Starting from the 11th century, Georgian secular texts were mainly written in Mkhedruli script. Mkhedruli was a unicameral script, which means that there were no uppercase letters that would be used in the beginning of sentences, or names. Asomtavruli letters (the uppercase from old Georgian script) were sometimes used as uppercase letters in Mkhedruli texts, but since even the clergy had trouble reading them, the use of Asomtavruli as the uppercase for Mkhedruli was not a widespread practice.
The first information about the development of uppercase (Mtavruli) letters for Mkhedruli script dates back to the 18th century. Nikoloz Tbileli wrote in his will that he had created uppercase letters for the Mkhedruli script, referring to them as “Mkhedruli’s Mtavruli”.
There had been multiple attempts to reflect this innovation in Georgian printing houses after the 18th century, however, at that time, there were no typesetting letters available for the printing of books and other products.
It was in the 19th century that large point size Mkhedruli letters first came into use, with the purpose of creating the effect that these Mkhedruli letters, increased in size, were Mtavruli uppercase. Later, when new typefaces were created and typesseting letters were no longer a shortage, the use of Mtavruli letters became a widespread practice in Georgian printing houses.
The “Venuri” typeface was created in 1864, soon used to publish Iakob Gogebashvili’s Georgian Alphabet and the First Reading Material for Schoolchildren. Mtavruli letters were widely used in this book, moreover, this education program, taught children that there were normal, lowercase (Mkhedruli) letters and their corresponding uppercase — Mtavruli letters. The first “Deda Ena”- used to teach multiple generations how to read and write — was also printed by the same principle (Mixed-case). We come across cases of using Mtavruli as the first letter in the beginning of sentences and proper nouns in the newspaper “Droeba” as well. This is how “Droeba” justified this initiative:
“It is hard to guess of the proper nouns without the use of Mtavruli and oftentimes, names of foreigners are left unnoticed. Besides, when reading, each new idea becomes clearer and more vivid, since it always begins with Mtavruli letters. With the introduction of Mtavruli, the Georgian typography also becomes more diverse and ravishing… Once the readers are used to the Mtavruli letters, they will start to consider what they first thought a flaw, a strength” — Newspaper “Droeba”, Issue of January 6, 1867, p. 1.
It has to be noted that the Mtavruli letters of this period was not just Mkhedruli letters written on the baseline. From the examples of Georgian typography, it is clear that Mtavrui letters have relatively wider forms and darker strokes.
Multiple Georgian books were printed by mixed-case before the Soviet Union. However, such use of Mtavruli letters was stopped later on and they remained only in titles, as an ALL CAPS function — when all the letters in a word are capitalized.
It should also be noted, that with the introduction of typewriters, both Mkhedruli and Mtavruli letters were reflected on Georgian typewriters, just like lowercase and uppercase letters with the Latin script. Users had the opportunity to type the text in Mkhedruli script and, if necessary, enter Mtavruli letters with the caps lock button.
The majority of Georgian typefaces nowadays, have both— Mkhedruli and Mtavruli. Mtavruli letters are widely used today, on Georgian Lari banknotes and coins, street signs, signboards, in books, newspapers etc. However, it is impossible to use them on the web, since there is no Unicode code-points for those characters.
Mtavruli letters in computer systems
From Georgian scripts the Unicode consortium supports Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli. Out of these, Asomtavruli and Nuskhuri are considered bicameral scripts, which means that the have both upper and lowercase letters. Mkhedruli is disunified from them and is considered a unicameral script, meaning that it does not have uppercase letters. Based on the existing historical and current realities, since Mtavruli letters have been and still are actively used (only with the ALL CAPS function these days), a proposal regarding the provision of a separate code-points for Mtavruli Letters has been presented to the Unicode.
And finally, this is just a photo, taken in 2016, at the grave of a type designer, who developed the design of the first Mtavruli typesetting letters (typeface Venuri) in 1864; On the gravestone his name is written with Mtavruli uppercase letters as well: მიხეილ ზაალის ძე ყიფიანი (Mikheil, son of Zaal, Kipiani)