(*Portrait and bio taken with permission from Michael Sullís Spencerian Script and Ornamental Penmanship, Volume I.)
Three Zanerian Excelsior penholders actually owned and used by Madarasz (Photo courtesy of Don Tate)
The man who, above all others, is universally regarded as the most highly skilled ornamental penman that ever lived, Louis Madarasz, was born in San Antonia, Texas on January 20, 1859. He obtained a copy of Gaskell's Compendium of Penmanship when he was in his teens. Studying the text by himself, he achieved a degree of skill in ornamental writing that was remarkable for one so young. Such self-discipline and persistence were instrumental in Madarasz's desire to master the art of penmanship.
In the late 1870's he enrolled as a student at the Rochester Business University in Rochester, New York. While attending this institution, his facility with the pen earned him a reputation throughout the state. During the years that followed, Madarasz took on penmanship positions at a number of institutions. His wanderings eventually led him to Manchester, New Hampshire the location of Gaskell's penmanship school. Besides being an accomplished master penman, Gaskell was also a businessman who recognized advertising opportunities. Madarasz, whose fame as a penman was fairly widespread by this time, also recognized the opportunity to further his own skills by being associated with Gaskell. It was a good association for both men, and soon the famous signature of Madarasz appeared on the advertisements for Gaskell's Compendium. Madarasz stayed with Gaskell for several years, learning much about advertising and the business of mail order.
As time went by, Madarasz again moved from one institution and town to another. He seemed to have a restless spirit in this regard, and seldom stayed anywhere longer than a few years. He worked in Sterling, Illinois; Jersey City, New Jersey; and Poughkeepsie, New York. Regarding his social interests, he enjoyed chess and other board games, and was quite skilled at playing them. He also enjoyed the theater, not only as a spectator, but as an actor. He once studied under a professional thespian and even had a part in a stage performance. This interest was, however, only temporary in the penman's life and he soon went back to his love and profession of penmanship with greater zeal then ever before.
Over the years, Madarasz never tired of traveling, working and teaching. He had incredible energy to devote to penmanship, and the quality of his work never faltered. His speed of execution was reputed to be faster than any penman, before or since. His style was unique, a dramatic, rather heavily shaded variety of ornamental writing. it has been said that Madarasz's penmanship style was copied by more penmen than that of any other. In 1908-1909, Madarasz involved himself in a most ambitious project to earn money. He purchased large, new scrapbooks of two hundred pages each. He then filled each page of the books with his own penmanship. To do this he copied his own business letters, correspondence, writing lessons and display writing and pasted them, one by one, upon each page. He advertised them as the Madarasz Scrapbooks, and sold them for $45; $25 to be paid as a deposit, and then $5 per month on the balance. In all he sold perhaps a dozen such books. Only one of these is known to be in existence today, and much of it has been reproduced in Volume Two of this text.
The last few years of Madarasz's life were spent in a business association in Goldfield, Nevada. It was there that health problems began to plague the penman. After a severe bout with pneumonia, Madarasz became diabetic and never regained his formally healthy physique. Quoting from The Secret Of The Skill Of Madarasz, a book published by the Zaner-Bloser Company in 1911 as a tribute to the great penman: "He passed away quietly on December 23, 1910, having on the day he was stricken written a Christmas greeting in that beautiful clean cut style of penmanship which has been copied by so many thousand aspirants during the past thirty years. At his request his body was cremated. His ashes rest in the beautiful Columbarium at Fresh Pond, Long Island. His epitaph reads:
'In memory of a brave and gentleman whose love of Truth and justice made him an Inspiration to all who knew him. He put his house in order, his work was done."'