Last updated
Latin script (Blackletter hand)
LanguagesEuropean languages
Time period
12th – 17th century
Parent systems
Latin script
Child systems
FrakturKurrentschrift, including Sütterlin
ISO 15924 Latf, 217
  1. Fraktur and blackletter are sometimes used interchangeably.
  2. With some exceptions; see below

Blackletter (sometimes black letter), also known as Gothic script, Gothic minuscule, or Textura, was a script used throughout Western Europe from approximately 1150 until the 17th century. [1] It continued to be commonly used for the Danish language until 1875, [2] and for German, Estonian and Latvian until the 1940s. Fraktur is a notable script of this type, and sometimes the entire group of blackletter faces is incorrectly referred to as Fraktur. Blackletter is sometimes referred to as Old English, but it is not to be confused with the Old English language (or Anglo-Saxon), which predates blackletter by many centuries and was written in the insular script or in Futhorc.



Page from a 14th-century psalter (Vulgate Ps 93:16-21), with blackletter "sine pedibus" text. Luttrell Psalter, British Library. Piers plowman drolleries.gif
Page from a 14th-century psalter (Vulgate Ps 93:16–21), with blackletter "sine pedibus" text. Luttrell Psalter, British Library.

Carolingian minuscule was the direct ancestor of blackletter. Blackletter developed from Carolingian as an increasingly literate 12th-century Europe required new books in many different subjects. New universities were founded, each producing books for business, law, grammar, history and other pursuits, not solely religious works, for which earlier scripts typically had been used.

Various German language blackletter typefaces Rudolf Koch gebrochene Schriften.png
Various German language blackletter typefaces
English blackletter typefaces highlighting differences between select characters Gebrochene Schriften.png
English blackletter typefaces highlighting differences between select characters
Modern interpretation of blackletter script in the form of the font "Old English" which includes several anachronistic glyphs, such as Arabic numerals, ampersand (instead of Tironian et) and several punctuation marks, but lacks letter alternatives like long <s>  and <r>  rotunda, scribal abbreviations and ligatures, and contains several relatively modern versions of letters such as <x> , which is confusable with the letter <r> . Old English typeface.svg
Modern interpretation of blackletter script in the form of the font "Old English" which includes several anachronistic glyphs, such as Arabic numerals, ampersand (instead of Tironian et) and several punctuation marks, but lacks letter alternatives like long s and r rotunda, scribal abbreviations and ligatures, and contains several relatively modern versions of letters such as x, which is confusable with the letter r.

These books needed to be produced quickly to keep up with demand. Labor-intensive Carolingian, though legible, was unable to effectively keep up.[ citation needed ] Its large size consumed a lot of manuscript space in a time when writing materials were very costly. As early as the 11th century, different forms of Carolingian were already being used, and by the mid-12th century, a clearly distinguishable form, able to be written more quickly to meet the demand for new books,[ citation needed ] was being used in northeastern France and the Low Countries.


Page of a rare blackletter Bible, 1497, printed in Strasbourg by Johann Gruninger, then one of the city's most prolific printers. The red chapter initials were handwritten by a rubricator after printing. Incunabulum.JPG
Page of a rare blackletter Bible, 1497, printed in Strasbourg by Johann Grüninger, then one of the city's most prolific printers. The red chapter initials were handwritten by a rubricator after printing.

The term Gothic was first used to describe this script in 15th-century Italy, in the midst of the Renaissance, because Renaissance humanists believed this style was barbaric and Gothic was a synonym for barbaric. Flavio Biondo, in Italia Illustrata (1474), wrote that the Germanic Lombards invented this script after they invaded Italy in the 6th century.

Not only were blackletter forms called Gothic script, but any other seemingly barbarian script, such as Visigothic, Beneventan, and Merovingian, were also labeled Gothic. This in contrast to Carolingian minuscule, a highly legible script which the humanists called littera antiqua ("the ancient letter"), wrongly believing that it was the script used by the ancient Romans. It was in fact invented in the reign of Charlemagne, although only used significantly after that era, and actually formed the basis for the later development of blackletter. [3]

Blackletter script should not be confused with either the ancient alphabet of the Gothic language nor with the sans-serif typefaces that are also sometimes called Gothic.



