Online Tuition in the Palaeography of Scottish Documents

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Letter s, scharfes s

The letter s in Secretary Hand comes in two forms: the long-s, which descends below the line and the short-s.

long s and short s

When written close to another letter, the short-s can be hard to make out. In the word James below the cross stroke of the e continues into the s, which makes the e and s look a little like a single letter (a little like a curly w). The up-stroke of the short-s sometimes fades, leaving what looks like a small dot above the line (as in the word was below).

James was

There was a tendency to use the long-s when starting words, and the short-s when finishing words: as in the word scandalous below. Words with a double-s can look odd, either where the long-s is doubled (as in the word Issobell below) or where both kinds are used (as in the word drunkenness below).

scandalous, Issobell, drunkenness

Another, older, form of the letter s, used in Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries can cause problems. It looks like this:

s

When written quickly it can look like a capital E, as in the word DEttis below (written partly in capitals and partly in lower case).

DEttis

Scharfes s

As well as having a symbol for the plural ending -is, the early-modern Scots had a special symbol for the sound sis or ses. In its simple form it looks rather like the German letter scharfes s.

The example below shows the words diuerss offens[sis] or offens[ses] (today we would write diverse offences). Note the sis symbol at the end of the word offens[sis]. It is almost a miniature version of the double s at the end of the word diuerss.

diverse offences

This sis symbol could also be used to mean ser, scher, schir, and sar. In the next image the word commissar has been abbreviated to co[m]mis[sar]. This is one of the most frequent abbreviations encountered in Scotland, as the word commissar occurs in testaments registered in commissary courts.

commissar

The scharfes-s was used frequently in Scotland to signify shilling or shillings, or the equivalent Latin words solidus (singular) or solidi (plural). For example in the image below the words ten shillings (or ten solidi) are abbreviated to x (the Latin numeral for 10) and the scharfes-s.

ten shillings

When transcribed this could be written:
x s[hillingi]s, except that in amounts of money like this, it is not always clear if the clerk literally means shillings or solidi. Sometimes transcribers simply use the forms s., s, ss., ss, sh. or sh. On this site, we by and large use the form s~ or ss~.