4.0599 R: 17th C. Typography -- Possessives (1/32)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 17 Oct 90 21:54:38 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0599. Wednesday, 17 Oct 1990.

Date: Mon 15 Oct 90 21:36:18-PDT
From: Roland Hutchinson <R.RDH@Macbeth.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: Re: Query on 17th C. Typography... (4/64)

Although I am not an expert on typography, I would hazard a guess that
your 17th-century compositor's practise of using apostrophe-s only
with proper names is a stylistic choice, not a question of available

It seems to follow the same convention that was used in German until
some revision or other of the Prussian Orthography around the
beginning of this century: neuter and masculine nouns that formed the
genitive in -s got a plain s without apostrophe; proper nouns got
apostrophe-s. (I encounter such apostrophes almost daily on the
title-pages of 19th-century music editions that are still in use, many
times reprinted: _Bach's Werke_, _Breitkopf und Haertel's
Orchester-Biblliothek_; compare the 20th-century series _Nagels

On this interpretation, the question of italics in your English
compositor's practice appears to be something of a red herring. They
must have had the sort for the apostrophe in their roman fonts, since
it is the same sort as the closing quotation mark. (Do they not also
use it for elided letters, e.g. in past-tense verbs like
"rais'd"?--certainly some 17th-C compositors use it that way.) But
they never used the roman sort as an apostrophe in a possessive
noun since such apostrophes were used only for proper nouns, which
were invariably set italic.

This seems at any rate to be a reasonable guess.

Roland Hutchinson