Textualis, also known as textura or Gothic bookhand, was the most calligraphic form of blackletter, and today is the form most associated with "Gothic". Johannes Gutenberg carved a textualis typeface – including a large number of ligatures and common abbreviations – when he printed his 42-line Bible. However, textualis was rarely used for typefaces after this.

According to Dutch scholar Gerard Lieftinck, the pinnacle of blackletter use was reached in the 14th and 15th centuries. For Lieftinck, the highest form of textualis was littera textualis formata, used for de luxe manuscripts. The usual form, simply littera textualis, was used for literary works and university texts. Lieftinck's third form, littera textualis currens, was the cursive form of blackletter, extremely difficult to read and used for textual glosses, and less important books.

Textualis was most widely used in France, the Low Countries, England, and Germany. Some characteristics of the script are:


Schwabacher was a blackletter form that was much used in early German print typefaces. It continued to be used occasionally until the 20th century. Characteristics of Schwabacher are:


Fraktur is a form of blackletter that became the most common German blackletter typeface by the mid-16th century. Its use was so common that often any blackletter form is called Fraktur in Germany. Characteristics of Fraktur are:

Here is the entire alphabet in Fraktur (minus the long s and the sharp s ß), using the AMS Euler Fraktur typeface:


Cursiva refers to a very large variety of forms of blackletter; as with modern cursive writing, there is no real standard form. It developed in the 14th century as a simplified form of textualis, with influence from the form of textualis as used for writing charters. Cursiva developed partly because of the introduction of paper, which was smoother than parchment. It was therefore, easier to write quickly on paper in a cursive script.

In cursiva, descenders are more frequent, especially in the letters f and s, and ascenders are curved and looped rather than vertical (seen especially in the letter d). The letters a, g and s (at the end of a word) are very similar to their Carolingian forms. However, not all of these features are found in every example of cursiva, which makes it difficult to determine whether or not a script may be called cursiva at all.

Lieftinck also divided cursiva into three styles: littera cursiva formata was the most legible and calligraphic style. Littera cursiva textualis (or libraria) was the usual form, used for writing standard books, and it generally was written with a larger pen, leading to larger letters. Littera cursiva currens was used for textbooks and other unimportant books and it had very little standardization in forms.


Hybrida is also called bastarda (especially in France), and as its name suggests, is a hybrid form of the script. It is a mixture of textualis and cursiva, developed in the early 15th century. From textualis, it borrowed vertical ascenders, while from cursiva, it borrowed long f and ſ, single-looped a, and g with an open descender (similar to Carolingian forms).


The Donatus-Kalender (also known as Donatus-und-Kalender or D-K) is the name for the metal type design that Gutenberg used in his earliest surviving printed works, dating from the early 1450s. The name is taken from two works: the Ars grammatica of Aelius Donatus, a Latin grammar, and the Kalender (calendar). [5] It is a form of textura.

Blackletter typesetting

While an antiqua typeface is usually a compound of roman types and italic types since the 16th-century French typographers, the blackletter typefaces never developed a similar distinction. Instead, they use letterspacing (German Sperrung) for emphasis. When using that method, blackletter ligatures like ch, ck, tz or ſt remain together without additional letterspacing (ſt is dissolved, though). The use of bold text for emphasis is also alien to blackletter typefaces.

Words from other languages, especially from Romance languages including Latin, are usually typeset in antiqua instead of blackletter. [6] Like that, single antiqua words or phrases may occur within a blackletter text. This does not apply, however, to loanwords that have been incorporated into the language.

National forms



Blackletter in a Latin Bible of 1407 AD, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England
Blackletter in a Latin Bible of 1407 AD, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England

English blackletter developed from the form of Caroline minuscule used there after the Norman Conquest, sometimes called "Romanesque minuscule". Textualis forms developed after 1190 and were used most often until approximately 1300, after which it became used mainly for de luxe manuscripts. English forms of blackletter have been studied extensively and may be divided into many categories. Textualis formata ("Old English" or "blackletter"), textualis prescissa (or textualis sine pedibus, as it generally lacks feet on its minims), textualis quadrata (or psalterialis) and semi-quadrata, and textualis rotunda are various forms of high-grade formata styles of blackletter.

