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Society Rag

Spring, 1983

Spencerian Scribe

More and more, D. W. Burns, a 33-year-old calligrapher who dwells in the exquisite world of ink flourishes that make up birds, animals or decorative borders, is called to write private letters -- letters of love. he produces them in Spencerian, a type of script most in demand because of its sheer beauty.

"Sentiment and its counter part, the intimate Valentine is back. People are committing their innermost feelings to those they love on paper and they want it to be visually exciting as well as poetic." says Burns.

To receive a message of any kind, even a check, written in Spencerian -- a flowing symphony of swirls and fancies, is a unique experience. To receive a letter in Spencerian that expresses romantic passion is a rare thrill.

Doug also fulfills student needs for diplomas, "my bread and butter. The exciting part of my work is the private letter writing, dealing with emotions."

The scribe also supplies requests for party invitations, restaurant menus, entertainment programs, wedding or birth announcements, seasonal greetings and employee retirement cards. A master practitioner, he is able to write in any language, "even Sanskrit or Tibetan if there is a need."

This month Doug is swamped by orders for private letters (to which he pledges total privacy). These are not always letters of love. He was asked to write a letter of friendship sent from one elderly lady to her former neighbor who had moved from Louisburg Square to Palm Beach. The results so pleased both parties that they asked him to write their codicils -- works of art in themselves.

Doug, a dynamic ex-tennis champ and equestrian, views himself as a type of 20th Century entrepreneur. But his apartment at 5D Gibson Terrace, Cambridge reveals a sensitivity to a more eloquent time. Amidst furnishings that could have been owned by Charles Dickens in 1860 London, he tempers his pen. The flickering candlelight wavers, he begins his elegant artistry, Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms, his "bible" by his side. Other objects crowd his desk. Lovely crystal inkwells, dozens of them, boxes of nibs (types of penpoints) with the 1919 guarantees still intact, oblique penholders, necessary for Spencerian, last produced in 1921.

Like the nibs and the penholders, fine calligraphers are hard to find. Burns considers himself luck to have been trained by the grande master, the late Jack Strasnick who did all the Harvard diplomas at his Boylston Street studio that opened in the 50's.

To the engrosser, known as Doug, Spencerian offers entre into the human psyche. "Amazing, the variety, the combinations of couples that are coming together. Age, gender and background no longer have meaning. It's the feeling that counts..."