You Ampersand I
Oh I have a lot of love for the ampersand. It’s an artistic character, which affords great beauty with classic swashes and heavy terminals.
If, like me, you’re a massive type nerd, you probably practised the more fun characters over and again. Skimming your WHSmith fountain pen into archaic, loopy shapes…
& & & & & & & & & &… Well, who wouldn’t want to follow in Seb Lesters’s footsteps?
Ampersands are a result of scribes combining the characters ‘e’ and ‘t’ for the word ‘et’, but was first credited as shorthand by Marcus Tiro in 63 BC.
Many ligatures have gone out of favour, but ‘&’, seems to have stuck.
The ampersand was originally considered the 27th letter of the alphabet. When recited aloud in the school rooms, children would end it with ‘X, Y, Z and per se and.’ The ‘per se’ indicated that ‘and’ was a separate letter. This became corrupted to ‘ampersand’.
With the arrival of the print press, Claude Garamond created the longest lasting and classical ampersand. Clean, legible and strong, it’s elegance is it’s legacy.
The sans serif character often gets used in signage and logos. The team behind the Ampersand Conference use it as the flagship name and logo for their talks, it’s form amplifies design and craft to creatives and non-creatives alike.
It’s probably staring at you from your keyboard right now.
The longevity of the Ampersand relies on it’s ability to be manipulated. William Caslon, who began as a gunsmith, engraving rifles with elaborate initials destined for a loved one, is credited with creating the most personable ampersand, seen below. The ‘e’ marries the ‘t’ with a friendly loop and bold ink spot terminals.
Through the long history of print and typography, ampersands seem to have benefited the most, working beautifully in scripts, handwritten fonts and on the web. They’ve been developed without losing their legibility or legacy.
The best example of its usage is the 2010 Font Aid IV: Coming Together:
‘A font created exclusively for Font Aid IV to benefit the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The font consists entirely of ampersands, to represent the idea of people coming together to help one another.’
The Society of Typographic Aficionados
The font has over 4o0 glyphs and travels well. The same ligature can be used for ‘und’ in German, the Italian and Portuguese ‘e’ and the Danish ‘og’, enabling this charitable enterprise to reach further through the ampersand.
However space-saving and recognisable this ligature is, you should only use it when you’re being informal or really pushed for space. Using it in website navigation or in call to action buttons can make legibility difficult.
The ampersand should only be used within a business name (Smith & Wesson) or in an abbreviation such as ‘R&D’ (research and development).
Language changes and with the internet the ampersand has scope to adapt the grammar laws. I mean, one character instead of three in a tweet?! Thanks Ampersand!
Furthermore, without it the English wouldn’t have B&Q or M&S. And we’d all be totally lost without Ben & Jerry’s.