A strange finding

Andreas Stötzner's picture


I guess the graphic shape just beneath the main title is actually a type embellishment piece, of the *federzüge* kind (“pen strokes”) which in those days often acompagnied typefaces; obviously turned about 90 degrees (see the serifs).
Other interpretations?
(it has been suggested that this is some mathematical character but I doubt that.)
Someone identifying the typeface, b.t.w.?

Happy christmas to all of you * * * * *

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

The load time on this is serious. Got a smaller copy?

dezcom's picture

No problem loading for me. Two seconds tops. It is lovely! Thanks, Andreas!

5star's picture

Nice image awesome textura, the letter shapes seem to suggest art nouveau(?).

Merry Christmas...


quadibloc's picture

To me, the typeface suggests a certain type of calligraphy, such as that found in University Roman.

The serifs on the symbol seem to be strongly angled, as if an italic character were rotated by 45 degrees; I recall once seeing an archaic mathematical character that resembles it, but I would agree in hesitating to conclude it came from that part of the typecase.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Hmmm, took me like 15 minutes. Are we sure that big thing in the middle is intended to be anything other than decorative?

quadibloc's picture

@Ryan Maelhorn:
Are we sure that big thing in the middle is intended to be anything other than decorative?

For myself, at least, I am very unsure that it was intended to be anything but. However, it still might have been something that served another purpose, such as an Armenian lower-case letter, before being used as a decoration, so asking what character that shape might have been is legitimate even when the immediate intention was purely decorative.

That it could have been an old mathematical symbol, intentionally used to convey some authority to the contents of the book (about the evil crackpot theory known as dialectical materialism, which gave rise to such things as Lysenkoism) is not entirely impossible.

typerror's picture

It is odd, the terminals are unachievable... wait for it Hrant!... using the right hand; even a leftie would be hard pressed to do this without stress. The ductus, direction of stroke, would be counter to line writing, as in writing text, so I would venture this is drawn, and is very much, and developed (in this variation) as a "typographic form" as opposed to a calligraphic one.

With Conze's propensity for languages there is no telling where this "form" came from but I am sure I am about to find out and be made fun of :-) It literally looks to me as though it is a flopped l/c L because of the terminals. It was not uncommon for designers to combine calligraphic elements (the top of the stem) with more "typographic forms " (the bottom of the stem).

@Ryan... if "that big thing" is intended solely for decoration it falls way short, which would lead me to believe it serves more than a decorative purpose. It is integral, to my thinking, in the statement.

dezcom's picture

I don't speak German and my knowledge Hegel, Marx, Engels, Dialectics and Materialism is a bit sketchy. It is all mind over matter for me so I hope you don't mind that it does not matter ;-) It is all a Contradiction

The object could be a 'long s' rotated in perspective or even the top and side of lowercase 'a" rotated.

Perhaps it is some form of logical not, given the subject matter? Maybe there are some glyphs used in logic that better resemble our lamp-post friend?

John Hudson's picture

The form seems to be mechanically (photographically?) obliqued to me. If you were to start with a long s, flip it and then oblique it on a vertical axis, this is what you would end up with. This explains both the angle of the serif and the attenuation of the curve.

5star's picture



piccic's picture

Let’s get back to earth: to reply to Andreas’ other question the typeface should be a display light weight of Lipsia Antiqua from the Gottfried Böttger foundry.
If someone has a specimen and can do high-resolution scans of text weights of the face, that would be very appreciated.
Merry Christmas to you as well! :-)

Andreas Stötzner's picture

you seemto be right with Lipsia-Antiqua. Here is an image:
however, I cannot find any actual specimen so far.

> … to start with a long s, flip it and then oblique it on a vertical axis, …

the piece in question dates from about 1930 and is of solid brass, most likely. ;-)
If so, the only remaining option of that kind is to *rotate* it.

piccic's picture

I surely am, I love that typeface! :-)
I think the specimen you found on Flickr shows the display version for larger sizes, the face had many text sizes, and Nebiolo produced it in some variants also are not present in the original, IIRC.
The symbol: I think that very likely it is handdrawn, I seem to remind books of the SS Ahnenerbe with symbols on the covers.

Elbrecht's picture

Hi -
it's me, Elbrecht - I asked AS about the beast.

The very special character - if a character at all - is NOT decorative to me. I asked the Unicode pandits as well - and well 1932/33 is out of time for them - only U+2129 TURNED GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA came up somehow. But this would fit quite well: a LETTERLIKE SYMBOL from the past, only encoded for backward compatibility. [The logical / mathematical symbols of today got their own encoding block.]
This erratic character would then go back to the very beginning of continental printing in symbolic logic: "unique element fulfilling a description" [logic]. I am no logician to evaluate, but I could live with it. But as there are NO logical symbols "in" the text of the book - who knows for sure? Were there printer sets with logical "turned iota" available in the 1920/30s that's the question for me now?
Thanks HE

Andreas Stötzner's picture

> Were there printer sets with logical "turned iota" available in the 1920/30s …?

