Tuscan brackets

Nick Sherman's picture

You know those pointy spurs or brackets that are usually seen on the sides of old Tuscan faces (see Thunderbird, Miss Scarlett, etc)? … Is there a technical term for those? I've looked through Rob Roy Kelly's book, but didn't find anything there.

Also, do side-brackets a Tuscan make? Or does there need to be at least some kind of stroke bifurcation or splaying? For instance, where do these land?:

Am I wasting my time trying to nail down concrete terminology for 19th-century ornamental typographic phenomena?

Stephen Coles's picture

Spur seems appropriate because of the Western connection, but because the term has another typographic meaning, maybe thorn is best.

James Arboghast's picture

I think thorn is is the best term for that feature too.

The strict definition of "tuscan" is a type with split or bifurcated stems, for example:

Myfonts appear to have revised their definition of "tuscan" not too long ago. It used to be assigned as a key word to wood type and Victorian faces with bands of vertical stressing but ordinary stems (not split), for example:

Types with the thorn feature and/or bands of vertical stressing are correctly named wood types, or classified as Victorian:

is a true tuscan due to its split stems and genreally bifurcated outline.

j a m e s

Nick Sherman's picture

My guess as to what is happening on MyFonts is that foundries are spotting the tuscan keyword on other wood types and adopting it for their own fonts without knowing what it is really, other than a "Wild Western" thing. Generally though, the keyword application on MyFonts seems more or less to the point: http://www.myfonts.com/browse/keyword/tuscan/

One other interesting example which I spotted in Rob Roy Kelly's book was Gothic Tuscan Round. Following this naming, the pointy side-brackets do make for a tuscan (or at least a Gothic Tuscan); but for my own purposes, I'm not sure I'm about to adopt that logic wholeheartedly just yet.

To further confuse matters, there is a whole other class of tuscans which are less bifurcated than they are just concave:
Gothic Tuscan
Antique Tuscan
Tuscan Expanded
Concave Tuscan

But I'm getting off topic a bit here. Of course any related discussion is welcome, but I'm mostly interested hearing if people think the presence of these spur… er… thorns… are enough to endow a face with the classification of Tuscan.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Check out this older thread. Proposals: ‘Tuscan flourish’, ‘decorative embellishment usually associated with old west fonts’, ‘diamond thingies’, ‘Tuscan embellishment’, ‘spurs’, ‘Tuscan Bulges’ …

Nick Sherman's picture

Thanks for the reference to the other thread Florian. Only on Typophile could I be not the only person wondering what the name for this things is!

I tend to like spur or thorn because they can exist independently from the concept of Tuscan if need be.

Thorn is slightly limiting, as it implies sharpness. Similarly, the bulge suggested in that previous thread is limiting because it implies, well, bulginess (wow, my spell check let that word pass).

It is too bad that spur is already in use for another typo-term (not that there aren't a million typo-homographs already) … maybe I'll add a side- prefix to it and call it a day: side-spur

I mean after all, it is vaguely similar, formally, to the other kind of spur, right? The main difference is that it happens on the side of the letter.

eliason's picture

Do these come (or were they thought to come) from Tuscany? Whence the name?

Florian Hardwig's picture

Tuscan, Roman, Italic … all type seems to be Italian.

Nick Sherman's picture

Rob Roy Kelly states in American Wood Type:
Nicolette Gray surmises that these fishtail serifs originated with the Greeks and that their use became common in Rome during the third century… Some of the Tuscan's best interpretations were accomplished by Italian illuminators and engravers during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

He also shows an example of a stone inscription (originally pointed out by Stanley Morisson in his article Decorated Letters from Fleuron VI) by Furius Dionysios Filocalus of Rome, made circa 380 AD, which shows a pronounced Tuscan treatment of serifs.

James Arboghast's picture

Thorn is slightly limiting, as it implies sharpness.

