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What is Blackletter, Gothic Script and Old English?

Oftentimes we are confused on what term to use when we refer to this script/hand, we sometimes ask … “Is Blackletter same as Gothic Script or Old English? What is the correct term to use? What are Textura, Rotunda, Fraktur, Bastarda, Schwabacher?” Here’s an interesting excerpt from what I found on my research:

Brief History of Blackletter

Blackletter was a direct descendant of Carolingian minuscule which was invented in the reign of Charlemagne. The script’s letter were wide, and large documents were labour-intensive to produce. And because there was a rise in literacy in the 12th Century Europe, higher production of books are needed. During that time books were mainly produced for Universities and not just for Bibles. From here, Carolingian minuscule evolved to a smaller, thinner, densed letters with vertical in appearance as a method of saving space. The script found its place as the father of blackletter. With the compact characteristic of blackletter scribes were able to fit more words in a line and more lines can fit in a book which so the cost of production of books became affordable. People can now buy more books and this brought a more decent income & which gave more jobs for the Scribes and Illuminators during that time. This was a very important period in history where the production of books were high and local townsfolk were able to make a decent living out of it.


The term Gothic was first used to describe this script in 15th-century Italy, because Renaissance Humanists believed it was barbaric. Gothic was a synonym for barbaric.

Not only were black-letter forms called Gothic script, but any other seemingly barbarian script, such as Visigothic, Beneventan, and Merovingian, were also labeled “Gothic”. This in contrast to Carolingian minuscule, a highly legible script which the Humanists called littera antiqua (“the ancient letter”), wrongly believing that it was the script used by the Romans. Blackletter is often misleadingly referred to as either Old English or gothic, two terms that are only partially accurate.

Blackletter is an all encompassing term used to describe the scripts of the Middle Ages in which the darkness of the characters overpowers the whiteness of the page.

The basic blackletter scripts are textura and rotunda, the former primarily associated with northern Europe and the latter with southern Europe. These are both book scripts.

Bastarda, a third category of blackletter originally confined to documents, was elevated to formal status in the 15th century French and Burgundian book of hours… Rotunda types soon followed, cut by printers in Switzerland, and more importantly in Italy.

After 1480 schwabacher types, based on local bastarda traditions, appeared in Bohemia, Switzerland and the German states.

Fraktur, another bastarda-influenced type style, developed from Imperial Chancery hands during the reign of Maximilian I. Its name is derived from the broken curves that distinguish many letters.

*From Type and National Identity by Peter Bain and Paul Shaw:


*Photo credit: The Art of Calligraphy by David Harris

Photo credit: The Art of Calligraphy by David Harris