The Hindu characters were now known, but they came into general use very slowly, for the same reason that the metric system is not adopted immediately nowadays. The Roman characters, computation on the abacus, and various devices held their own obstinately through force of custom. Moreover, before the era of printing no knowledge could be spread rapidly among the mass of the people, and for the most part the counting of the ordinary man could be done upon his fingers.
A coin of Roger of Sicily is dated with the Hindu numerals in 1138. In 1390 an Italian coin is so dated; in France, one of 1485. There is a Scotch piece of 1538, but apparently none for England until 1551. A French manuscript of 1275 contains a treatise upon these numerals. They are used in the inscription upon a grave at Pforzheim in 1371, and upon one at Ulm in 1388. In 1170 they are used to date a book:
In 1471 the pages are so numbered in a work of Petrarch printed at Cologne.
They were still used in curious and confused combinations. In a work of 1470, 147 and 150 are written respectively
CC2 stands for 202. About the same time 12901 means 1291, m.cccc.8II stands for 1482, and MCCCCXL6 for 1446. Somewhat earlier ca is written for 104; somewhat later 1vojj for 1502.
The forms of the numeral signs varied as much as they do now upon the slates of children learning in school. These forms were not well fixed until after the general use of printing.
One is frequently written i. Other forms are
Two is often z, so that iz = 12.
Three is usually recognizable.
Not so four, which has varied greatly.
- From Smith and Karpinski, "The Hindu-Arabic Numerals."