The University of Oxford borrowed the littera parisiensis in the 13th century and early 14th century, and the littera oxoniensis form is almost indistinguishable from its Parisian counterpart; however, there are a few differences, such as the round final s forms, resembling the number 8, rather than the long s used in the final position in the Paris script.

Handbill of 1715, with the main text in blackletter type, publishing a royal proclamation for the apprehension of the Jacobite leader Sir William Wyndham RoyalProclamation 1715 ForArrestOf SirWilliamWyndham 3rdBaronet.JPG
Handbill of 1715, with the main text in blackletter type, publishing a royal proclamation for the apprehension of the Jacobite leader Sir William Wyndham

Printers of the late 15th and early 16th centuries commonly used blackletter typefaces, but under the influence of Renaissance tastes, Roman typefaces grew in popularity, until by about 1590 most presses had converted to them. [7] However, blackletter was considered to be more readily legible (especially by the less literate classes of society), and it therefore remained in use throughout the 17th century and into the 18th for documents intended for widespread dissemination, such as proclamations and Acts of Parliament, and for literature aimed at the common people, such as ballads, chivalric romances, and jokebooks. [8] [9]

Chaucer's works had been printed in blackletter in the late 15th century, but were subsequently more usually printed in Roman type. Horace Walpole wrote in 1781 that "I am too, though a Goth, so modern a Goth that I hate the black letter, and I love Chaucer better in Dryden and Baskerville than in his own language and dress." [10]


English cursiva began to be used in the 13th century, and soon replaced littera oxoniensis as the standard university script. The earliest cursive blackletter form is Anglicana, a very round and looped script, which also had a squarer and angular counterpart, Anglicana formata. The formata form was used until the 15th century and also was used to write vernacular texts. An Anglicana bastarda form developed from a mixture of Anglicana and textualis, but by the 16th century, the principal cursive blackletter used in England was the Secretary script, which originated in Italy and came to England by way of France. Secretary script has a somewhat haphazard appearance, and its forms of the letters a, g, r and s are unique, unlike any forms in any other English script.



French textualis was tall and narrow compared to other national forms, and was most fully developed in the late 13th century in Paris. In the 13th century there also was an extremely small version of textualis used to write miniature Bibles, known as "pearl script". Another form of French textualis in this century was the script developed at the University of Paris, littera parisiensis, which also is small in size and designed to be written quickly, not calligraphically.


French cursiva was used from the 13th to the 16th century, when it became highly looped, messy, and slanted. Bastarda, the "hybrid" mixture of cursiva and textualis, developed in the 15th century and was used for vernacular texts as well as Latin. A more angular form of bastarda was used in Burgundy, the lettre de forme or lettre bourgouignonne, for books of hours such as the Très Riches Heures of John, Duke of Berry.


Schwabacher lettering. The text reads: "Beispiel Alte Schwabacher: Victor jagt zwolf Boxkampfer quer uber den Sylter Deich."
Roughly translated to English, it reads "Example Old Schwabacher: Victor chases twelve boxing fighters across the Sylt dike." Fraktur alte schwabacher.png
Schwabacher lettering. The text reads: "Beispiel Alte Schwabacher: Victor jagt zwölf Boxkämpfer quer über den Sylter Deich." Roughly translated to English, it reads "Example Old Schwabacher: Victor chases twelve boxing fighters across the Sylt dike."

Despite the frequent association of blackletter with German, the script was actually very slow to develop in German-speaking areas. It developed first in those areas closest to France and then spread to the east and south in the 13th century. The German-speaking areas are, however, where blackletter remained in use the longest.

Schwabacher typefaces dominated in Germany from about 1480 to 1530, and the style continued in use occasionally until the 20th century. Most importantly, all of the works of Martin Luther, leading to the Protestant Reformation, as well as the Apocalypse of Albrecht Dürer (1498), used this typeface. Johann Bämler, a printer from Augsburg, probably first used it as early as 1472. The origins of the name remain unclear; some assume that a typeface-carver from the village of Schwabach—one who worked externally and who thus became known as the Schwabacher—designed the typeface.


