A Brush With The Elegant Ampersand


Ampersand is one of the very few typographical characters that has been a part of our daily lives since we can remember. It was the uniqueness of ampersand that made designers experiment with the design of ampersand. The end results at times were amazing while sometimes it was hard to recognize the outcome. I might not leave a shiver down your spine when I introduce you to the history of ampersand but believe me, it is worth your time. Today, we will dive into the past and understand how ampersand become what it is today – Ampersand. Also, we will admire some of the most amazing experimental ampersand designs that designers could imagine.

From “and, per se and” to “ampersand”

Instead of making this discussion a chapter eligible for history books, let me cut things short:

  • 63 B.C. - Marcus Tullius who was Cicero’s slave started the tradition of including ampersand in his literature. Reciters would pronounce it as “and, per se and” which meant “and by itself [means] and”.
  • 79 A.D. - The city of Pompeii showcases the symbol on its walls as part of city graffiti.
  • 775 A.D. - The letters E and T (where “et” is Latin for “and”) were being usually written together (shown in image below) to form a ligature. The symbol used for this would soon become our very own ampersand.

Image from Wikipedia

  • An interesting fact is that if ampersand was not available to be used, usually due to cost involved in designing the same, writers would use the combination of 8 and c as replacement for ampersand.

  • 1111 A.D. - The symbol was unofficially included in the character set by an Anglo-Saxon monk, Byrhtferð.
  • 1499 A.D. - Aldus Manutius prints Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili using 25 ampersands on a single page.
  • 1837 A.D. - It was the 17th and the 18th century when some primers started to include ampersand as the 27th character of the English alphabet. It was in the year 1837 when dictionaries officially started to include the word ampersand in their list.

How to Draw Ampersand?

I am not kidding. There are people who get confused when it comes to drawing ampersand. When you look at the symbol Ampersand and compare it with Treble Clef then you might not find much differences.

Please understand that Ampersand is a character used in English Sentences while Clef is a music symbol and Treble Clef is part of the same set of music symbols.

Now, back to drawing an Ampersand symbol. If you see the image above (Ampersand on the left section of the image) then it should be pretty clear as to how you can draw the same. Let me explain the same in words and see if you are in sync with me:

  • Start from the lower right corner
  • Go up and slightly to your left
  • When at the top, move towards right and loop downward towards your left
  • Now curl under up to your right going up.
  • Continue till you cross your original stroke.
  • Practice again!

Usage of Ampersand and Important Rules

While the most important usage of Ampersand is in our cell phone SMSes, there is a lot more to it that we can learn. You might already be aware of what I tell you but I assure you that you might be committing silly mistakes just because you overlooked the rules.

  • Never replace “and” with & – Usually we make this mistake. While writing English sentences we tend to use “&” symbol whenever we want to use the word “and”. This is the most common and the laziest of mistakes that humans commit. I don’t because my beautiful English teacher scolded me a lot for such mistakes. *blushes*
  • FACT – Did you know that “&c.” can be used as replacement for “etc.”? Well, it can be. Although, I will suggest you to avoid this in your daily life as half of the readers might not understand it.
  • Addressing a couple – Mr. & Mrs. Smith! If you use “&” instead of “and” while addressing a couple then, somehow, it won’t be considered a mistake.
  • Firms dealing law, stock markets and architecture – This is one usage of Ampersand which has kept it alive on the official front. Otherwise by not it might have been limited to SMS language only.
  • Used to indicate a two-part name – Ampersand can be used to indicate a two-part name. An example would be – James, Mr. & Mrs. Jackson, and John.

Ampersand for Webmasters

We (the webmasters) know this already. Right? After all this is part of our bread and butter. Anyways, let me go through the same all over again. You know, just in case.

HTML Ampersand Character Codes are usually used to depict symbols that are impossible to type otherwise. See the image below to get a clear understanding of what I mean:

You can get a detailed list of abbreviations here and here.

The Showcase

Well, that was lot of information for us to consume in one go. Let us ease out our minds by admiring some of the neat ampersand designs.

1. Papyrus Handwriting

2. Regency Script

3. Caviar Dreams

4. Scriptina

5. Hill House



  1. Enjoyed this one. I love the history of shapes in typography and language.
    awesome read :) thanks for such a well-written article. that too on something that’s not thought abt much but used extensively :)
    Thanks for posting!

  2. This is a unique and useful post, thanks for sharing with us! Who would have thought that a character we use everyday has so much history to tell? I also had an “Aha!” moment with the 8 + c. I never figured it out. Thanks again!

  3. chandru

    awesome read :) thanks for such a well-written article. that too on something that’s not thought abt much but used extensively :)