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Vestigial second “l” in the handwriting of Elizabeth Vesey

This example of vestigial second "l" was sent to me by Anni Sairo. It is from a letter by Elizabeth Vesey (1715–1791). It shows a vestigial second "l" the word "shall" in the last line "I shall have a letter…"

example double 'l' Elizabeth Vesey

Anni describes Vesey’s hand as dynamic and very careless, features that would certainly also adequately describe Priestley’s. He was known to dash off letters to fellow scientist right after the completion of an experiment and this haste shows in the handwriting.

In Priestley’s case however, the feature also seems to occur in letters that do not appear to have been written hastily and appear to be written in a fairly neat hand.

Double “l” in Eighteenth-century Manuscripts

Transcribing the manuscript letters of Joseph Priestley, I notice that, at least to modern standards, he has a rather peculiar way of writing word-final double "l" in such words as "all" and "shall". The first "l" is a fully formed letter, the second one is invariably vestigial. For the most part, this second "l" has no discernable loop and does not nearly reach the top of the line, making it more akin to a lowercase "’r" or lowercase "e" than anything else.

I am not sure whether this is a feature of the eighteenth century English writing system or whether it is an idiosyncracy of Priestley’s. Since I’ve not been able to find any literature about this ‘feature’, I would be interested to find whether anyone else working with eighteenth century letters has also observed this.

Here is an example with "shall" in a letter to the Dutch chemist Martinus van Marum (dated  14 Septeber 1785):

JP to MvM 14_09_1785

Practice letter transcription online

For anyone interested in learning more about paleography and letter transcription, or perhaps for recreational use, the National Archives has an online paleography tutorial. The letters are all English and mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries. There are ten letters to transcribe and the difficulty level increases with every letter. It was a very interesting tutorial for me, but it seemed that the ‘correct’ way to transcribe certain features such as full stops was not always consistent. Still, it is a useful exercise and especially the notes on the letters in each exercise provide enlightening information for those who have no experience in reading old letters. I have to admit that in the end I gave up after letter four and counted myself lucky that my research focuses on eighteenth century letters where the lettering has far less variation.

The URL for this tutorial is: