Sunday, July 01, 2007

More )(

The )( symbol is a new obsession of Wayne Homren, who reports in today's e-Sylum that he has contracted the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, The Type Museum here in London, the International Printing Museum near Los Angeles, the Museum of Printing in North Andover, MA; the JAARS Museum of the Alphabet in Waxhaw, NC; and the St. Brides Printing Library in London.

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In a June 3 comment here, Dr. Robert J. O’Hara pointed to an 18th century list of alchemical symbols, Medicinisch-Chymisch- und Alchemistisches Oraculum (1755), which includes both )( and ℞. Both symbols abbreviate words beginning with RE (Realgar and Recipe). If one needed to abbreviate “reverse” down to a single character to save space it makes sense to use a symbol which had already served that purpose. )( was such a symbol, but would numismatic readers in the 18th century have understood it?

The earliest numismatic use that I know of is from 1758, in a book published in Vienna, Prague, and Triest by Ioannis Thomae Trattner. However, I just haved looked. I don't have any 17th or 18th century books, and Google has scanned only a few. I would be curious to find earlier citations of the symbol. It would be interesting if the symbol started with publishers known for printing alchemical works. I have before never considered a connection between numismatics and alchemy.

It is interesting that the symbol died out. It was used by Eckhel, who is the father of numismatics as a science. It seems logical that authors would want to make the works look more like Eckhel's, so why did the symbol die out? Possibly type setters didn't have the symbol, but perhaps even in the 19th century no one knew the name of the symbol or its exact meaning?

1 comment:

RJO said...

You certainly have discovered a fascinating item, and I'm glad people are following up on it. I hope you'll write it up for a numismatic journal. If )( is a carry-over from the chemical symbol (which I bet it is), I'd imagine it faded out, as you suggest, just because nobody kept that bit of type around any more. Just as it's easy for us to still write Æ for bronze, but rather hard to write a ligated AV for gold or AR for silver because our software doesn't permit it. (The Rx symbol is still used in medicine for prescription [recipe], and so has endured typographically.)

Bob O'Hara