I'm trying to find out why old numbers, both handwritten, printed from a printing press, and typewritten, sometimes drop down and swing upwards. They show a bit of vertical offset. 1, 2, and 0 seem to be equal in height, while 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9 have their long part swing downwards. 6 and 8 swing upwards.

It's not so in all cases, too. On the continental note attached, you can see handwritten "61530" in the top right that doesn't follow this, but the printed date, "September 26th, 1778", and "50 DOLLARS" does. The Declaration of Independence has these oddly positioned numbers, too. The modern Georgia font uses numbers like this as well.

Do History.org shows an example from The American Young Man's Best Companion Containing Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetick by Fisher, George (1786). Here is a link to the pages it uses as a guide for how to read old printed typeface. Notice the page numbers. Unfortunately, this page doesn't go over why numbers are written vertically offset. I can't find much documentation or discussion about this at all, in fact, so I'm hoping somebody has some insight.

See the numbers in "September 26th, 1778. 50 DOLLARS" Notice the date in upper right, "July 4, 1776" A perfect showing of what I'm talking about

  • I like to use this in my own handwriting, mostly just because it's fun. It distinguishes 1's from 7's and l's, as well as s's from potential 5's.
    – Jove Rogers
    Dec 6, 2017 at 3:28
  • This question is about typography and probably should be elsewhere. But in short and probably using incorrect terminology it is a feature of the fonts used. Glyphs are aligned on their baseline which is at the bottom of the body and size is counted as the height of the body, so in same size glyphs the bottom and top of the body align while the top and bottom extensions go above and below. What counts as body or extension depends on the font. In old fonts numbers had significant extensions, in modern fonts they are mostly all body specifically so they align better.
    – Ville Niemi
    Dec 6, 2017 at 7:56
  • To be more exact the need to "align better" is because makes printing the font easier more effective and extends to letters as well as to numbers.
    – Ville Niemi
    Dec 6, 2017 at 8:01
  • 1
    This isn't about writing but about typography; I've asked the mods to migrate it to Graphic Design SE. Dec 6, 2017 at 10:49
  • related and possible duplicate: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/54423/…
    – Vincent
    Dec 13, 2017 at 14:35

2 Answers 2


Just as there are uppercase and lowercase letters, there are "uppercase" (or titling) and "lowercase" (or text) figures.

Most fonts contain only one or the other version of figures, but there are fonts that contain both. The following example, found in the German Wikipedia articles on titling and text figures, shows letters and figures in both upper and lower case from the font Linux Libertine.

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Those are called "medieval" "text" and few others or in polish "nautical" numbers.
They are "designed" (because really the are not designed) to be similar to minuscule letters. So 6 would be different from b. 4 like g and so on. It all came from hand lettering and natural movement of hand when your hand always stay on the middle line level.
It also had to do with different strokes. For example you started 6 in middle went right then after making circle you went for the upstroke. Now, because we use pencils and ballpoints we start from the upper part and finish in circle. Because we don't use dripping pens or brushes with ink.

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