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Making sense of old handwriting

Script Tutorial: German

What is "Old German Script?"

Monk at work
Jean Le Tavernier, 15th century

The term Old German Script, as used throughout this tutorial, refers to the typefaces and handwriting styles of German-speaking countries during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries.

Although these scripts are based on the Latin alphabet, many of the individual letters may appear to the untrained eye as unique as the letters of the Russian or Arabic alphabets. Old German Script was used widely until the end of World War II when Latin forms became the accepted standard for handwriting and printing. Nowadays, very few German speakers can read or write Old German Script.

Gothic Handwriting (Kurrent) vs. Gothic Typefaces (Fraktur)

Centuries ago, German scribes developed forms of handwriting and typesetting that were very different from other parts of central and Western Europe. These forms came to be known as Gothic Style or Gothic Script. The term Gothic does not hearken back to Gothic architecture or even the ancient Gothic tribes; it was derisively applied to denote inferiority.

It is important to note that there were several different styles of Gothic handwriting and typefaces, including some regional variants. Eventually, all the Gothic typefaces came to be called after one of the variants, Fraktur. In this tutorial, we will also refer to the Gothic typeface as Fraktur. The handwriting styles also went by several names, usually based on the name of a variant: Kurrent or Sütterlin, for example. Most Gothic handwriting is harder to decipher nowadays than Gothic typefaces, which more closely resemble Latin text.

Latin Text
Gothic Typeface
Gothic Handwriting