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Platt R. Spencer papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Spencer

Scope and Content of the Collection

Included are materials from Platt Rogers Spencer’s career as a teacher, calligrapher, businessman, poet, essayist, politician. There are copy-books, notes from his years as county treasurer in Ohio (1832-1844), a treatise on slavery, newspaper clippings by and about Platt Rogers Spencer (and his family), recipes for mixing inks, photographs of the family as well as of the family homestead, hand-written calling cards, genealogical research, penmanship samples and calligraphic flourishes, correspondence between Platt and his students, as well as correspondence within his own family. Spencer fathered ten children and was one of ten children himself, so the volume of correspondence was vast.

Many of Platt’s students and colleagues became well-known as calligraphers and as founders of important business colleges across the U.S. and their correspondence, copybooks, and penmanship samples are also included.

Because Platt’s children achieved recognition for their work establishing business schools, their papers are an important part of the collection as well. Lyman’s illustrated letters (and drawings) documenting his Civil War service with the 2nd Ohio Heavy Artillery Regiment are included as well as his drawings, penmanship samples, information related to his work as teacher, and correspondence within his family circle. There are also press clippings regarding the establishment of the various business schools across the country by the other brothers (Henry C., Harvey A., Platt Rogers Jr., and Robert C. Spencer).

In addition, papers related to the life and career of Spencer’s son-in-law, Junius Sloan, a prominent Chicago artist are also included. Sloan’s wife, Sarah, Platt’s daughter, was also a calligrapher and teacher, and so her work, and the work of her many students is also included. There are also press clippings about Junius, information about local art exhibits and art organizations, art galleries, photographs, sketchbooks, family histories and genealogy, financial records, correspondence with potential clients as well as with other artists of his time and family members. This entire collection was donated to the Newberry Library by Junius and Sarah’s son, Percy Sloan, an art teacher with the Chicago Public Schools, and a few of his childhood mementoes are also included as well as those of his brother, Carl (or Carle).

Artifacts such as pen quills, inkwells, a glass pen, a child’s writing slate from 1863 (Emma Spencer’s), a boxed set of copy-book lessons written by Lyman Spencer are included as well as bound volumes of penmanship samples written by contemporaneous penmen.


  • Creation: 1827-1951
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1850-1900



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Platt R. Spencer papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Platt R. Spencer papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Platt Rogers Spencer and Family

Penman, poet, educator and developer of the Spencerian system of penmanship.

Platt Rogers Spencer, developer of the Spencerian system of penmanship, was born in East Fishkill, New York on November 7, 1800 and died in Geneva, Ohio on May 16, 1864. His father, Caleb, a farmer and soldier in the Revolutionary War, died in 1806 at which time the family relocated to largely unsettled Ashtabula County, Ohio. From an early age, Platt was passionate about fine writing and practiced his craft whenever and wherever he could. Since paper was a precious commodity he often had to make do with writing on birch-bark, leather, snow, even the fly-leaves of his mother’s Bible. His original calling was to the ministry, but his struggles with alcoholism derailed those plans and instead, he concentrated his energies on being a clerk and bookkeeper and began his long and profitable career as a teacher of cursive writing. His recovery from alcoholism made him a life-long abstainer and a public advocate for abstinence. He was also an ardent abolitionist (he founded the Ashtabula County Anti-Slavery Society) and devoted himself to public service as treasurer for Ashtabula County, Ohio.

In addition to being a prolific poet, advocate for political causes, founder of business schools in Ohio and New York, he was also an inspiration to his children all of whom followed in their father’s artistic footsteps. At one time, they, their cousins and in-laws—thirty-eight in all—taught the Spencerian system. His son, Lyman Potter Spencer, for example became a noted artist, civil war hero, calligrapher, and teacher. His daughter, Sarah Spencer Sloan, established her own career as a noted calligrapher as well as being wife to a prominent Chicago artist, Junius Sloan. Another daughter, Ellen Spencer Mussey, was a noted writer, legal advisor of two Foreign Legations in Washington, D.C., and first president of the Woman’s Business Club of Washington, D.C. Sons Harvey and Henry founded schools in New York City and Washington, D.C. respectively and became very good friends with their former teacher, President James A. Garfield. Another son, Robert Closson Spencer, established a Spencerian Business College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and one of his sons became a well-known architect in the Chicago-area, sharing studio space for a time with Frank Lloyd Wright.

As well as the business schools that bear his name, Spencer also had a library and an elementary school in Geneva, Ohio, named after him.


39.9 Linear Feet (44 boxes and 14 oversize boxes)


Correspondence, photographs, copybooks, penmanship samples, cashbooks, newspaper clippings, poetry, essays, drawings, artifacts and miscellaneous personal items related to the life and career of Platt Rogers Spencer, penman, poet, and educator who created the Spencerian system of penmanship. The establishment of Spencerian schools of business was a highly successful endeavor in part because the entire family was involved in the business. In his later years, Spencer became involved in the abolitionist movement. Papers describe family life, the abolitionist movement, and conditions during the Civil War. Also included are the letters of son Lyman P. Spencer, a quartermaster’s sergeant in the 2nd Ohio Artillery Regiment, stationed in Munfordville, Kentucky, and Cleveland, Tennessee and the papers of P. R. Spencer’s son-in-law, Junius Sloan, a prominent Chicago artist. In addition to the material on Spencer and Sloan, there is also material on the work of other penmen and other business schools whose specialty was the teaching of fine penmanship.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1827–1932
Boxes 1–10
Series 2: Poetry and Other Writings, 1831-1927
Boxes 11a-11b
Series 3: Spencer Family Histories and Genealogy, 1750-1938
Box 12
Series 4: Photographs, 1846-1938
Boxes 13–16
Series 5: Miscellany, 1831-1955
Boxes 17a–17b
Series 6: Business Schools and Penmanship Instruction, 1852-1911
Boxes 18-22
Series 7: Penmanship Samples, 1852-1913
Boxes 23-40
Series 8: Artifacts, 1863-1902
Boxes 41-42
Series 9: Sloan Family History, 1850-1952
Box 43
Series 10: Sloan Family Miscellaneous, 1867-1900
Box 44

Collection Stack Location

1 32 4-5, 1 43 8


Gift, Percy Hayden Sloan, 1950.

Processed by

Margarete Gross, 2009.

Inventory of the Platt R. Spencer papers, 1827-1951, bulk 1850-1900
Margarete Gross
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States