German Textualis is usually very heavy and angular, and there are few characteristic features that are common to all occurrences of the script. One common feature is the use of the letter w for Latin vu or uu. Textualis was first used in the 13th and 14th centuries, and subsequently become more elaborate and decorated, as well as being reserved used for liturgical works only.

Johann Gutenberg used a textualis typeface for his famous Gutenberg Bible in 1455. Schwabacher, a blackletter with more rounded letters, soon became the usual printed typeface, but it was replaced by Fraktur in the early 17th century.

Fraktur lettering. The text reads: "Walbaum-Fraktur: Victor jagt zwolf Boxkampfer quer uber den Sylter Deich."
Roughly translated to English, it reads "Walbaum Fraktur: Victor chases twelve boxing fighters across the Sylt dyke." Fraktur walbaum.png
Fraktur lettering. The text reads: "Walbaum-Fraktur: Victor jagt zwölf Boxkämpfer quer über den Sylter Deich." Roughly translated to English, it reads "Walbaum Fraktur: Victor chases twelve boxing fighters across the Sylt dyke."

Fraktur came into use when Emperor Maximilian I (1493–1519) established a series of books and had a new typeface created specifically for this purpose. In the 19th century, the use of antiqua alongside Fraktur increased, leading to the Antiqua-Fraktur dispute, which lasted until the Nazis abandoned Fraktur in 1941. Since it was so common, all kinds of blackletter tend to be called Fraktur in German.


The names of four common blackletter typefaces written in their respective styles Gebrochene Schriften klein.png
The names of four common blackletter typefaces written in their respective styles

German cursiva is similar to the cursive scripts in other areas, but forms of a, s and other letters are more varied; here too, the letter w is often used. A hybrida form, which was basically cursiva with fewer looped letters and with similar square proportions as textualis, was used in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In the 18th century, the pointed quill was adopted for blackletter handwriting. In the early 20th century, the Sütterlin script was introduced in the schools.



Italian blackletter also is known as rotunda, as it was less angular than those produced by northern printing centers. The most common form of Italian rotunda was littera bononiensis, used at the University of Bologna in the 13th century. Biting is a common feature in rotunda, but breaking is not.

Italian Rotunda also is characterized by unique abbreviations, such as q with a line beneath the bow signifying qui, and unusual spellings, such as x for s (milex rather than miles).


Italian cursive developed in the 13th century from scripts used by notaries. The more calligraphic form is known as minuscola cancelleresca italiana (or simply cancelleresca, chancery hand), which developed into a book hand, a script used for writing books rather than charters, in the 14th century. Cancelleresca influenced the development of bastarda in France and secretary hand in England.

The Netherlands

Textualis mixed with select use of Antiqua in an 1853 Dutch edition of the New Testament DutchFraktur.tif
Textualis mixed with select use of Antiqua in an 1853 Dutch edition of the New Testament


A textualis form, commonly known as Gotisch or "Gothic script" was used for general publications from the fifteenth century on, but became restricted to official documents and religious publications during the seventeenth century. Its use persisted into the nineteenth century for editions of the State Translation of the Bible, but had otherwise become obsolete.


Mathematical blackletter characters are separately encoded in Unicode in the Mathematical alphanumeric symbols range at U+1D504-1D537 and U+1D56C-1D59F (bold), except for individual letters already encoded in the Letterlike Symbols range (plus long s at U+017F).

This block of characters should be used only for setting mathematical text, as mathematical texts use blackletter symbols contrastively to other letter styles. For stylized blackletter prose, the normal Latin letters should be used, with font choice or other markup used to indicate blackletter styling. The character names use "Fraktur" for the mathematical alphanumeric symbols, while "blackletter" is used for those symbol characters in the letterlike symbols range.