Isn't "spur" meant to be just as sharp a thing as a "thorn"? Spurs were traditionally those pointy star-shaped thingies people dug into the sides of horses for some get up and go-go. Spur and thorn are both sharp pointy things.

Okay, so "bulge" is undesirable becaws these things can be soft and rounded, or sharp and pointy. How about these:

Interlocation spur
Interposition spur
Lateral thorn
Lateral spur
Bilateral spur
Broadside thorn

I vote for Bilateral spur.

j a m e s

Nick Sherman's picture

Other than the spur you're referencing, spur can also mean a thing that projects or branches off from a main body [OED]

Since they aren't always necessarily bilateral, I'd prefer lateral spur. Then again, that's basically a fancy way of saying side spur.

James Arboghast's picture

Other than the spur you’re referencing, spur can also mean a thing that projects or branches off from a main body [OED]

Is that a secondary meaning or principle meaning? Balance it against the meaning people typically associate with spur. The SOED reckons the first and principle meaning of spur is "A device for pricking the side of a horse in order to make it urge forward, consisting of a small or spiked wheel attached to the rider's heel. SOED also lists spur as a verb, its principle meaning "To prick (a horse, etc)..."

Fancy is fun.

Don't turn it into a peeing contest.

j a m e s

James Arboghast's picture

... I’m mostly interested hearing if people think the presence of these spur… er… thorns… are enough to endow a face with the classification of Tuscan.


j a m e s

Nick Sherman's picture

I'm not 100% sure what you mean by a peeing contest, but I'm assuming it's not good. I hope you're not mistaking my referencing for contempt or competitiveness.

My reason for bringing up the OED bit was not to disagree with you at all, but – on the contrary – to give evidence as to why I agreed with the spur part of your vote for bilateral spur… while (much like these typographic flourishes) spurs are usually sharp and pointy things, the term can be interpreted more broadly than thorn, if need be, to include non-pointy things.

I also agree that fancy is fun; indeed, the quest for a fancy name for these things is the inspiration for this thread :)

So… lateral spur?

Nick Sherman's picture

On related note, here's an interesting example of a typeface with the spurs that has its own distinct feel to it: the Font Bureau's Nutcracker

jasonla's picture

The nutcracker font above looks familiar i was on some greek island cruises and we stopped in italy for a few days in Tuscany there was some wine bottles with similar fonts croicciani or something to that affect i think it was called really great flavor

John Hudson's picture


cerulean's picture

If not spurs or thorns, then perhaps barbs. Regardless, I think the best adjective is medial. And a descriptor is necessary, as some such faces have the things on the top and bottom! Those would be, I don't know, polar?

cuttlefish's picture

Polar only when they are centered directly at the top and bottom, or when they are along the axis of contrast. Medial is good for features halfway up a stroke height. We already have the word terminal for features at the end of strokes. But for there to be a terminal and medial feature, must not there also be a proximal one?

Perhaps we can try incorporating anatomical directions, like pronate and supinate to indicate something or other. I think I just twisted my brain.

gwezerek's picture

Any chance someone knows how Tuscan type became associated with the Wild West and cowboys? I'm going to track down Kelly's book, but if someone knows offhand...

oldnick's picture

Any chance someone knows how Tuscan type became associated with the Wild West and cowboys?

Probably from American movie posters for Westerns...

speter's picture

Tuscany > Italy > Spaghetti > Western

quite clear

riccard0's picture

Tuscany > Italy > Spaghetti > Western


hrant's picture

Too little too late, but: Please don't use "thorn" - it's taken. It's the "invert" of a trap: extra pointiness at an outside corner to keep it sharp in bad repro.


Stephen Coles's picture

Any chance someone knows how Tuscan type became associated with the Wild West and cowboys?

A guess: the types used for Wild West posters were the popular display wood types of the era (late 1800s).

Té Rowan's picture

Heh. Thorn is spoken for twice, then, just like poor Ranma. It's a letter, too. :-þ

Syndicate content Syndicate content