a question for the typosphere

5:8ths of what, exactly?
i should say typewriters of a certain vintage. post decimalisation they disappear.

I have wondered about this for quite a while. It’s not like we were the only ones using the imperial system of measurement when these eighths were being installed on typewriters. On every british machine I have, the fraction typeslugs have always been pristine, prior to my getting at them. Seems a bit of a conundrum to me. We needed them on our typewriters, but most people (using my completely scientific investigations) didn’t use them…


9 thoughts on “a question for the typosphere

  1. Here’s an excerpt from the text from the 1911 Scientific American:

    “In the case of Great Britain, there are no accented letters, but there is a very curious alphabetical difficulty arising out of the similarity in the methods of writing shillings and pence and fractions. It is an insignificant little trifle, but it has caused much trouble to the British Telegraph Administration and serious loss to merchants. For instance, 7/8 is 7s, 8d or the fraction 7/8. The difficulty is to discover a method of avoiding the confusion. It does not occur in countries not using British coinage…”

    I don’t know if this is archaic currency notation or if British people living today are familiar with this usage.


  2. I’ve often asked myself the same question when looking at British machines. Those fractions are charmingly non-decimal, but did people use them? Apparently not. And the 1/2 and 1/4 characters found on American typewriters were also rarely used, I think. (Sometimes we also have 3/4.)


  3. I am certain it was a conspiracy devised to confuse future typewriter collectors as to it’s real purpose, which shall ever remain sealed within the graves of nefarious conundrists.


  4. Also am puzzled by this! Could be for inch measurements?, that goes into quarter, eighths, sixteenths, etc.
    Before my time really, but think old money would be mostly /6 amounts – default mostly to sixpence as half a shilling (and a coin). (Not even getting into hay’penny or farthing. 🙂

    Seems almost careless or spendthrifty, to allot so many keys to fractions.

    (Oh, and on odd layouts – one machine I have only has the 3/4 fraction on its keyboard. Not so useful…)


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