If they were, they would most certainly not have been of that size. And the bookbinder’s lettercase is something different as the printer’s. No bookbinding workshop maintained lettercases with most special mathematical characters of extremely rare use.
If there is no hint at all inside the treatise pointing at the this “character”, that makes it even more unlikely to be something mathematical of the sort you tend to suggest.
It is definitely not a “turned small greek jota.” It is something else, whatsoever.

I recognize your wish to see something symbolic into it, but you may consider to take the conditions and customs of the trade of that time into account, too.

Elbrecht's picture

Hi Andreas -

thanks for your help with the beast. Not decorative at all, the glyph happens to appear on the 1932/33 cover for some reason - to me.
U+2129 is used for notation in the Principia Mathematica [2nd ed] 1927, while the autor was in Kiel for his dissertation under Heinrich Scholz, who was the one to introduce modern logic to the German universities.
And U+2129 seems to my understanding to summarize the book's content in one single stroke! What a koan - of the later Edward Conze - master translator of the Mahayana Prajnaparamita texts…
I am known to be a dreamer…

Yours HE

Andreas Stötzner's picture

> I am known to be a dreamer…

Very well; ſurely you’re not the only one in theſe parts.

I still don’t comprehend what shall be the point in explaining a bookbinding design from around 1930 by the contents of Unicode which is from around 1990…2010.

Stay dreaming well; however, sometimes a moment of awakening might provide some refreshment, too.

quadibloc's picture

@Andreas Stötzner
I still don’t comprehend what shall be the point in explaining a bookbinding design from around 1930 by the contents of Unicode which is from around 1990…2010.

I don't think you need to worry about reverse causality here. Instead, Unicode is simply used as a reference to the kind of glyphs recognized as characters, and thus likely to be sorts in a typecase, even back then.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

I don’t worry.
The very basic question hasn’t been answered to in this case: is it a *character at all*. No case has been made so far convincingly to reply to that by “yes”. Hence, we are stuck in guessing, no more. I don’t find this is very witty.

The whole discussion seems to be lead by an initail bias which is likely to bear the mark of failure from the very beginning.
– What is it?
– Which character is it?
Which one of the two questions seems more sensible!?

You’ll not getting a right answer if you’re asking the wrong question.

Elbrecht's picture

You ask: What is it? I asked you first - You then asked typophile!
You ask: Which character is it? OK - I should have asked: Which 'glyph' [used for which character] is it, maybe? Because I just can't see anything 'decorative only'. The author/printer tried doing their very best in 1933 - the Nazis were about to burn his book the very year and he had to exile. I know [about] the author, I know the book(s) of the author. So what's wrong with me? And who's typophile? Sorry for all this - & thanks again.
PS: And don't tell me [or others] about awakening, please! No barking like a dog! [sorry again!]

Michel Boyer's picture


The inverted iota ℩ is used for descriptions, and behaves like a term constructor from a one variable predicate (cf ✸14 of the wiki on Principia Mathematica).

On the other hand, the Satz vom Widerspruch corresponds to

which simply states that a statement cannot be both true and false.

Why then choosing the inverted iota, whose relation with the subject of the book a priori appears rather remote?

Elbrecht's picture

@Michel Boyer
not knowing about "modern logic" & "1930's printing" myself, I seem to have to help myself with "the beast."
I know the early Conze & I know the late Conze quite well - and I am sure there is nothing decorative with "the beast." The 1930's printer had to help himself, too - with no Unicode available then. I just found a very interesting article on the history of printing Classical Greek - even with a note on Principia Mathematica: http://conze.elbrecht.com/PDFs/Yot.pdf
The book "is to limit the PoC's logical validity to certain subjects and object ranges." There is a 1934 review of the book by Herbert Marcuse - translated by Holger R. Heine, who is about to publish the whole book in English: http://conze.elbrecht.com/PDFs/Rev.pdf
The book is full of Greek notes & Conze knew his Greek for sure - & he wrote just the time the "Yot.pdf" is about - & he had done his dissertation under Heinrich Scholz before!
…still dreaming the butterflies dream!
PS: still wondering which glyph it actually is!

Nick Shinn's picture

Given Conze’s esoteric inclinations, perhaps it is a character from a Twilight Language (such as are used to communicate amongst those on other planes of existence).

Or a masonic cipher. The large size of the object suggests that it would have been made specially for this cover, rather than taken from a pre-exisiting font.

Elbrecht's picture

@Nick Shinn
Conze was no star wars adept…
But on re-reading the above "Yot.pdf" - when "flipping vertically" I get a rather smart dotlessj:
A rather Greekie inspiration for cutting "the beast" - but that would fit the glyph as well as the history of typesetting Classical Greek at that time.
It would be easy to cut "the beast" - wouldn't it? With no ornamental glyph involved at all…

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