Not sure if this question fits more here or in calligraphy category, but I will risk putting it here.
Does anyone know how Eth and Thorn characters looked like historically? By "historically" I mean in medieval manuscripts. I am developing drop cap initials for my typeface, and I wanted to give them a more calligraphic look. Unfortunately I have no idea how these two characters looked like in their calligraphic forms. I thought I would pose the question here before I go digging through tons of Old English and Icelandic manuscripts trying to find two characters, which are probably quite rare in their capital forms.
I would very much appreciate any information. Images even more so.
The Wikipedia article on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives several links to digitized versions of the complete manuscript which you could scour through. Note that both should be very common since Þa/Þan commonly begin sentences (with eth and thorn used fairly interchangeably).
Also a word of warning: if you do decide to go through some old English Manuscripts, be careful not to confuse thorn and wynn — they often look quite similar if you’re not accustomed to dealing with such texts.
@Piotr Lukaszkiewicz Why not unfetter them from historicism in favor of the needs of living users?
But if you're designing a typeface, the first thing you do need to know is what the letters of the alphabet look like. What makes an A, a B, a C, and so on. That's inferred from looking at other typefaces, at hand-lettering, and so on.
If you're going to include eth, thorn, wynn, and so on, in a typeface, then, one has to know what they should look like. And if one's only reference is, say, modern typefaces for printing Icelandic, or academic printing of Anglo-Saxon... well, there's always the possibility that these modern sources have gotten it wrong.
Although the fact that some of the characters involved are still in use in Iceland at least means there's one living tradition to draw upon.
After one has found out what those characters looked like when they were in active use as part of a written language, then one has a starting point to work from. With that starting point, one can still choose not to slavishly follow historical models.
But at least one is not working in ignorance, and one isn't bound to repeat errors that may have crept in to the common forms of those characters as they've been conventionalized by type designers without any feel for the scripts and languages that used them.
Yes, therefore, to making eth, thorn, wynn, and so on work and fit with whatever typeface they're added to, to changing them to serve contemporary readers. But a resounding no to ignoring history, and therefore to being ignorant of the earlier forms and the development of these characters.
They should not be fettered to historical forms, but the historical forms should be a base on which they can stand.
Quite often historicism is merely an easy way to feel confident, which is of arbitrary relevance to users. And sometimes it's a way to escape a deeper, nebulous analysis of what users need.
Do look at history, but generally in the manner of an accident investigator.
I would say that most of the design I did for this typeface is unfettered enough. I tried to bend medieval forms towards modern sensibilities. I just wanted to add a cherry on top and I thought that a set of initials that could be used as drop caps would be nice. I don't mind it being fettered in historicism. It is an eye candy. But a historical one.
Why should I expect that a modern user of a typeface is going to care about how faithful it is to a 15th Century model, of which that user is unlikely to be aware?
Maybe this will help the type designer avoid being laughed at by other type designers who do research into such obscure matters, but that serves a selfish interest on the part of the type designer, not the users of the typeface - or, at least, that certainly could be argued.
I can think of one coldly practical reason, though, that a type designer might want to see what eth and wynn and thorn looked like in the 13th Century or whenever. If all the designer knows is what they look like in Times Roman and Palatino... then he could conceivably be laying himself open to a copyright infringement lawsuit! (Yes, I'll admit that prospect is remote, since filing off the serial numbers isn't that hard...)
Also, to neglect historical background would naturally be unappealing to type designers who fancy themselves to be taking pride in their work.
But I will return to what I see as valid in your point; the word "nebulous", appearing in the next sentence, indicates what is going on.
A historical model, one can assume, is something that has undergone a long period of organic development. Thus, its rough edges should have been smoothed off, and likely the letter forms will have reached a peak of optimum harmony and legibility.
Ahem. From one of the posts above: "be careful not to confuse thorn and wynn". The Hebrew square script in its usual typeface representations has several letters distinguished only by tiny serif-sized details.
Assumptions... sometimes turn out to be mistaken.
I think that I do assign awareness of historical models a considerably higher value than you at least are appearing to here, but I fully agree that they still need to be viewed with a critical and skeptical eye despite their potential value. Sometimes, the answer you've looked up in the back of the book isn't the right one after all.
A typical Papazianism.