As ſpecial collections librarians, we have an abiding intereſt in the hiſtory of printing, books, and manuſcripts. As ſuch, it pains us that ſ, the long s, has not only been ſwept into the waſtebin of hiſtory, but also has no ſuitable digital equivalent.
To this end, we have founded the ſociety for the Reſtoration of the ſ, a group dedicated to bringing back this neglected character. We invite you to join us by pledging the oath:
I, ________, ſolemnly ſwear to ſuſtain ſyſtematic uſe of the long ſ, in manuſcripts and print, on ſcreens and perſonal devices, for the ſake of myſelf and my ſociety.
The ſ has a ſtoried hiſtory. Before 1800, the lowercaſe letter s appeared in two forms, the one we uſe today and ſ, which typically looked like an f without the right half of its croſſbar. The italic form of ſ (ʃ) lacked the half-croſſbar.1 Our modern ſcreen equivalent also lacks this half-croſſbar, a development we deteſt and oppoſe!
Inaugural members of the ſociety for the Reſtoration of the ſ after pledging the oath of memberſhip.
The ſ goes back as far as Roman inſcriptions. By the 12th century, people uſed ſ at the beginning and middle of words, and s at the end of them. The ſ did not replace the capital letter s. Printers continued theſe conventions, as do we (with one exception: the capital S in our ſociety name).1
The ſ was on its way out beginning in 1782, when our ſociety’s menace, François-Ambroiſe Didot, cut a new “modern” typeface without the character. Other printers followed his lead.1 By the 19th century, the era of ſ in print (if not in handwriting) was over everywhere but Germany, where it remains today in the form of the Eſzett, or double s (ß).2,3
Join us! Petition Apple, Samſung, Microſoft, and other tech companies and printers to reinſtate the historic ſ! And ſhare your efforts on ſocial media.
Below we preſent a ſelection of collection items featuring ſ and ʃ, bolſtering our argument for the letter’s ſuſtained uſe. Click on an image to learn more.
The year 1776 holds ſubſtantial hiſtorical ſentiment for Americans, but as Stearns’ North American Almanack
atteſts, it was alſo biſſextile, a leap year. Biſſextile is a ſadly underuſed word, and we love its ſucceſſive uſe of ſ.
This eſteemed pamphlet
on patent medicines publiſhed by Peter Zenger is widely conſidered the firſt piece of medical printing in New York. Skeptics, take note: the ſ was uſed firſt, underſtood and truſted by the coloniſts, our patriot anceſtors! Should we not ſtrive for its preſervation, as a true indicator of what it means to be American?
Engliſh horticulturiſt Elizabeth Blackwell
publiſhed her Curious Herbal
weekly from 1737-39 to raiſe money for her huſband’s releaſe from debtors’ priſon. This page comes from her 1739 two-volume compendium. (Although ſhe ſucceſſfully ſprang her huſband from priſon, he quickly fell back into his bad habits and Blackwell had to ſell ſome of her rights to the publication.) While Blackwell’s text mainly uſes the italic ʃ and interſperſes ʃ with s in a ſhockingly caſual way, we ſtill hold this text dear. We will work tireleſſly until the ſ ſprings forth abundantly like the dandelion deſcribed on this page, which “grows almost every where in Fallow Ground, & flowers moʃt Months in the Year.”
This Elizabethan plague manuſcript
, penned in the late ſixteenth century, ſhows us a ſpectacular number of inſtances of ſ in handwriting. It alſo contains the relic of another unjuſtly obſolete letter (the thorn) in the word ye, which all ſophiſticated people know ſtands for “the.” Our diſtreſs over the common miſuſe of this word by corny ſhopkeepers cannot be overſtated, but the ſ muſt take precedence! Once the reſtoration of the ſ has been achieved, we may adopt thorn awareneſs as our next cauſe.
Aren’t the “ſt” ligatures on this page from Curtis’ Botanical Magazine
ſimply ſtunning? Much like the creeping root of the Eaſtern Poppy, deſcribed moſt beautifully by Curtis, our campaign for the ſ aims to ſpread far and wide.
, Robert Hooke made ſignificant contributions to the field of microſcopy, but here we look at the title page though a different lens. Pleaſe take this opportunity to ſtudy and compare the roman and italic forms of the ſ. The ſociety does not take an official ſtance on which form we prefer, finding the playful elegance of the italicized character equal to the handſome ſtatelineſs of its roman counterpart.
Hiʃtoria naturalis Braʃiliae
(1648) richly deſcribes the local flora and fauna of Brazil. Alongſide its ſtunning illuſtrations ſits beautifully ſet Latin text with abundant uſe of ſ. With ſo many inſtances of ſ, the marmoſets cannot help but ſmile.
Amelia Simmons, the author of An American Cookery¸ certainly knew her ſtuff around the ſtove, as evinced by her aſſiduous inſtructions for the roaſting of meat. An American Cookery
was firſt publiſhed in 1796, making Simmons the earlieſt known American cookbook author. The recipes ſeen here come from our copy, a third edition from 1804. One ſhould alſo take a ſcrupulous approach to the application of the ſ. For reaſons we don’t underſtand but muſt reſpect, there is no capital ſ. This ſaddens us and we could not reſiſt making one exception to this rule, in our logo and ſociety name. Hiſtorically, writers have been inconſiſtent in the uſe of the ſ, but one rule holds conſtant: never uſe an ſ at the end of the word. Thoſe who flout this rule will ſuffer the ſcorn of the ſociety.
1. Moſley J. The Long ſ. Print Hiʃt ʃoc Bull. 1991;31(Winter):32–33.
2. International Encyclopedia of Linguiʃtics, Volume 4. Oxford Univerſity Preſſ; 2003. Available at: https://books.google.com/books?id=sl_dDVctycgC&pgis=1. Acceſſed March 16, 2016.
3. Gilder Lehrman Inſtitute of American Hiſtory. Inſide the Vault: The “Long ſ.” 2016. Available at: http://www.gilderlehrman.org/community/blog/inside-vault-%E2%80%9Clong-s%E2%80%9D. Acceſſed March 16, 2016.