Medieval Writing
The History of s (2)

In the document hands and later cursive book hands, both forms of s appear in a range of forms. Some paleographers like to use s as one of the diagnostic letters for certain named cursive scripts, but I think they they appear in such diverse permutations and combinations that this it is rather difficult to produce meaningful classifications. The use of the short and curly s only at the ends of words is no longer necessarily strictly adhered to, and different scripts may use somewhat different conventions. By the 16th century, a final s was sometimes rendered as a simple upward flourish, which was also used as a kind of abbreviation for assorted word endings, I suspect when the scribe was a little unsure of what the correct Latin word ending should be.

protogothic s In this formal protogothic example of a document hand from the 12th century, long s is tall and curvy, unadorned with any cross pieces, while the short and curly s is completely open.
protogothic s
protogothic s In a less formally scribed writ of the reign of Henry II, only the simple long s is used.
calligraphic s A calligraphic charter of the 13th century has produced a neat but curly Gothic r with a little angular foot.
anglicana s In this example of cursiva anglicana, which first appeared in the 13th century, the long s is simple and relatively straight. The short and curly s has a completely closed lower loop, but the upper loop is usually open, giving a form rather like a 6. This form of s, along with the long r that extends below the line, are two definitive letters for the anglicana script type.
anglicana s
charter s In this formal ecclesiastical charter of the 13th century, the long s is somewhat angular and equipped with a blocky crosspiece, while the short and curly s is completely open.
charter s
chancery s In this example of the formal English chancery hand of the 13th century, based on cursiva anglicana, the long s has acquired a fiddly split top, like some other tall letters in this script. The short and curly s has the closed lower loop or 6 form.
chancery s
chancery s In this early 13th century writ both forms of s are written in a simple cursive manner. Long s is a simple curve, without adornments, while the short and curly s has the anglicana form.
chancery s
French cursive s These 14th century example of s from a French cursive document hand show some differences from the English forms. Long s is angular, with a long tapering vertical formed from two pen strokes. The short and curly s is completely closed in both the top and bottom loops, looking like a lopsided 8 or a small capital B. These forms are considered to differentiate the French Secretary style (as opposed to the English Secretary, which is later, but let us not open that terminological can of worms!) from the English anglicana style, but it is never quite that simple.
French cursive s
English cursive s These cursive document hands were adapted for use as book hands. In this 14th century English example, long s has a simple tapering curved form while short and curly s has the anglicana form with closed lower loop.
English cursive s
charter s This example from an English 15th century charter has a tall, angular long s with a short blocky cross piece, and a short and curly s with a closed lower loop.
charter s
charter s In another 15th century English charter the long s is more curly and has a crossbar, but the short and curly s has the closed lower loop form, similar to the above example.
charter s
batarde s In this example of a highly formal and mannered French bâtarde script as used in a book of hours, both forms of s reflect their debt to document hands. The long s is angular with a strongly tapering vertical. The short s has an angular and Gothic appearance, but its shape is not that of Gothic book hand, but a version of the closed lower loop 6 shape with an extravagant little flick at the top.
batarde s
French cursive s This late 15th or early 16th century French cursive book hand employs a long s of angular form with a tapering vertical. It is notable that over time, the long s seems to generally get even longer, extending well above and below other letters. The short and curly s has both upper and lower loops closed.
French cursive s
late chancery s In the later English chancery hand, as shown here from an Elizabethan document of conservative penmanship and formal quality, the long s is very long with a curled top, while the short and curly s retains the old anglicana form of closed lower loop only.
late chancery s
cursive s This English genealogical document of late 15th or early 16th century employs only the long s in a simple cursive form with a long drooping curl at the top.
chancery s In this endorsement on a mid 15th century petition to the English chancery, the long s has a crossbar, while the short and curly s is completely open.
chancery s

Humanistic book hands, as usual, reverted to the neat forms derived from Caroline minuscule, although the short and curly Gothic s was retained. Formal examples of humanistic minuscule also reintroduced the st ligature, which seems to have been used as s ymbol of posh publishing in printed work right into the 20th century.

humanistic minuscule s In this example from a 15th century Italian book hand in a humanistic display script, long s is simple and unadorned and sits on the baseline, while short and curly s has an open form.
humanistic minuscule s
humanistic monuscule s This 16th century example dates from after the advent of printing and owes much to printed typefaces of the time. The long s has a blocky foot which sits on the baseline and a cross piece, while the short and curly s is simple and open.
humanistic minuscule s
The letter s can be a bit tricky at times. In the early scripts it may be confused with r or even n. In the cursive scripts the long s is usually recognisable, although it sometimes closely resembles f, but the short s can get confused with a number of other letters. When looking at an unknown document, you might need to set up your own detailed reference of forms of smaller letters, rather than relying on intuitive identification, but that is a good working principle anyway.
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Histories of Individual Letters

History of Scripts
What is Paleography?

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