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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


Index, fist or manicule?


Third revised specimen book and price list of printing material (1887), Palmer & Rey, San Francisco.

Browsing through old type foundry catalogues recently reminded me of a question posed by Callum James a few years ago over at Front Free Endpaper, namely: what is the official description of those pointing hands favoured by pre-20th century typesetters? Writer Mark Valentine in a follow-up post mentions a term invented by William H Sherman—”manicules”—since Sherman also believed that the pointing hands were nameless. That’s not quite the case, however, as these pages show, with two descriptors being used: “indexes” and “fists”. Just to confuse matters both terms are used on different pages of the same catalogue which implies that the names may have been a convenience term to avoid having to repeatedly discuss “those pointing hand things” with customers. “Manicule” seems a better choice since “index” already has a standard meaning in printing, while “fist” doesn’t suit at all.

These catalogues contain many pages of similar type decorations and embellishments. All can be downloaded at the Internet Archive, just follow the links.


Third revised specimen book and price list of printing material (1887), Palmer & Rey, San Francisco.


Catalogue and book of specimens of type faces and printing material and machinery (1895), Cleveland Type Foundry.


Copper alloy type book (1901), Pettingill & Co., Boston.


Copper alloy type book (1901), Pettingill & Co., Boston.

Update: Thanks to Alan in the comments for pointing the way (so to speak) to William Sherman’s Toward a History of the Manicule.

Update 2: See this manicule Flickr group for many contemporary examples.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Victorian typography



Posted in {books}, {design}, {typography}.

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11 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Gabriel Mc Cann

  2. #2 posted by John


    Swiped from Michelangelo by the looks of things. I wouldn’t be surprised if Terry Gilliam had used some of the print ones but I can’t think of an example, er…offhand.

  3. #3 posted by Gabriel Mc Cann


    His most famous one is the foot from Bronzino’s painting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus,_Cupid,_Folly_and_Time
    The one just above the dove

  4. #5 posted by John


    Yes, that’s my favourite painting of Bronzino’s, I’ve seen the original in the National Gallery.

    That’s a great cover. I’ve got the German book they’ve plundered some of those details from. Also funny given this post the way he’s pointing his fingers.

  5. #6 posted by Alan


    Bill Sherman’s 2004 paper, ‘Toward a history of the manicule’, is worth a read: he discusses the alternative descriptors and explains why he settled on the term. It’s available at
    or as a pdf, with added maniculae (26 pages, 224k)

  6. #7 posted by John


    Hi Alan, and thanks. Mark Valentine referred to a TLS piece but it’s better to go to the source. Interesting seeing that “fist” was a fairly common usage.

  7. #8 posted by Piotr


    I love the fact that these “manicules” are even included in Unicode : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_%28typography%29

    And thanks for posting the links to these catalogues !

  8. #9 posted by Nick Sherman


    I founded a Flickr photo group dedicated to manicules which is approaching 1,400 entries at the moment. Thought you might be interested in checking it out:

  9. #10 posted by John


    Hi Nick. Thanks for the tip, that’s great. I’ve added a link to the post as well.






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