Mathematical Fraktur:

𝔞 𝔟 𝔠 𝔡 𝔢 𝔣 𝔤 𝔥 𝔦 𝔧 𝔨 𝔩 𝔪 𝔫 𝔬 𝔭 𝔮 𝔯 𝔰 𝔱 𝔲 𝔳 𝔴 𝔵 𝔶 𝔷

Mathematical Bold Fraktur:

𝖆 𝖇 𝖈 𝖉 𝖊 𝖋 𝖌 𝖍 𝖎 𝖏 𝖐 𝖑 𝖒 𝖓 𝖔 𝖕 𝖖 𝖗 𝖘 𝖙 𝖚 𝖛 𝖜 𝖝 𝖞 𝖟

Note: (The above may not render fully in all web browsers.)

Fonts supporting the range include Code2001, Cambria Math, and Quivira (textura style).

For normal text writing, the ordinary Latin code points are used. The blackletter style is then determined by a font with blackletter glyphs. The glyphs in the SMP should only be used for mathematical typesetting, not for ordinary text.

See also

Related Research Articles

R Letter of the Latin alphabet

R, or r, is the 18th letter of the modern English alphabet and the ISO basic Latin alphabet. Its name in English is ar, plural ars, or in Ireland or.

Fraktur Typeface

Fraktur is a calligraphic hand of the Latin alphabet and any of several blackletter typefaces derived from this hand. The blackletter lines are broken up; that is, their forms contain many angles when compared to the curves of the Antiqua (common) typefaces modeled after antique Roman square capitals and Carolingian minuscule. From this, Fraktur is sometimes contrasted with the "Latin alphabet" in northern European texts, which is sometimes called the "German alphabet", simply being a typeface of the Latin alphabet. Similarly, the term "Fraktur" or "Gothic" is sometimes applied to all of the blackletter typefaces.

Gothic script and Gothic font may refer to:

Sütterlin Historical form of German handwriting, used 1915–1970s

Sütterlinschrift is the last widely used form of Kurrent, the historical form of German handwriting that evolved alongside German blackletter typefaces. Graphic artist Ludwig Sütterlin was commissioned by the Prussian Ministry of Science, Art and Culture to create a modern handwriting script in 1911. His handwriting scheme gradually replaced the older cursive scripts that had developed in the 16th century at the same time that letters in books had developed into Fraktur. The name Sütterlin is nowadays often used to refer to all varieties of old German handwriting, although only this specific script was taught in all German schools from 1915 to 1941.

Antiqua (typeface class)

Antiqua is a style of typeface used to mimic styles of handwriting or calligraphy common during the 15th and 16th centuries. Letters are designed to flow and strokes connect together in a continuous fashion; in this way it is often contrasted with Fraktur-style typefaces where the individual strokes are broken apart. The two typefaces were used alongside each other in the germanophone world, with the Antiqua–Fraktur dispute often dividing along ideological or political lines. After the mid-20th century, Fraktur fell out of favor and Antiqua-based typefaces became the official standard.

R rotunda

The r rotunda (ꝛ), "rounded r", is a historical calligraphic variant of the minuscule (lowercase) letter Latin r used in full script-like typefaces, especially blackletters.

Italic script, also known as chancery cursive, is a semi-cursive, slightly sloped style of handwriting and calligraphy that was developed during the Renaissance in Italy. It is one of the most popular styles used in contemporary Western calligraphy, and is often one of the first scripts learned by beginning calligraphers.

Visigothic script

Visigothic script was a type of medieval script that originated in the Visigothic kingdom in Hispania. Its more limiting alternative designations littera toletana and littera mozarabica associate it with scriptoria specifically in Toledo and with Mozarabic culture more generally, respectively.

Schwabacher Typeface

The German word Schwabacher refers to a specific style of blackletter typefaces which evolved from Gothic Textualis (Textura) under the influence of Humanist type design in Italy during the 15th century. Schwabacher typesetting was the most common typeface in Germany, until it was replaced by Fraktur from the mid 16th century onwards.

Rotunda (script)

The Rotunda is a specific medieval blackletter script. It originates in Carolingian minuscule. Sometimes, it is not considered a blackletter script, but a script on its own. It was used mainly in southern Europe.

