The small h letter in Garamond italic usually bends inward, as the following:


Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish it with b. Can anyone give some (historical) reason for that?

  • 2
    Hi Stone-Zeng, welcome to GDSE and thanks for your question. If you want to know more about the site, please see the help center or feel free to join us in the Graphic Design Chat. Keep contributing and enjoy the site! – Vincent Sep 19 '18 at 9:56

The uncial h

The Garamond Roman typography designed by Claude Garamond, is one of the first Roman typefaces designed specifically for the novel printing system of the Middle Ages, expanded throughout Europe. Hence, its design is well studied and adjusted within a modulation, but in essence many of its lines continue to maintain the trait of manual writing of the scribes of the time. No just in the character h, but also the J, R, j, Q...

Garamond Benton Garamond Italic designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1917 (source flickr)

The printing press not only served to print and distribute books, but also to unify all the Latin Nationals lowercase in the only standard Carolingian minuscule, name due to Emperor Charlemagne, the architect of the unification. Until then, the scribes of each European country had their customs about writing and each character differed considerably. Among them the round h.

This image perfectly shows the evolution of the first manual Sweynheym & Pannartz's Romans, practically equal to the calligraphy of the scribes, to the best graphically constructed and adapted to the printing system.

enter image description here

Spira and most of the earliest printers in Venice used a round h (the uncial construction of h) that was more common in the humanistic manuscripts of the time.⁠

We should have in mind that the Garamond we see today has already gone through many processes of redesign, from the "insert into a grid" of the XVIII th century, to Morris Benton's drawings at the beginning of the 20th century, the photographic adaptation of the mid-20th century until reaching the digital age. Even so, many of its essential features are maintained.

Although all the current classic typefaces keep the Carolingian minuscule, some historical like Garamond Font prefer to retain part of these old characteristics as an essence of its origin.

More explanation about Roman evolution here

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Trivial question: why did "N" temporarily get mirrored? Or is that an error? – CJ Dennis Sep 20 '18 at 3:27
  • 1
    There's not only an answer for that but also the origin of a very famous legend from which many books have been written and recurrent films have being made. Put the question 😉 – user120647 Sep 20 '18 at 10:49
  • The question was asked. – PieBie Sep 21 '18 at 11:51
  • Yeah, it's one of these weird things that italic 'h's that open outwards are a seventeenth-century invention and (with the exception of the little-used Romain du Roi), don't really start appearing in type until the eighteenth. Any font based on a sixteenth or fifteenth-century model that includes one (like Bembo or Plantin) is a historical fiction, importing ideas from eighteenth-century type design into the fifteenth or sixteenth. It's strange since it seems so natural that you'd want to distinguish the 'h' from the 'b', but apparently that wasn't how it worked in handwriting of the time. – Copilot Sep 23 '18 at 21:32

The historical reason is that early italic typefaces were based on handwritten cursive lettering which was popular at the time during the early 1500s when these typefaces were first developed for printing.

The origin of cursive scripts was uncial lettering which evolved in the 4th to 8th centuries, and which ultimately came from Roman hand written cursive scripts used during classical times. These early cursive scripts also eventually developed into modern miniscule (lowercase) letter forms.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.