An answer for "Why does the small h letter in Garamond italic bend inward?" shows the following image:

enter image description here

The middle row of this image (marked Han 86R, Rome 1468) has the capital N inverted compared to the others, which range from 1465 to 1470. Note that the top serifs are consistently longer on the left, and the bottom serifs are consistently longer on the left. This shows that it was a deliberate design choice, not an accidentally mirrored photo.



Flipped horizontally:

horizontal flip

Flipped vertically:

vertical flip

As you can see, flipping the image produces a weird-looking N, because the serifs are long in the wrong direction.

Why was the N inverted in just this typeface?

  • Additional evidence of inverted N: articles.c-a-s-t.com/… – curious Sep 20 '18 at 13:58
  • Also worth noting: in the linked question, user Daniellilo more or less implied that they will answer this question. Any prospective answerers, beware. – cetequ Sep 20 '18 at 14:04
  • At first I thought Ulrich Han might have run "out of sorts" due to traveling and carrying minimal materials. The size, baseline, serifs, seem a bit off in text. But considering how movable type works, it doesn't seem he used a Z to make up for a missing N. Note however, that the same text I posted in my earlier comment can be found using a standard non-inverted N. – curious Sep 24 '18 at 16:36

Seeing as no additional answers were coming in, I ended up emailing Riccardo Olocco, the author of the original article: The Venetian origins of roman type which included the images in the question. Here is what he had to say:

I’m not an expert of Han’s type, I studied this printer very little, because he was based in Rome while the focus of my research is Venice.

However it seems to me that in the beginning Han always used the upside-down N while in a later stage of the type he used the right N.

BMC claims that the same thing happened at Riessinger’s press. He was another German printer based in Rome who employed the same type in the late 1460s: https://tw.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/ma09186

enter image description here

Han and Riessinger have not been targeted with proper research. Paolo Veneziani did something (only in Italian), but we know very little about the early years in Rome, even less than the early period in Venice.

While this does not completely answer the question, I feel like it contributes valuable information as it eliminates many other hypotheses. Anyone looking for a PhD topic in typography? :)


It's just an inverted N. What we find so unusual today, perhaps in the early years of the printing press, it wasn't. It's simple to see an inverted N on our screen, where only one hand acts by pressing a key. In the process of the typographic printing system, several hands acted or at least several steps were taken to obtain a printed page:

  1. Metal punch with the shape of the letter carved in relief
  2. Matrix made with a punch stroke
  3. Creation of the metal type with a lead and tin alloy
  4. Assembling the metal blocks manually, all in mirror image
  5. Printing form
  6. Inking
  7. Print

The great Gutenberg's invention is the point 3: the hand-held mold for typecasting.

Punch, matrix and metal type

Punch, matrix and metal type

All this process may involve some final error. We are talking about 1468, just 30 years after the invention of the printing press, date that does not indicate its expansion in Europe.

In fact Gutenberg was not the one who promoted its expansion, but his assistants Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer, who, especially the first one, had the commercial character that Gutenberg lacked.

Fust, willing to do business with the new printed Bibles, appeared in Paris with a number of them, saying they were handwritten, to get more money and to the astonishment of people who didn't understand how suddenly a stranger appears with a lots of Bibles of excellent quality.

But the writing of these Bibles wasn't that perfect and they had unusual mistakes among the scribes, such as:

  • Absence of characters
  • Inverted characters
  • Upside down characters
  • Exchange characters position

And to these errors was added an absolutely unusual:

  • All books had the same mistakes on the same pages!

Having made the sale, and happy with the business, Fust could not only rejoice to have recovered part of the money invested in the Gutenberg workshop but also the new business he had. And of course, safeguarding the secret of the method used in the creation of such books. But his happiness lasted until the French Inquisition knocked on his door demanding explanations as they assumed that those Bibles had been written by the devil himself. Without wanting to face any of the possible punishments (until death) of the inquisition, Fust was forced to unveil the new invention: the typographic printing system.

There are conflicting opinions that Goethe used this story as a basis to create the character of Faust, the man who sold his soul to the devil for fame and money.

enter image description here

(From all the films of the Faust myth, my favorite is Angel Heart)

The provenience of Latin characters is a path of confusions and reinterpretations of the Romans about the Etruscans, the Etruscans about the Greeks, the Greeks about the Phoenicians and the Phoenicians about the Egyptians.

At first, the Greeks wrote Boustrophedonically or in the sense of the plow of the field, this means, from left to right and from right to left in alternative lines. When they made the decision to take a single direction of writing, many characters had been inverted.

It may be that the ancient scribes of Venice still preserved the ancient way of the Greek N.


On the other side, we must not forget that these characters come from calligraphy. Both the M and the N in calligraphy are usually represented in a different way than in the capital characters, where the N path is exactly the inverted capital N


Nora Font


  • My problem with this is that the N is actually flipped, not rotated 180 degrees. A physical block of type can't be flipped like this unless the initial cut/matrix was wrong to start with. There are also some clear issues with the baseline in text use that would have stood out during composing. In addition, the N used in the text example and the N used in the sample by OP seem like two distinct prints. It's difficult to believe that would be a coincidence. – curious Sep 25 '18 at 13:34
  • Dyslexia has existed for centuries, even punch-cutters could have suffered 😉 – user120647 Sep 25 '18 at 16:03

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