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Höfðaletur (head letters) is an unusual Icelandic font used in carving that has recently been adapted for use in printing. The letters do not have a fixed form.


The oldest known examples of Höfðaletur are thought to be 16th century, and the font is considered to have been modeled on Gothic textura.[1]

The letters do not have a fixed form, but the verticals all have a "head" that is decorated with carving, usually simple and sloping but sometimes double.[2] There are many conjectures about the derivation of the name höfðaletur, but no definite evidence exists.[3]

Older examples of Höfðaletur are carved on wood and are always deeply incised so that the letters are in relief. Modern examples may also be found on metal objects, such as wedding rings. According to Brynjúlfur Jónsson, Höfðaletur replaced the quite different Spónletur ("spoon-letters") on spoons and other silver objects in the late nineteenth century[4]

Modern uses[edit]

Some Icelandic font developers have experimented with Höfðaletur, including Gunnlaug Briem, Hörður Lárusson. [5] Sigurður Orri Þórhannesson and Sól Hrafnsdóttir.[6]


  1. ^ Brynjúlfur Jónsson, "Um Höfðaletur," Árbók hins Íslenzka Fornleifafélags 15 (1900), pp. 38-39 (pdf) says that the earliest examples he has seen with dates are from the second half of the 17th century, but that the objects appear to be older, and that letters based on Latin forms appear to be younger.
  2. ^ Brynjúlfur, "Um Höfðaletur," p. 37.
  3. ^ Brynjúlfur, "Um Höfðaletur," pp. 39-40 mentions three theories: that the name refers to its being "capital" letters, although lowercase letters are sometimes found; that it refers to the decoration in the "heads" of the letters; and that it was invented in a settlement called Höfði, but says that its origins, name, and age are all mysteries.
  4. ^ Brynjúlfur, "Um Höfðaletur," p. 36 refers to a farmer and smith who relocated around 1870 and is still using them.
  5. ^ http://larusson.com/verk.php?id=29
  6. ^ http://www.grafiksense.net/hello/?id=6

Further reading[edit]

  • Brynjúlfur Jónsson (1899). German translation by M. Lehmann-Filhés. "Über Höfðaletur". Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 9: 181–88.  (Internet archive)
  • Gunnlaugur S.E. Briem, "Höfðaletur: A Study of Icelandic Ornamental Lettering from the Sixteenth Century to the Present," PhD Thesis, Royal College of Art, 1980 OCLC 59061463.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Höfðaletur — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
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