Manual of Graphology.

There were also a few notable American graphologists, including Philip Vernon and Gordon Allport of the Harvard Clinic of Psychology. Also of note was Dr Ulrich Sonnemann, Professor at the School of Social Research in New York. He made a serious study of clinical psychology, including schiz­ophrenia, in his book Handwriting Analysis as A Psychodiagnostic Tool, which was published in 1950, and carried out a critical revision of Ludwig Klages’s graphologi­cal principles, suggesting a way in which they could be fur­ther developed.

Another American pioneer was June Downey, of the University of Iowa, who worked on the expressive movement of handwriting.

Marie Bernard was born in Berlin and became a famous classical singer. She moved to New York when her husband died, but later moved back to Germany, where she studied graphology, and qualified at Munich University. In 1976, the President of the American Society of Handwriting Analysts invited her to return to the United States to teach graphology and translate European graphological authors into English. So she taught graphology at City College, New York and Bridgeport University. She has written 15 books on the sub­ject. The Art of Graphology and Sex in Handwriting are particularly highly recommended.

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