alphabet Elements of Lettering History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering

Geofroy Tory, the Apostrophe and the letter S

Simon Griffin, writing in Fucking Apostrophes, [Icon Books, London, 2016] observes that ‘Geoffroy [sic] Tory is considered one of the people responsible for introducing it [the apostrophe] to the French language in the 15th century’ (p.16).

the S
The letter S as drawn by Geofroy Troy in his Champ Fleury

A disputable claim given that Tory’s Champ Fleury wasn’t published until 1529. Nevertheless, turning to that volume, Tory himself writes: ‘…if it should happen that one has occasion to write in Attic letters such verses, wherein the S should disappear, one may write them clearly & wittingly without putting the said letter S where it might be lost, and put an apostrophe over the place where the S should be. This apostrophe, being above the line at the end of a word, signifies that some vowel or an S has been dropped because of the metrical quantity of the vowel that follows it in the next syllable or word’ (trans. George B Ives, Dover edition, 1967, p.138).

the S by Catich
Hand drawn S by Catich from The Origin of the Serif

Tory elaborates on the letter S itself, noting its Greek origin and that it makes ‘a hissingsound, of the same quality that red-hot iron makes when it is dipped in water’ (ibid, p.139). He goes on to note how a letter S (sigma in ancient Greek) represents silence ‘…for which reason the ancients often wrote it alone above the door of the place where they ate and drank with their good friends; in order to put it before their eyes that such words as they should speak at table must be spoken soberly & listened to in silence; which cannot be if there be excess in eating and drinking, which are things not meet for decency at table & for pleasant company’ (ibid, p.139).

Note: For an earlier piece on Tory go here and for more on Catich and The Origin of the Serif here

Elements of Lettering History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

‘…humble greeting to all true and devoted Lovers of well-formed Letters’

So wrote Geofrey Tory as introduction to his 1529 volume Champ Fleury, The Art & Science of the proper & true Proportions of the Attic Letters, which are otherwise called Antique Letters, and in common speech Roman Letters.  (All quotes from the 1967 Dover edition of the translation published by The Grolier Club, 1927.) Part two of this book considers the letters and proportions in context of the human body, or, more precisely, ‘compared to those of the natural body and face of the perfect man’. His method is geometry – the circle, square and triangle – and when I was starting out in letter carving I filled my notebook with examples of this system. Why? I forget, for the letters are, to the modern eye, stale, dull and passionless. Nevertheless, there is sometimes need to look back and reflect on how things were once done; maybe even learn something. (Such as to be reacquainted with the nine muses and the seven liberal arts – see page 38 of the Dover edition.) As for Tory (1480-1533), Steinberg writes that ‘… not least of his achievements – [he was] the teacher of Garamond’. (Five Hundred Years of Printing, Penguin, 1955, p35.) The first two illustrations are from the 1967 volume, the last is my effort back in the 1990s.