Kurrent Form of German-language handwriting

Kurrent is an old form of German-language handwriting based on late medieval cursive writing, also known as Kurrentschrift, deutsche Schrift and German cursive. Over the history of its use into the first part of the 20th century, many individual letters acquired variant forms.

Antiqua–Fraktur dispute

The Antiqua–Fraktur dispute was a typographical dispute in 19th- and early 20th-century Germany.


Bastarda was a blackletter script used in France, the Burgundian Netherlands and Germany during the 14th and 15th centuries. The Burgundian variant of script can be seen as the court script of the Dukes of Burgundy and was used to produce some of the most magnificent manuscripts of the 15th century.

History of Western typography

Contemporary typographers view typography as a craft with a very long history tracing its origins back to the first punches and dies used to make seals and currency in ancient times. The basic elements of typography are at least as old as civilization and the earliest writing systems—a series of key developments that were eventually drawn together into one, systematic craft.

Chancery hand Any of several styles of historic handwriting

The term "chancery hand" can refer to either of two distinct styles of historical handwriting.

Fette Fraktur

Fette Fraktur is a blackletter typeface of the sub-classification Fraktur designed by the German punchcutter Johann Christian Bauer (1802–1867) in 1850. The C.E. Weber Foundry published a version in 1875, and the D Stempel AG foundry published the version shown at right in 1908.

Round hand Type of handwriting

Round Hand is a type of handwriting and calligraphy originating in England in the 1660s primarily by the writing masters John Ayres and William Banson. Characterised by an open flowing hand (style) and subtle contrast of thick and thin strokes deriving from metal pointed nibs in which the flexibility of the metal allows the left and right halves of the point to spread apart under light pressure and then spring back together, Round Hand's popularity grew rapidly, becoming codified as a standard, through the publication of printed writing manuals.

Humanist minuscule Handwriting style

Humanist minuscule is a handwriting or style of script that was invented in secular circles in Italy, at the beginning of the fifteenth century. "Few periods in Western history have produced writing of such great beauty", observes the art historian Millard Meiss. The new hand was based on Carolingian minuscule, which Renaissance humanists, obsessed with the revival of antiquity and their role as its inheritors, took to be ancient Roman:

[W]hen they handled manuscript books copied by eleventh- and twelfth-century scribes, Quattrocento literati thought they were looking at texts that came right out of the bookshops of ancient Rome".

A book hand was any of several stylized handwriting scripts used during ancient and medieval times. It was intended for legibility and often used in transcribing official documents.

<i lang="fr" title="French language text">Ronde</i> script

Ronde is a kind of script in which the heavy strokes are nearly upright, giving the characters when taken together a round look. It appeared in France at the end of the 16th century, growing out from a late local variant of Gothic cursive influenced by N. Italian Renaissance types in Rotunda, a bookish round Gothic style, as well as Civilité, also a late French variant of Gothic cursive. It was popularized by writing masters such as Louis Barbedor in the 17th century.


  1. Dowding, Geoffrey (1962). An introduction to the history of printing types; an illustrated summary of main stages in the development of type design from 1440 up to the present day: an aid to type face identification. Clerkenwell [London]: Wace. p. 5.
  2. "Styles of Handwriting". Rigsarkivet. The Danish National Archives. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  3. Berthold Louis Ullman, The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script. (Rome), 1960, p. 12.
  4. "What's The Name For The Dot Over "i" And "j"?". Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  5. John Man, How One Man Remade the World with Words
  6. Distler, Hugo (c. 1935). Neues Chorliederbuch. Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  7. Ferguson, W. Craig (1989). Pica Roman Type in Elizabethan England. Aldershot: Scolar Press. ISBN   0859677184.
  8. Mish, Charles C. (1953). "Black letter as a social determinant in the seventeenth century". PLMA. 68 (3): 627–630. doi:10.2307/459873. JSTOR   459873.
  9. Thomas, Keith (1986). "The meaning of literacy in early modern England". In Bauman, Gerd (ed.). The Written Word: literacy in transition. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 97–131 (99). ISBN   0-19-875068-4.
  10. Spurgeon, Caroline F. E. (1923). "Introduction". Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion (1357–1900). London: Chaucer Society. pp. xliv–xx.

Further reading