History of Small Caps

Thomas Levine's picture

I started school at Cornell University a few months ago. The first major difference that I discovered upon my arrival was the absurdly prevalent use of (invariably fake) small caps.

Interestingly, the art, architecture, design, &c. events and materials never use small caps.

I speculate that people think small caps look official, conservative and fancy and that these qualities concern the people at this school more than the general public.

I'd like to investigate this furthur, but finding relevant materials is proving rather difficult. The topic is somewhat obscure, and the ambiguity of the term "small cap" doesn't help. There is a surprisingly large typography section in the library, but I found nothing on small caps in particular. The library does have many early editions of old printed works, so I may have access to early editions of early works to use small capitals in different ways.

Does anyone have any ideas of where I should look?

John Hudson's picture

The first place to look is in Volume 22 (1993) of the Journal of the Printing Historical Society (UK), which contains Margaret Smith's excellent essay ‘The Pre-history of “Small Caps”: from all caps to smaller capitals to small caps’. This explains how small caps came into being as a class of type and how they were first used.

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