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 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. There are many conjectures about the derivation of the name höfðaletur, but no definite evidence exists.
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
- 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.
- Brynjúlfur, "Um Höfðaletur," p. 37.
- 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.
- Brynjúlfur, "Um Höfðaletur," p. 36 refers to a farmer and smith who relocated around 1870 and is still using them.
- Brynjúlfur Jónsson (1899). German translation by M. Lehmann-Filhés. "Über Höfðaletur". Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 9: pp.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.
- Gauntlet, by Gunnlaug Briem, a modern font based on Höfðaletur
- Award-winning advertising campaign for Nordic Music Days Iceland, 2006 by Hörður Lárusson, Sigurður Orri Þórhannesson and Sól Hrafnsdóttir using a new font called Rich Hard based on Höfðaletur
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