The Oxford Memorial Library in now home to the Merritt Russell collection of American Ornamental Penmanship. Merritt’s Collection was born out his unending search for creative outlets combined with a passion for collecting and trading in antique ephemera. Merritt was a retired instrumental music teacher from Oxford Academy Middle School in Oxford NY, when he discovered examples of penmanship, called Spencerian Script, in an 1885 publication of Hills Manual of Social & Business Forms. Its beauty and charm were an irresistible lure to begin his quest to find someone to teach him how to produce the graceful and refined strokes. He soon found contemporary publications by a modern-day Master Penman, Michael Sull, and began to learn the craft under his tutelage. The collection began to take shape almost immediately and grew over time until his passing in 2007. The collection grew to include publications of the late 19th century and early 20th century on the subject of American ornamental penmanship which includes Spencerian Script and the Palmer Methods of American handwriting. He also amassed hundreds of original period examples of flourishing and handwritten documents, certificates, calling cards, autograph books and other examples from master penmen and ordinary Americans. Merritt spent his retirement years always searching for perfection in his own quest to become a Master Penman. He attended yearly seminars on the topic taught by his mentor, Michael Sull, while spending countless hours developing his skill and craft. Often creating flourishing and handwriting pieces for his family, friends and commissions. As Merritt’s skills developed his love of education led him to often demonstrate the craft and his work at many shows, public events and wherever there was an opportunity to pull out his pen and paper. Merritt had extensive network of penman friends around the country and world whom he often shared letters and notes. Examples of his penmanship are housed in the Smithsonian through their “Graceful Envelope” contest. Merritt’s wife, Carol, and three children, Heidi, Scott & Heather felt that his love of history, American Penmanship and desire to educate and promote the craft would find the collection best preserved and presented to the public and interested parties for scholarship, research and simple enjoyment of the discovery of something both historical and beautiful. Preservation of American History and local history, in all its forms, was a passion of his. Bringing his collection to light through the Oxford Memorial Library is a great opportunity to combine two of his great passions in life and we believe he’d be excited to have his collection housed here in a village he dedicated so much of his life.
The collection is housed in our Local History Room. A selection of the books have been cataloged and may be found on the on-line card catalog by typing the word Spencerian in the search field. This is still a work in progress and more items will be added to the collection in the near future.