Paleography, n.

  • The study of ancient writing and inscriptions; the science or art of deciphering and interpreting historical manuscripts and writing systems. (Oxford English Dictionary)

One of the challenges and joys of the work we do in Footprints is the huge variety of handwritings that we find in the books we encounter.  Owners of Jewish books spread from Afghanistan to Los Angeles, and beyond, and with owner inscriptions from the 15th to the 21st centuries, we have handwritings that run the gamut from clear and beautiful to downright messy.

In some cases, it is not the handwriting that is a problem, but the script or language in which the words are written.  A stamp in Polish, for instance, stumped a reader who was fluent in other languages.

Sometimes only part of a phrase can be read, like this inscription, where the owner discusses the importance of signing his name in the book, but did not clearly write his own name.

In all of these cases, the scholar entering the footprint added the words “Can you help?” to the Notes field of the footprint.  If you search the words “Can you help” (without quotation marks), you’ll receive around fifty footprints in the results, all of which proved difficult to decipher for the scholars entering their data.

So take a look!  Whether your specialty is a 19th century Suriname, 17th century Europe, or loopy Roman characters, there are plenty of opportunities to assist.

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