history of graphology

Graphology is the study of a person’s handwriting to determine his or her personality. In the same manner that a psychoanalyst listens to memories, a graphologist studies the markings produced by the writer’s pen on paper. Because they are the consequence of a lifetime of intentional and unconscious movements, they disclose a tremendous deal. The field of graphology is growing in popularity around the world, with graphologists providing character evaluations, compatibility studies, and aptitude assessments to psychotherapists, psychiatrists, marital and vocational counselors, and others. When utilized with caution, it can also be effective for job selection and workplace conflict resolution. It is, however, not a difficult subject that can only be mastered in college. You can teach yourself, and when you do, you will learn a lot about yourself, the people you care about, your friends, and your job. Except for a pencil, paper, a ruler (ideally transparent with ruled lines), and a magnifying glass, no special equipment is necessary. Graphologists examine the speed, whether it is rapid or slow, uneven or even, and whether it was intended by the writer. The data shows the writer’s innermost thoughts and feelings.

The notion that one’s personality and character may be judged based on their handwriting is not a new one. A person’s handwriting is as distinct as a set of fingerprints, and this evident fact did not have to be discovered in the modern day. Chinese thinkers such as Kuo Jo Hsu discussed the relationship between writing style and aesthetic inclinations centuries ago. Suetonius finished his character studies of the Roman emperors in 120 AD with a comprehensive description of their handwriting.

Writing was nearly solely a cleric’s trade in the Middle Ages. Because of this virtual monopoly, opportunities for genuine debate and research of graphology were limited. Though literacy began to spread across social and professional boundaries as early as the twelfth century, it wasn’t until the early 17th century that the first book on the subject, Ideographia, was published. Camillo Baldi of the University of Bologna published Trattato come da Una Lettera Massiva Si Cognosca La Natura e Qualita dello Scritore a few years later (1622). It was a remarkably well-thought-out essay, with Baldi approaching the subject in a methodical and scientific manner.

In the years that followed, a continuous stream of books and papers on handwriting analysis began to appear. Grohmann published a monograph (Examination of the Possibility of inferring Character from Handwriting) in Wittenburg in 1792, which explained his personal observations and received widespread attention in Germany. Lavater, a Swiss, dedicated his focus to handwriting analysis (with patchy and inconclusive findings), while Hocquart, a Frenchman, authored a book that has appeared under various titles and was originally hand published anonymously in 1812.

The studies and various published works of the Abbe J.H. Michon in France heralded the era of contemporary handwriting analysis (from 1971 until the end of his life). He was the one who coined the name Graphology from the Greek terms for writing and doctrine study (it has since become a generic term which covers all kinds of character-analysis via handwriting). He and his associates worked over four decades accumulating and defining thousands of character signs.
Despite the long effort involved, Michon’s system never progressed beyond recognizing single and unrelated character signs (hence it is known as The School of Fixed Signs). In practice, his system is rigid and imprecise because:

  • He dealt only with individual trait-indicators without accounting for interaction between traits;
  • His definitions of some traits were sometimes fanciful and often contradictory

Michon’s pupil, Crepieux-Jamin, improved upon the system. He extended it and took into account the interaction of traits by (to use his expression) “Co-ordination dominant signs” in five significant areas of handwriting (note that we are not referring directly to dominant areas of personality – but actually to their manifestations in different areas of handwriting).

Crepieux-Jamin devised a system of considerable versatility (in a slightly-modified form it was to provide the American Graphology Society with the basis of its techniques). With his insistence on prefacing every examination with an assessment of the writer’s intellectual development, he pre-dated the form level/gestalt theories of the German schools of graphology.

With the cooperation of psychologists like Alfred Binet and sociologist like G. Tarde, Crepieux-Jamin did much to prove the value of handwriting analysis as a tool for personal assessment or development. Around the turn the century the German schools of graphology began to take the initiative. They took the attitude that graphology was a natural science (a science of the soul or spirit). The most famous German graphologist of the period was Ludwig Klages. He created the first truly systematic system of graphology. His system developed the doctrine of Form Level – a method of assessing the writer’s modes and fluency of expression. (One very significant contribution of the Germain graphologist was to prove the relationship between different forms of personal expression, e.g. speech, body-language and handwriting, and to demonstrate the effects they had upon each other.) Klages divided the human condition into two opposing factors: (1) Geist (conscious mind, intellectuality); (2) Seele (subconscious, instinctual emotions and impulses). He maintained that all expression was the result of interaction between these two forces.

By the 1920s many different systems of handwriting analysis were in use. The American, Milton Bunker, which interest in graphology stemmed in part from his experience in developing different forms of shorthand writing, strove to create a standardized system of analysis which depended upon stroke-by-stroke analysis and which used the advances made in psychology to form assessments of the relative effects of characters within different areas of the personality. He called his system Graphoanalysis.

In 1938 the German, Hegar published his work on stroke-by-stroke analysis. He contended that this mode of examination was more valuable than others because individual strokes are the only actual point of contact between writing instrument (e.g. pen) and paper.

The last seven decades have spawned other exponents of graphology, and even more systems too; and there are still just as many approaches to the science. Some systems go hand-in-hand with the mainstream schools of psychology; some rely upon the tried and trusted results of empirical observation; and a few have no scientific basis at all and thus lean heavily upon intuition.

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