on a Barn in Kent, &c.
From the books of our earliest printer, Caxton, another evidence of the no common use of Arabic numerals may be deduced. As far as I can collect from Tanner's catalogue of them in Bibliotheca Britannica, and from Lewis's Life of Caxton, in not one of these volumes is the date of the year of publication noticed in the common figures. It is also observable, that when the leaves are numbered capital letters are used, as they are in the signatures of the sheets. The common figures which are printed in Lewis's Life of Caxton might warrant a supposition of their occurring in several parts of the books he has quoted; but I must own I am rather apt to suspect that in this case, as well as in the epitaphs inserted in the Histories of Faversham abbey and the Isle of Tenet, he for his own convenience, when making the extracts, thus wrote them; and I think it will be readily admitted that Caxton could not have found a want of many types (if any such he had) of Arabic numerals, because they could so rarely have occurred in the MSS. which were to pass under his press.
7 blended with (symbol characters), and placed between the initials of his names, was Caxton's device; and some have thought this cypher, as an abbreviation of 1474, might be commemorative of the year when he began printing in England. But though Caxton's books are not dated with Arabic numerals, you inform me, on the authority of Ames, that Rhetorica Nova Gulielmi de Saona, one of the first books printed at St. Alban's, has this impression 14A?.
Respecting the no general use of these figures in marking dates previous to the sixteenth century one more evidence mall be offered;
- A Table of English Silver Coins, p. 19.
- Ibid. p. 24.