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ReflexBlueHorror

Thoughts on the modern long S

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ReflexBlueHorror

There's a lot of info online on how the long s (ſ) was used in past spelling, but not a lot about why it appears in the alternate forms it does, and what the expectations are today in modern type design if and when (rarely ever) its included or used.

I've linked a few samples below, including ligatures ( long s+small roman s, which is often mistaken for the Esszett) for reference (nb. the normal ff ligature is included in comparison to the ſſ ligature).

The alternation between Regular & Italic is of course the descender, which follows the same change as the lowercase 'f' between Regular & Italic.

The inconsistent aspect which I'm highly curious about, and for which no apparent explanation is available to me, is the left-hand bar which appears on some typefaces, and not on others, or features only in either the Italic or Regular of the given type.

What are your thoughts on these reasons? And on good design for the long s?

20090204TT_fg01.gifMac4QTD.jpglongesses.jpgEsszett+showing+4+500.jpg

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Riccardo Sartori

I don’t know much about the use and evolution of |ſ|, but my personal hypothesis about the left-pointing spur is something developed to indicate the x-height (thus the “lowercaseness” of the glyph), like the one on the |l| of the Romain du Roi.

As for the choice of omitting it, I think it spurs (!) from the need to better differentiate |ſ| from |f|, either by modern designers or already by their historical references.

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ReflexBlueHorror
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my personal hypothesis about the left-pointing spur is something developed to indicate the x-height (thus the “lowercaseness” of the glyph)

It would certainly help the typesetter to avoid confusing it with the uppercase J, in either composition or dis'ing. With digital type, that problem doesn't present itself. My inclination is that without the spurs is superior for reading.

It's interesting how the Esszett is now distinguishing between a capital and lowercase by including/omitting the spur.

I'm still baffled why a long s would ever terminate at the baseline - it's not like earlier scribes didn't use descenders.

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Ralf Herrmann
1 hour ago, ReflexBlueHorror said:

long s+small roman s, which is often mistaken for the Esszett

Well, there is no absolute distinction between the two. Especially when using roman letterforms, ſs stood in for a blackletter ß for a long time. It was very common in the 19th century and while it ended in Germany officially at the beginning of the 20th century with the introduction of a roman ß, it could be seen decades later. Here is an example of a school script from the 1950s which still listed it as option to learn: 
https://typography.guru/memorabilia/wall-chart-lateinische-ausgangsschrift-r5/

 

1 hour ago, ReflexBlueHorror said:

The inconsistent aspect which I'm highly curious about, and for which no apparent explanation is available to me, is the left-hand bar which appears on some typefaces, and not on others

You can understand it as a relic of the way the letter was once written. Have a look at this example

Bildschirmfoto 2020-01-26 um 15.38.57.pngBildschirmfoto 2020-01-26 um 15.39.04.png

See how the bulge forms sometimes? That’s why it both makes sense but also isn’t required. 

I once also heard the interesting story that the horizontal bar represents the original design of the round s which the long s indeed is based on. Inside words it became compressed and elongated and so the bottom-left stroke of an s is still in the letter ſ as the horizontal bar on the right. It’s an interesting hypothesis, but I don’t take it as true so easily. For one, because just looking at the letters I posted above, the person writing this clearly did NOT write the ſ like an s. 

For fonts today one can never go wrong with a »ſ« based on an f with a missing horizontal stroke just on the right side or altogether. One just has to decide if there are historical models to follow for the project or whether making ſ and f more distinguishable is more important. 

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I'm still baffled why a long s would ever terminate at the baseline - it's not like earlier scribes didn't use descenders.

Not sure why this is baffling. It’s the same situation as with f vs. f

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ReflexBlueHorror
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it's not like earlier scribes didn't use descenders.

Ah, I meant there was nothing prohibiting scribes from writing the s in a manner which exhibits the serpentine quality found in the upper and lower S, or the italic long S which makes use of a descender. The long s would've have retained resemblance if it had used a descender, as done so in the first italic scripts such as found in Arrighi's Operina. I can't find any explanation for the first italic long s.

The compression is an interesting hypothesis, but highly problematic. The example you provided is a Textura, so here is an example of a Rotunda which includes ſ, f and s. So the spur definitely pre-dates the Romain du Roi. I was imagining for a while that the compression hypothesis may be plausible for pre-Gothic scripts (re pre-Gothic scripts, I have no knowledge!), but then again it is odd that the S would be compressed, since many other letters do not suffer from compression, but the s does. That, and I can't recall ever seeing a vellum manuscript which has compressed writing. Even Textura, despite its compressed appearance, is a generous script to write in.

lasdfdfrge.jpg.383a5ed1d15019881b18132da0410e28.jpg

That wall chart is interesting indeed! I've noticed that the modern Esszett freely varies between a ſ+s or a ſ+archaic z (the '3' shaped z). I don't lean towards either, but I can say from experimenting with a Rotunda, such as above, it is very easy to do ſ+z, and monstrous to attempt ſ+s.

My other thought is that the long s it may be some peculiar calligraphic variant such as the r and half r (also in the image above). Unfortunately we can't know what future generations want to know - just as they in the past didn't know we'd be talking about the long s.

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The_Zett
On 1/26/2020 at 4:02 PM, ReflexBlueHorror said:

It's interesting how the Esszett is now distinguishing between a capital and lowercase by including/omitting the spur.

While some fonts do use the spur to differenciate between a ß and a ẞ, the usual & proper difference would be the round (lowercase) versus sharp (uppercase) top-right part of the letter, as one can see over here.

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