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The Principles Of Handwriting Analysis

The Principles Of Handwriting Analysis

The principle on which experts claim to be able to detect variations and
to differentiate between handwritings is based on the well-established
axiom that there is no such thing as a perfect pair in nature; that,
however close the apparent similarity between two things, a careful
examination and comparison will reveal marked differences to those
trained to detect them.

This is especially true of everything that is produced by human agency.
Everyone knows how difficult it is to keep check upon and eradicate
certain physical habits, such as gestures, style of walking, moving the
hands, arms, &c., tricks of speech, or tone of voice. These mannerisms,
being mechanical and automatic, or the result of long habit, are
performed unconsciously, and there is probably no person who is entirely
free from some marked peculiarity of manner, which he is ignorant of
possessing. It is a well-known fact that the subject of caricature or
mimicry rarely admits the accuracy or justness of the imitation,
although the peculiarities so emphasised are plainly apparent to others.
Even actors, who are supposed to make a careful study of their every
tone and gesture, are constantly criticised for faults or mannerisms
plain to the observer, but undetected by themselves.

It is easy, therefore, to understand how a trick or a gesture may become
a fixed and unconscious habit through long custom, especially when, as
in the case of a peculiarity of style in handwriting, there has been
neither criticism on it, nor special reason for abandoning it.

Every person whose handwriting is developed and permanently formed has
adopted certain more or less distinctive peculiarities in the formation
of letters of which he is generally unaware.

The act of writing is much less a matter of control than may be
supposed. The pen follows the thoughts mechanically, and few ready and
habitual writers could, if suddenly called upon to do so, say what
peculiarities their writing possessed. For example, how many could say
off-hand how they dotted an _i_--whether with a round dot, a tick or a
dash--whether the tick was vertical, horizontal or sloping; what was the
proportional distance of the dot from the top of the _i_. Again, ask a
practised writer how he crosses the letter _t_--whether with a
horizontal, up or down stroke? It is safe to assume that not one in a
thousand could give an accurate answer, for the reason that the dotting
of an _i_ and crossing of a _t_ have become mechanical acts, done
without thought or premeditation, but as the result of a long-formed

It is these unconscious hand-gestures and mechanical tricks of style
that the handwriting expert learns to distinguish and recognise,--the
unconsidered trifles that the writer has probably never devoted a
minute's thought to, and which come upon him as a surprise when they are
pointed out to him. Their detection is rendered the more easy when one
knows what to look for from the fact that they are, unlike gestures and
tricks of voice, permanent. A mannerism may not strike two observers in
the same way, nor is it easy to compare, for it is fleeting, and the
memory has to be relied upon to recall a former gesture in order to
compare it with the last. It is not so with a hand-gesture in writing.
The sign remains side by side with its repetition, for careful and
deliberate comparison; and if the writing be a long one, the expert has
the advantage of being in possession of ample material on which to base
his judgment.

_A Popular Fallacy._--One of the most frequent objections offered by the
casual critic when the subject of expert testimony is discussed is to
the effect that people write different hands with different pens, and he
probably believes this to be true. A very slight acquaintance with the
principles on which the expert works would satisfy this spontaneous
critic of the fallacy of his objection. A person who habitually writes a
fine, small hand, sloping from right to left, may believe that he has
altered the character of his hand by using a thick, soft quill,
reversing the slope to what is called a backhand, and doubling the size
of the letters. All he has done is to put on a different suit of
clothes; the same man is in them. The use of a thick pen does not make
him put a dot over the _i_ where before he made an horizontal dash; it
does not turn a straight, barred _t_ into a curved loop, neither does it
alter the proportionate distance between the letters and lines. It does
not make him form loops where before he habitually made bars, or _vice
versā_, and if he formerly made a _u_ with an angle like a _v_ he will
not write the _u_ with a rounded hook. Neither will it cause him to drop
his habit of adding a spur to his initial letters or curtail the ends
and tails that he was wont to make long. In short, the points to which
the expert devotes his investigation are those least affected by any
variation in the character of the pen used and the hand-gestures which
have, by constant usage, become as much part of the writer's style as
his walk and the tone of his voice.

It follows, therefore, that the work of the handwriting experts consists
in learning how to detect and recognize those unconscious or mechanical
signs, characteristics or hand-gestures that are a feature in the
handwriting of every person, no matter how closely any two hands may
approximate in general appearance. However similar two hands may seem to
the casual and untrained observer, very distinct and unmistakable
differences become apparent when the student has been taught what to
look for. There is no more certain thing than the fact that there has
not yet been discovered two handwritings by separate persons so closely
allied that a difference cannot be detected by the trained observer.
Every schoolmaster knows that in a class of pupils taught writing from
the same model, and kept strictly to it, no two hands are alike,
although in the early and rudimentary stage, before the hand has
attained freedom and approached a settled character, the differences are
less marked. So soon as the child has been freed from the restraint of
the set copy and the criticism of the teacher, he begins to manifest
distinct characteristics, which become more marked and fixed with
practice and usage.

