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...true that serifs originate from a period when words...

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Question by evo
Submitted on 1/12/2004
Related FAQ: comp.fonts FAQ: General Info (6/6)
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is it true that serifs originate from a period when words were chiseled onto rock? therefore the serif was used to clearly show where the letter ended rather than being overshadowed by the imperfections in the rock

Answer by Sherwood Botsford
Submitted on 1/5/2006
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While this is certainly a possibility, I think it more likely to come from imitation of the lettering of quill pens.

Until the invention of the fountain pen, pens were made from the primary feathers of geese.

The closed end (where it attached to the bird) was cut off at an angle, then a slit cut into the tip.  Dipping this into ink the hollow quill of the feather would soak up a drop of ink, which could gradually flow through the slit to the paper.

Anyone who used a quill pen found themselves having to trim them periodically either to adjust the ink flow (thinner ink needed a smaller slit) or to replace a frayed end.  Hence a 'pen knife' to fix the pen

When the quill touched the paper, there was a reservoir of ink already at the tip, so the very start of the line had more ink, and was a bit wider.  At the end of the stroke, it was common for the pen to not come off straight, so there would be a bit of a trailing end on one edge, or sort of a triangle at the bottom.  

German 'blackface' type shows this feature.


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