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.
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!
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.
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.