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The typographical manicula

Drawing of a little hand pointing
19th century typographic hand still in use at The Royal Scottish Museum

Who has never seen this index pointing at least once?

The hand represented closed with the index finger pointing is called "fist" (manicula in Latin) and is used in typography in the margin of a text to visually draw the reader's attention to what is written there.

The first little hands drawn for this purpose were found in some Spanish manuscripts from the 12th century, while they only appeared in Italy starting from 1300. Sometimes these were put in by the scribes themselves, but were quite often added by some later owner or reader of the manuscript, always to mark or draw attention to important passages.

Page of a manuscript where little hands are depicted.
On this page of the work of J. Grüninger of Strasbourg you can see two hand sizes to draw attention to notes and annotations.

With the spread of movable type printing, this symbol became a real punctuation sign and was widely used between 1800 and the first decades of the 20th century, not only in publications and in the new advertising notices but also in the various directional signs.

Part of a Throwgood Foundry catalog where a small hand is depicted indicating the first representation of an Egyptian character.
In this image of an 1821 Throwgood Foundry specimen the little hand points to one of the first Egyptian characters ever made

Its widespread use is demonstrated by the wide variety of little hands featured in the foundry catalogs of the time, each with the same purpose but designed according to its own style.

Page of a magazine dedicated to Types
This page takes from the magazine Typographica a collection of prints proposed by various American and European type foundries.

The offer of signs with hands represented differently or with other meanings is rather rare but not absent as evidenced by this handshake belonging to a catalog of the Urania Fonderia in Milan from the early twentieth century which reminds us once again that many symbols that we believe to be the result of modern day inventiveness are nothing more than a graphic legacy from the past.

Page from a catalog of the Urania Foundry of Milan from the early 1900s
Hands shaking in what is now thought of as the symbol of the commercial agreement par excellence in this catalog from the Urania Fonderia of Milan.

Different hand drawn
Hands in different positions as represented in a catalog of the Rivadeneyra Foundry in Madrid 1907.


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