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When did we stop using the long s?

The long s (s) was a form of the letter s used in writing throughout Europe in the early modern era. It looked similar to the letter f, but without the crossbar. The long s gradually fell out of use over the course of the 19th century. Here’s a quick overview of the history and usage of the long s.

What is the long s?

The long s is a form of the letter s with a long top stroke, known as an ascender. It looks similar to the letter f, but without the crossbar. For example:

  • Standard s: s
  • Long s: s

The long s was used in handwriting and print alongside the normal s (known as the short s). Words could contain both the long and short s.

When was the long s used?

The long s has a long history of usage dating back to Roman times. It was standard practice to use the long s at the beginning and middle of words, while the short s was used at the end of words. Some key dates for the usage of the long s include:

  • 11th century – Long s introduced in medieval handwriting
  • 1470s – Long s appears in early printed books after the invention of the printing press
  • Early 17th century – Long s reaches its peak usage in printed books in languages like English and German
  • Late 18th century – Usage of long s begins declining in favor of short s
  • Early 19th century – Long s is phased out of printed materials

There were some exceptions where the long s was used at the end of words, especially in certain occupations such as watchmakers using signage like “Watchmakerss” well into the 19th century.

Why was the long s used?

There are a few key reasons why the long s was traditionally used:

  • Distinction – It helped distinguish between similar-looking letter pairs like “ss” and “fs”
  • Etymology – It was reflective of the origins of written letter forms that developed in Roman and medieval handwriting
  • Aesthetics – Long s was thought to give a pleasing visual balance to texts on the page

However, any functional benefits of the long s for clarity or aesthetics were eventually outweighed by the desire for standardization as printing expanded.

When did the use of long s decline?

The decline of the long s occurred gradually over the 18th and early 19th centuries. Some key factors that led to this decline include:

  • Standardization – Printers wanted to standardize texts and avoid using multiple s forms
  • Typography – New fonts designed without the long s became popular
  • Efficiency – Long s was seen as inefficient to continue using
  • Confusion – Some readers found the long s confusing or mistaken for f

By the early 1800s, use of the long s had mostly disappeared from printed materials in English. German texts continued using it slightly longer but it was largely obsolete by the mid-late 1800s.

When did use of the long s end?

The endpoint for the long s occurred in different stages for different languages and regions:

  • English – Early 19th century (around 1810s)
  • German – Mid 19th century (around 1850s)
  • Sweden – Late 19th century (around 1870s)

In the English-speaking world, the last major uses of the long s holdout occurred in the early 1800s in the United States by newspapers like the Columbian Centinel and books like Samuel Hopkins’ Memoirs.

Examples of the long s in use

Here are some examples illustrating how the long s was used in early modern English:

  • Possesseth (1611 King James Bible)
  • Congresss (United States Constitution first print, 1787)
  • Universalhass (Samuel Hopkins, 1805)

German texts used the long s even longer. For example:

  • Fleschs (Fleisch’s, Lutheran hymnal, 1778)
  • Schiffahrtss (1852 edition of Steck and Gerlach’s world atlas)

Can the long s still be seen today?

While no longer used in standard writing, some examples of the long s in historical texts and signage can still be seen today. Places you may encounter the long s include:

  • Reproductions of old texts – Many classics and facsimiles use the long s
  • Historical signs and logos – Companies established before the early 1800s may have used a long s
  • Stylized design – Some fonts, logos, and graphic designs use long s for vintage appeal

So in summary, while not in modern usage, the long s still appears today when replicating historic texts and signage.


The long s had a long run, but was eventually phased out due to shifts in typography and the desire for standardization as printing expanded. It disappeared from English in the early 1800s but held on a bit longer in other languages. The long s can still be found today in reproductions of historic texts and signage. So while it ultimately went extinct in standard usage, the long s remains a unique relic of the typographic past.