There is no writing so uniform as the regulation hand used, and wisely
insisted upon, in the Civil Service, and familiar to the general public
in telegrams and official letters. Yet it is safe to say that there is
not a telegraph or post office clerk in England who would not be able to
pick out the writing of any colleague with which he was at all

_Duplicates non-existent._--But the best and most decisive answer to the
objection that writings may be exactly similar lies in the notorious
fact that during half a century experts have failed to discover two
complete writings by different hands, so much alike that a difference
could not be detected. Had such existed, they would long ere this have
been produced for the confuting of the expert in the witness-box;
particularly when we bear in mind that the liberty, and even the life of
a person, have depended upon the identification of handwriting. That
there are many cases of extraordinary similarity between different
handwritings is a fact; if there were not, there would be very little
occasion for the services of the expert, but it is equally a fact that
the fancied resemblance becomes less apparent as soon as the writing is
examined by a capable and painstaking expert. It should not be forgotten
that it is not every person who undertakes the comparison of
handwritings who is qualified for the task, any more than every doctor
who diagnoses a case can be depended upon to arrive at an accurate
conclusion. But if the tried and accepted principles of the art be acted
upon, there should be no possibility of error, always assuming that the
person undertaking the examination has a sufficiency of material for
comparison. An expert who valued his reputation would, for example, be
very cautious about giving an emphatic opinion if the only material at
his disposal were two or three words or letters. It is quite possible
that a clever mimic might reproduce the voice of another person so
accurately as to deceive those who knew the subject of the imitation;
but let him carry on a conversation in the assumed voice for a few
minutes, and detection is certain. In like manner, while a few
characters and tricks of style in writing may be fairly well imitated,
it is impossible to carry the deception over a number of words. Sooner
or later the forger lapses into some trick of his own, and it is here
the trained observer catches him. The expert, like the caricaturist,
lays himself out to note the peculiarities of his subject, knowing that
these are practically beyond the control of the writer, and that the
probabilities are that he is not even aware of them. Peculiarities in
handwriting, like unchecked habits in children, become, in time,
crystallised into a mannerism so fixed as to be part of the nature, and
consequently are difficult of eradication. As a matter of fact a
peculiarity in handwriting is more often cultivated than controlled,
many writers regarding a departure from orthodox copybook form as an
evidence of an "educated hand."

_The Law of Probabilities._--In examining a writing for comparison with
another the expert notes all peculiarities, which he labels, for
distinctive reference, "tricks." When he has recorded as many as
possible he looks for them in the writing which he has to compare.
Suppose that he has taken note of a dozen tricks, and finds them all
repeated in the suspected writing. The law of probabilities points to a
common authorship for both writings, for it is asking too much to expect
one to believe that there should exist two different persons, probably
strangers, who possess precisely the same peculiarities in penmanship.

This principle of the law of probabilities is applied in the case of the
identification of persons "wanted" by the police. For example, the
official description of an absconding forger runs as follows:--"He has a
habit of rubbing his right thumb against the middle finger as if turning
a ring. He frequently strokes his right eyebrow with right forefinger
when engaged in writing; when perplexed, he bites his lower lip and
clenches and unclenches his fingers."

Now there are, probably, thousands of people who do every one of these
things singly, but the chances are millions to one against there being
two people who do them all as described in the official placard. In like
manner there may be a multitude of writers who form an _f_ or _k_ with a
peculiar exaggerated buckle. Thousands more may make certain letters in
the same way, but to assume that there are two persons who possess
equally the whole twelve characteristics noted by the expert is to
strain coincidence to the breaking-point of absurdity.

Therefore, it follows that it is the weight of cumulative evidence of
similarity in the production of unusual tricks of style that proclaims a
common authorship for two apparently different writings.

It may be, and often is, the case that the peculiarities or tricks in
the original have been imitated in the suspected writing. As the result
of his experience in knowing what to look for in a copied document, the
expert is not deceived. However good the copy, there are always apparent
to the trained eye evidences that prove another and stranger hand, plain
as the difference between the firm, clear line of the drawing master and
the broken saw-edged effort of the pupil. Habitual observation trains
the eye to an extent that would scarcely be credited unless proved by
experiment. The art of observation cannot be taught; it must be the
outcome of practice. The most the teacher can do is to indicate the
lines on which the study should be carried out, and offer hints and
suggestions as to what to look for. The rest is in the hands of the

Next: Measurement And Its Appliances

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