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Subject: Re: Old-style numbers
From: David Ibbetson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:TYPO-L Discussion of Type and Typographic Design <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 17 Feb 1998 22:23:55 -0500

text/plain (50 lines)

Don Hosek writes
>Hmm, I wonder about this, actually. Lining figures were invented partly to
>handle setting tabular presentation of numbers. As I think about it, I
>wonder whether tabular presentations of numbers really goes back much
>before the 18th c? I don't think that there was much reason to do this
>until Napier's tables of logarithims were published.
>Anyone better-acquainted with tabular incunabula care to comment?

Until cheap electronic calculators arrived one of the books of tables in
regular use in many offices contained the answers to multiplication sums up
to, if I remember correctly 1,000 x 1,000. Among their uses was extending
bills. There was a version for pre-decimalisation sterling, of which I once
had a copy.

Such tables were more accurate than logarithms and might have been
calculated at any time after the introduction of Arabic numerals. I think
the ones I was familiar with claimed Victorian origins, but I suspect an
earlier origin. Their calculation would have been trivially easy at any
time after Pascal invented the arithmometer. (I have read that at one time
complicated tables were calculated at Paris by using clerks, each of whom
applied one of the four rules. The art was in arranging them and the
work-flow to solve a particular problem. I thought that this was in
revolutionary times, but it may have been earlier.)

I hope somebody can produce facts to correct my rambling memory.
Peter writes
>Indeed. So much so that a colleague in England told me that a student
>who was marking up scans of early (17th cent) printed text which had a
>lot of figures in it wrongly marked the 5s with their long descenders
>as subscript Ss. Duh.

1.      This particular problem wouldn't arise in the body of a table.
2.      This sounds as though the OCR program correctly recognised the figures,
but the student mis-corrected them? Or had the program queried them? (The
OCR program I use -- it came with my scanner -- makes a hash of italics
because it places each character in a rectangular box to interpret it.
Other programs use parallelograms for italic fonts.

David the ibid

David Ibbetson * 133 Wilton Street #506   Phone:   (416) 363-6692
Toronto * Ontario * M5A 4A4               Fax:     (416) 363-4987
CANADA                                    E-mail:  [log in to unmask]
The young Sahib shot divinely, but God was very merciful to the birds.
{in G.W. Russell's Collections and Recollections (1898) ch. 30}

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