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The Collation

"I see it feelingly": a raised-type King Lear

For many of the books in our collection, an unassuming cover can turn out to protect a fascinating text block. What makes this one unusual is the discovery, upon opening the cover, that this book is meant to be read not with the eyes, but with the fingertips! (Luckily for my unpracticed digits, it’s also fairly easy to interpret the type visually.)

King Lear title page

the title page of an 1871 raised-type King Lear

This 1871 edition of King Lear (Sh.Col. 268- 146f) was printed in raised type by the Kentucky-based American Publishing House for the Blind (still in operation today). It represents two significant advances in the effort to make books available for blind readers: new forms of type, and new printing presses. 

  1. Kimberly French, Perkins School for the Blind (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Press, 2004), p. 65.
  2. Henry J. Wagg, A chronological survey of work for the blind (London: National Institute for the Blind, 1932), p. 3.
  3. Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind. “The first book for blind people”.
  4. The National Magazine, volume 10, p. 123.
  5. If you’re interested in more examples of raised-type printing, the University of Virginia’s Small Special Collections Library shows off several examples from their collection here, and Slate‘s The Vault blog features an 1837 Howe atlas.
  6. Koestler, Francis A. The unseen minority: a social history of blindness in the United States. (New York: American Foundation for the Blind, 2004), page 106.
  7. Stephen Preston Ruggles,” in Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (May 1880-June 1881), page 433-434.
  8. About $78–117 at 2015 currency rates.
  9. New York’s library for the blind” in Our day: a record and review of current reform (Volume 21, 1902), p. 4.
  10. “The war of the dots,” in Robert B. Irwin, As I saw it (New York: American Foundation for the Blind, 2004), pp 1-56.


Fascinating! I suspect this is new to many of us. It’s my understanding that Braille was originally introduced to help blind musicians read music, and was only later applied to written language.

A neuroscience footnote: the occipital cortex, that normally processes visual input, is turned over to auditory processing in the blind, meaning blind musicians have much more of their brain to rely on for music.

Richard M. Waugaman — March 17, 2015


Agreed, I had no idea that this existed, and interesting to learn that blind musicians have an advantage in one respect.

Jan Kellett — March 19, 2015


I believe the first published version of Braille’s system covered text and music equally, but as it was very much a work in progress, and Braille was a longtime musician, it seems probable that he would have had both uses in mind when developing it! (The National Federation of the Blind provides images of the first edition of his book, Procedure for Writing Words, Music, and Plainsong in Dots – printed in raised type, of course, probably Haüy-style – as well as its original French text and an English translation, and music is a very major component of it:

Thank you for the neuroscience footnote! I’m always impressed by the brain’s capacity for adaptation.

Sarah Hovde — March 18, 2015


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