Reading Raised Print

Listen to Reading Raised Print

Although Howe designed pages for all to read, he did not think reading Boston Line would be easy. Howe challenged a sighted colleague to touch an embossed page and say if it “feels like any thing you ever saw.” Learning to read raised print took a lot of practice. Howe suggested that a trained student could read tactilely at a third the speed of a sighted person reading aloud.

Boston Line Type was imperfect but hugely successful. Howe distributed these books widely. In 1869, in fact, Charles Dickens paid to have 250 copies of his novel The Old Curiosity Shop printed in Boston Line Type.

Howe made reading more accessible, but, as you will see in the next section, this success had its costs.

If you are able to print the objects, compare the feel of Boston Line Type to the braille hung to the side. What do you notice about each?


The sketchfab interface below contains additional hidden links picked up by screen readers. The starting element is a link and ending element is the text "to rotate."

Description of the Snowflakes

This illustration appeared on a page of the 1845 raised-print edition of Denison Olmsted's physics textbook. It shows four types of snowflakes under magnification: one with bulbous ends, one with a fern-like pattern, one with six hexagons and stems, and one made of twelve diamonds. This page makes tactile what a sighted student would see in Olmsted's ink-printed textbook, but it also makes tactile what even sighted students could not observe directly in nature without the assistance of a microscope.

Henry G. Stephens Learns to Read Again

Henry Stephens had been deaf for twenty-seven years when he lost his sight. Within three years, he learned Boston Line Type and read all the books he could get his hands on. Still, his initial efforts were not without frustration. In 1891, Stephens recounted learning to read Boston Line Type:

“For the first three months I labored diligently, early and late, upon the easy spelling and reading lessons in the primer, often spending entire days and evenings in fingering a single page…[I managed] to master the Morning and Evening Services and the Litany of the Protestant Episcopal Church, with which I was not familiar, in about eighteen months… There were times when, elated with my success, I gave loud-voiced utterances to expressions of pure delight. There were many times of discouragement, when I felt that all my efforts were useless.”