Author Topic: Benjamin Franklin Documentary  (Read 381 times)

Offline JanisTX

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Benjamin Franklin Documentary
« on: April 06, 2022, 01:55:30 PM »
Hi!  Did any of you watch the Ken Burns special about Benjamin Franklin on PBS this week?  It was very interesting & very well produced!  Ben Franklin was a printer & during the show, they showed various documents from his day, some of which he printed.  I noticed that on most of the documents, the letter "s" resembled what I identify as an "f".  Anyone know when letter like that was the norm? 

There's an older insurance building across the street from the courthouse that has "Insvrance" carved in stone along the top, front of the building.  I know that at one point in time, "u" was written as "v".  My son was asking me about it, as it bugs him.  I couldn't tell him what era the use of the "v" for "u" was accepted.  Anyone know when that was?  Just wondering aloud here! :-)

Janis

Offline K-2

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Re: Benjamin Franklin Documentary
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2022, 03:17:03 PM »
Hi, @JanisTX - thanks for the notice about the Ben Franklin documentary!  I'll have to put it in my queue.  Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel!

Warning: Pedantry Ahead - this is part of my academic speciality, and I can hold forth on it for a shockingly long time, but here's a quick take on your Long-S and your V=U questions:

The Long S: It looks like an f (although if you look very very closely, you see that the cross-bar doesn't extend all the way across in the s versus the f), and provides my students a real thrill when they read the original print versions of Midsummer Night's Dream and other Renaissance texts, such as the immortal line, "Where the bee (s)ucks, (s)o (s)uck I." The practice comes from the period before parchment and paper were produced mechanically and at scale (and therefore affordably).  The most expensive element in Shakespeare's First Folio (1623) was the paper it was printed on.  S is a common letter, and if you can make it 1/2 the width, the savings will add up over time:

sassy Sally sells sasparilla
fafsy fally falls fafparilla
* You save two x-widths in only 4 words! Note: An at the end of a word they'd always use a short-s; and two S's in a row used a long-s followed by a short-s.  In other words, an "eszett": ß

German language typographers & printers retained the long-s in Fraktur until the middle of the 20th century (after which, Fraktur's associations as the preferred typography of the Nazis made it unpopular); German still uses the ß though.  French typography phased out long-s in the 1780s-90s.  England used it through the very early 1800s.  Americans used it through the 1820s.

These dates line up with the Industrial Revolution - remembering that the first thing that was industrialized was cloth production.  In the pre-industrial era (in the West), paper was made out of old clothes, worn out until they were rags, and then sold to the rag man, who sold them to the paper makers.  Clothes (handmade out of handmade cloth, handmade out of hand-spun thread) were the most expensive single item most people owned.  It's why we have phrases like, "He lost the shirt off his back."  So once paper gets cheaper because cloth gets cheaper (and they even devise a way to process paper out of wood pulp), the long-s fall out of fashion.

V & U: This distinction or lack thereof originates in the Roman/Latin Alphabet - which only had 23 letters, and didn't distinguish between u and v (Latin used them interchangeably before 1500).  Calligraphers & typesetters might be familiar with the Trajan font - derived from the style of letters on the inscription at the base of Trajan's Column in Rome: "SENATVS•POPVLVSQVE•ROMANVS..."  Italian typesetters began disambiguating the vowel-u from the consonant-v in the early 16th century, but my friends, lettering is super conservative, and people like to signify CLASS by using CLASSICAL markers like Roman lettering on buildings - especially 19thC Neoclassical architecture, which was specifically designed to follow Classical (i.e. Roman) forms.

So at first Romans had v=u because they were the same (think of a "u" as a Rustic "v").

Then in the West, Medievals kept using Latin (and its alphabet, even for vernacular languages).

Then in the (so-called) Renaissance, western scholars got to reviving Classical Roman & Greek forms/art/philosophy, so they embraced the old Roman scripts.  Although they mistook Caroline Minuscules for Roman - and that's why Humanist hands & type looks like Caroline era calligraphy.

And then in the 18th-19thC, the Neoclassical Era set about fetishizing those Classical forms, especially in architectural settings.

And that's why your INSVRANCE BVILDING across the street from the COVRTHOVSE uses v for u.

/pedantry
--yours truly, K
« Last Edit: April 06, 2022, 05:14:12 PM by K-2 »

Offline JanisTX

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Re: Benjamin Franklin Documentary
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2022, 05:44:23 PM »
@K-2. Thank you for the excellent explanation!!  I was hoping that someone would jump in with an explanation!  I hate to see something that I don’t know anything about! 

Janis

Offline AnasaziWrites

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Re: Benjamin Franklin Documentary
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2022, 06:01:08 PM »

The long S comes up rarely here, as in this Inktober post (for Spark), but also in this 2018 post:

https://theflourishforum.com/forum/index.php?topic=6345.msg75121#msg75121

Not sure if that adds anything more to @K-2 's excellent post.


Offline K-2

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Re: Benjamin Franklin Documentary
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2022, 06:23:06 PM »
Thanks for adding that @AnasaziWrites - it nicely details the subtle distinction between the long-s and the f!  Look at how the cross-bar comes all the way across the stem of the f, but only shows up to the left of the stem of the long-s!

I should add that in 16th-17th century Italic handwriting/calligraphy (not printing), the use of the long-s becomes a bit haphazard, whereas in the Medieval texts I study, you always see it except for at the end of words.  In many of the letters I've been studying in the Folger Shakespeare Library archive, I can't discern an obvious or rigorous pattern to their use (except at the end of words, and I never see two long-s's together).

And @JanisTX - I'm so glad you found that helpful.

--yours, K
« Last Edit: April 06, 2022, 06:26:45 PM by K-2 »