Blackletter fonts usage

Special characters and features in Fontgrube blackletter fonts

Blackletter typefaces developed in the 12th century CE and were common through centuries, in Germany as long as till mid-20th c.; they fell into disuse after WWII. Some special characters have survived in blackletter that are unfamiliar in Roman typefaces today, namely the long s and some character combinations. This page describes how we deal with them in Fontgrube fonts.

The Long s

This character (ſ ) is quite typical of blackletter but unknown to many contemporaries. The long s originated in the time of the so-called carolingian minuscle, where it was the only form of the letter s. Later on in Germany it was replaced by the round ("normal") s at the end of words (also in compounds) or prefixes. Other languages follow other rules.

Up to the 18th c., the long s appears in Roman typefaces too, so there is a place in the Unicode table at #383 for it. You will find it there in our typefaces (even in some non-blackletter fonts), but since keyboard layouts vary and non-Unicode-aware software is still around we put a duplicate on the vertical bar which is on many keyboard layouts. While the bar character may be easier to type, the Unicode long s may have some advantages when it comes to word separation and hyphenation. Make your choice according to your needs.

Character combinations (Ligatures)

Fraktur has numerous combinations of characters. In 19th and 20th c. Germany there was a set of ligatures that were considered obligatory. But only some of them formed figures of their own: ch, ck and tz.

The ch and ck combinations can often be achieved by kerning the components closer together. So make sure that kerning is activated in your word processor or typesetting program. Sometimes this also works with tz.

But sometimes a more beautiful ligature is provided on rarely used keyboard characters, such as tz on the closing braces }, while ch and ck can be found on the mathematical signs < and > respectively.

Other combinations like ſt, which form no real optical connection, are supported by kern pairs only. These Ligatures originate from hot-metal typesetting, in which they were placed on one metal cone to avoid ugly gaps in spacing. In computer typesetting kern pairs fit the bill nicely.

There are some non-blackletter fonts here that have some of these special characters. They are treated accordingly.