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Tangram alphabet

Thanks to a comment on the previous post by Erick, my attention was drawn to the instruction booklet that accompanied Dr Richter’s Anchor Puzzle.

This puzzle was essentially a repackaged version of the classic tangram that had made its way from China around the beginning of the 19th century. Its German name Kopfzerbrecher (headache) alludes to Dr Richter’s other line in business as a vendor of pain-relief medication, which the puzzles were used to promote.

However, what particularly grabbed my attention was the full set of tangram letters and numbers found in the Anchor Puzzle’s instruction booklet, each figure being designed using all of the available pieces. As every character is helpfully printed to the same scale, I have assembled them alphabetically in the image above. Note that the letter “I” is missing, as was often the case in Germany at this time, “J” being used in its place (for example, E.O. Richter’s “Industrie” drawing instrument sets were given a “J” prefix, the case inscription being written “Jndustrie”).

To my eye there is an element of the German Fraktur typefaces to their styling, but this is possibly a natural result of the angles found in the tangram pieces. Although the instruction booklet is said to date from the 1890s, there is something undeniably modern about the alphabet’s appearance, which would not look out of place on the cover of a heavy metal album.

A search for tangram alphabet reveals that Richter’s is by no means the only such effort, although almost certainly one of the earliest. Disappointingly, a similar search for stomachion alphabet draws a blank. If only I had the time, this would surely be a project worth pursuing!

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