Miracles lately vvrovght: the use of “vv” for “w” in 17th-century titles

In earlier posts I surveyed the use of “v” for “u” in titles and imprints of books printed in the Southern Netherlands. In both cases, this habit clearly faded out in the course of the seventeenth century. These findings, in combination with the following title page, prompt the question what happens with the combination of “V”s representing a “W.”

VV used for W on a 1606 title page. Copy Folger STC 18746

“VV” used for “W” on a 1606 title page (Folger STC 18746)

The best known example of this usage of “VV” for “W” probably is the title page of the First Folio. The reason for the usage of the combination of two “V”s is that originally the “W” was not included in the printer’s lettercase.

I was wondering whether the “VV” for “W” would disappear in the course of the seventeenth century at the same time as the “V” for “U” in title words of books printed in the Southern Netherlands.

To figure that out, I stuck to the same dataset as for my previous research: the dataset consisted of 7,389 dated publications, the titles of which contain, in total, 97,026 words. The combination “vv,” “VV,” or “Vv” occurred only 380 times in the entire collection, although the combination “vv” does not stand for “w” in all instances. In the case of “Lovvain,” for instance, the first “v” represents “u” and the second “v” is just a “v”: Louvain (Dutch: Leuven), the city where the oldest university of the Low Countries was founded, in 1425.

In only 270 title words, the combination “vv” suggests a “w,” as in the example given before: “vvrovght” for “wrought.” The majority of the examples are to be found in Dutch-language titles, with only a handful in Latin titles—the Latin language does not use “w,” and when the letter does appear, it is in proper names. A nice example is this description of the history of Ireland, which was dedicated to Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, or “VVilhelm,” as the title states.

A Latin title from 1651 with a proper name using "VV" for "W" (STCV 12915116)

A Latin title from 1651 with a proper name using “VV” for “W” (STCV 12915116)

If we add all the words in which, according to modern spelling rules, a “w” should appear to those in which indeed a “w” is used, we end up with a dataset of 456 words. In 59% of the cases, the combination “vv” appears. The following graph describes how the intensity of that custom evolves over the course of the seventeenth century.

Ill. 03 Graph

I have two observations about this graph. First of all, although the dataset is fairly limited, it shows more or less a diminishing trend. In the first decade of the seventeenth century, 79% of all words that have or should have a “w” use the combination “vv.” At the end of the century, that share has dropped to 55%. In this respect, we can see the same general trend as in title words and imprints using “v” for “u.” But secondly, in contrast to the situation with v-words, vv-words remain present in a great deal of the cases, also at the end of the seventeenth century. The question arises when vv-words finally disappear—a survey of eighteenth-century titles is needed.

In attendance of this follow-up research to be executed, I am pondering over potential explanations for this phenomenon. In smaller typefaces, the letter “w” had entered the printer’s cases long before the end of the seventeenth century, both in lower case as in capitals. But how was the situation for larger types? A survey of letter proofs may help to answer this question.

Author: Goran Proot

GORAN PROOT is Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Rare Books at the Folger Shakespeare Library. He is currently surveying layout and typography in early modern books.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: