=]:) and more fun with type

April 15, 2009

Posted by Nick Sarno


A friend of mine directed me towards the following article in The New York Times. It’s been around for a while, so hopefully it’s not old news to everybody.



Were they using emoticons back in the era of Abraham Lincoln?

There has been a lot of recent attention focused on the inspirational quality of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches. Perhaps those speeches inspired emoticons a century before they proliferated in the digital world.

A historical newspaper specialist at the digital archival company Proquest believes he has found an example of a sideways winking smiley face embedded in The New York Times transcript of an 1862 speech given by President Lincoln. Other historians are not so sure, saying the semicolon alongside a closed parenthesis is either a mistake or a misinterpretation of something that is perfectly grammatical for that era.

In 2004, a team at Proquest was given the task of creating a student version of historical newspapers. A team of editors scoured the archives of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor to find 5,000 articles to go with the American history curriculum. In the process, they stumbled across an article dated Aug. 7, 1862, with the headline: “NEWS FROM WASHINGTON.; A Great War Meeting Held at the Capitol. Important Speech of President Lincoln.” [Higher-quality version]

In the transcription of President Lincoln’s speech, which added comments about applause and shouts from the audience was this line:

“… there is no precedent for your being here yourselves, (applause and laughter 😉 and I offer, in justification of myself and you, that I have found nothing in the Constitution against.”

Bryan Benilous, who works with historical newspapers at Proquest, said the team felt the “;)” after the word “laughter” was an emoticon, more than a century before emoticons became a widespread concept.

Could it be? Was this just a typo, a mistake, or was the reporter, transcriber or typesetter having a bit of sly fun?


Read the rest here.


So was it a typo, a mistake or a sly bit of fun? Probably none of the above. Placing the punctuation inside, rather than outside, of the parenthesis was pretty common at the time…just ask any of our fine interns who had the task of transcribing the entire Georgia Gazette. Really, ask them. They’re still a little angry about it. As to why they were parentheses as opposed to the brackets that were used in the rest of the speech, I can only assume that the typesetter had to resort to the former after running out of the latter. They didn’t have an endless supply of brackets and, sometimes, a typesetter has to get creative.


Speaking of creative typesetters, this is about as creative as you can get:



From the Creative Review:


When the European avant-garde reached Spain in the 1930s, local printers found themselves ill-equipped to respond. Small printshops were mostly reliant on turn-of-the century typefaces: hardly fitting for expressing this bold new world. But, in a remarkable show of ingenuity, they found their own means of respond ing to art deco, futurism et al: ‘type case art’.

Printers found that they could imitate modernity by using the geometric shapes they already had in their jobbing cases. Bullets, dingbats, rules and ornaments were transformed into illustrations or letters aping the new styles. The younger generation of printers responsible would most likely have encountered such things as cubism through French magazines while Jan Tschichold’s New Typography was brought to Spain by the prominent German printing trade that had been established in the country.


Read the rest (and see lots more images) here.




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