About the Letters J and W

. It is a fact, not so well known but that it may be said to be curious, that the letters j and w are modern additions to our alphabet. The letter j only came into general use during the time of the Commonwealth, say between 1649 and 1658. From 1630 to 1646 its use is exceedingly rare, and we have never as yet seen a book printed prior to 1652 in which it appeared. In the century immediately preceding the seventeenth, it became the fashion to tail the last i when Roman numerals were used, as in this example: viij for 8 or xij in place of 12. This fashion still lingers, but only in physi­cians’ prescriptions, we believe. Where the French use j it has the power of s as we use it in the word “vision.” What nation was the first to use it as a new letter is an interesting, but perhaps unanswerable, query. In a like manner, the printers and language-makers of the latter part of the sixteenth century began to recognize the fact that there was a sound in spoken English which was without a representative in the shape of an alphabetical sign or character, as the first sound in the word “wet.” Prior to that time it had always been spelled as “vet,” the v having the long sound of u or of two u’s together. In order to convey an idea of the new sound they began to spell such words as “wet,” “weather,” “web,” etc., with two u’s, and as the u of that date was a typical v, the three words above looked like this: “vvet,” “vveather,” “vveb.” After a while the type­founders recognized the fact. that the double u had come to stay, so they joined the two u’s together, and made the character now so well known as the w. One book is extant in which three forms of the w are given. The first is the old double v (vv), the next is one in which the last stroke of the first v crosses the first stroke of the second, and the third is the common w we use to-day.

Taken from Gesta Typographica by Chas. Jacobi, 1897, page 9.

Capitals and leads


The Scriptures were first written on skins



The first newspaper in England


Etienne Dolet



The first cylinder printing-machine

The first steam printing

Capitals and leads

About the Letters J and W

The Scriptures were first written on skins

The first iron printing-press


Gothic Letters

Type Founding in Europe

Pica Type

Long Primer



Newspapers were first printed