A Typographical Puzzle

Can you solve this puzzle?

By James R. Voelkel | May 2, 2010

In early printing the modern, short form of the letter s was commonly used only as the last letter in a word. Elsewhere in a word, the long s, ſ, was used. The long s is easily mistaken for an f, since in many type faces the long s also has a crossbar, but only on the left side of the letter. This sample of text (below) from the Othmer Library’s copy of Ripley Reviv’d (1678) by Eirenaeus Philalethes (i.e. George Starkey) illustrates numerous ordinary uses of the long s, and two exceptions, in which the short s is used in the middle of a word. Can you figure out why?

Typographical Puzzle 1

Ripley Reviv’d (1678) by Eirenaeus Philalethes (i.e. George Starkey).

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Here is a clue, in the form of an illustration of a typical printer’s lettercase from the June 1747 issue of The Univerſal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleaſure.


Note that the type was kept in two cases, the upper case and the lower case. The less frequently needed capital forms of letters were in the upper case, and that is why they are still called upper case letters.

View the solution.