Medieval Writing
The History of s

The letter s is can be quite variable. The modern letter s is derived from a variant appearing mainly in Gothic scripts, although derived from old majuscule forms, while the tall s persisted right through the medieval period and beyond. The tall s sometimes sat on the line with an extended ascender, and sometimes stretched way down below the line as well. It is a letter which is quite often produced with a certain amount of calligraphic flourish.

square capital S In the Old Roman square capitals, as shown here in an ancient inscription, majuscule s has the familiar double curved form from our modern capitals.
rustic capital S In the rustic capital script, s has essentially the same shape.
uncial S The uncial s is basically the same.
New Roman cursive s In this example of New Roman cursive, the minuscule s has a simple tall form created from a single curved line.
In the pre-Carolingian minuscule scripts or National Hands, s generally exists in the tall form, although the height may vary, with a block or hook on its back. However, while pulling it to pieces and analysing it this way makes it sound consistent, the actual appearance is variable and it can be confused with other letters, particularly r in some cases. It may also be varied by its use in ligatures.
half uncial s In a 6th century half uncial script s is relatively short and resembles an r, although that letter has a more extravagant curve at the top in this script.
Corbie ab s In the specialised book script Corbie ab s is tall and extends slightly above and a long way below the small letters.
old Italian s An old northern Italian book hand of the 8th century displays a shorter s.
Germanic s This sample of s from Merovingian minuscule or Germanic book hand is tall with a slightly angular curve.
Luxeuil s This s from the variant of Merovingian minuscule known as Luxeuil minuscule is tall, extending above and below the small letters with the awkward double curve tyopical of this script.
Visigothic s The Visigothic script uses a straight tall s which extends above and below the small letters.
insular half uncial s The long s in the formal script known as known as insular half uncial is relatively short, sits on the baseline, and has a crossbar. In this particular example, the short curly s derived from the majuscule form of uncial script is more commonly employed.
insular half uncial s
insular minuscule s In this 9th century example from insular minuscule, the long s extends down below the baseline, but does not extend up very far, so that the letter can be confused with r, although that letter has a longer and more sweeping upper curve. The short uncial s is also used. In this example, there seems to be no obvious pattern for where each form occurs in the word.
insular minuscule s
Beneventan s In this example from a developed form of Beneventan minuscule the letter s is tall and straight, extending both up and down.
Merovingian chancery s In Merovingian chancery script the letter s is long and simple.
old curialis s In the old curialis of the papal chancery s, while having the tall form, is actually short, while r is very similar but extended horizontally with a flourish.

In formal Carolingian scripts s has the tall form, neatly written and not extending below the baseline. One of the few ligatures retained in Caroline minuscule book hand is the st form. In document hands of the period, s tends to be longer, and to develop some extravagant flourishes.

Caroline minuscule s In this version of Caroline minuscule, s is neat and simple.
Caroline minuscule s A sample from a forged 12th century monastic charter shows the same form.
later curialis s The later papal curialis of the 11th century uses a long s extending below the line, of slightly angular form.
papal miniscule s By the 12th century the diplomatic minuscule of the papal chancery produces a tall s with a long loop at the top, a crossbar and a slightly wavy vertical. The short curly s is also employed, generally when the letter appears on the ends of words. This script also introduces an eccentricity of formal papal documents in the form of an extremely laterally extended st ligature.
papal miniscule s
imperial minuscule s The 12th century diplomatic minuscule of the Imperial German chancery has produced a very long s with a wiggly descender and a series of curls at the top. This has got to be the most nonsensical script of all time.
In the formal Gothic book hands, the long s retains the Caroline minuscule form, sitting on the line and extending above the small letters. The short and curly s also appears regularly, usually at the ends of words, although, like most things in handwriting, there are no absolute rules and it some times appears in other places.
protogothic s This protogothic s from a 12th century French book hand has a blocky little foot and a crossbar. The short curly form has the loops closed with very fine hairlines.
protogothic s
Gothic rotunda s The 14th century Gothic rotunda version of the long s is the same as the Caroline minuscule form, and has a rounded from of the short s closed in the lower loop.
Gothic rotunda s
textura s The long s in this 13th century Gothic textura r of medium grade follows the Caroline minuscule form, while the short curly s is given some calligraphic extravagance.
textura s
prescissa s The very formal Gothic prescissa has a tall and angular long s with no foot, while the short curly s is completely closed with fine hairlines.
prescissa s
textura s A relatively informally written late 15th or early 16th Gothic textura script has a very simple long s with no foot or any hint of a crossbar. The short and curly s is very angular.
textura s
textura s A 15th century Gothic textura of quite formal grade in the Dutch language employs a simple long s with no crossbar, but with a little hairline foot, while the short and curly s has both loops closed.
In document hands and later cursive scripts, s diversifies considerably.
more about s
Histories of Individual Letters

History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

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