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Braille / New York Point

System of tactile writing and reading invented by William Bell Wait, for many years superintendent of the New York State School for the Blind. The system used one to four pairs of points set side by side.

I learned how to read everything sooner than anyone else in my class. – Mary Ingalls

Before returning to the Blind Asylum for her second year, Mary Ingalls signed sister Laura’s autograph album. Mary read and wrote in raised print and in New York Point, not Braille, as it is written in the Little House books.

New York Point was a genuine American system developed by William B. Wait in the years following the Civil War. He desired to improve Braille by remodeling it, on principles of compactness and ecomony of time and space. Following careful study, Wait came to the conclusion that the vertical position of Braille signs (two dots wide and three dots high), was defective in more than one important respect. Owing to its limited number of only sixty-three possible single signs, it was inadequate to the requirements of music, if not to those of literature and mathematics as well; it was also found to be much more bulky, thus increasing the cost of printing books. Click HERE to see the New York Point alphabet.

A different mode of sign structure was devised, employing two points instead of three vertically, and extending the base forms to three, four, or even five points horizontally. Thus, books printed in Braille took 51 to 75 percent more space (or more) than the same text in New York Point. For example, Braille uses a separate sign to indicate capital letters (meaning each capital letter employs two symbols, whereas New York Point had separate symbols for capital and lower case letters.

Both the blind and seeing community saw the advantages of having one standardized system which would be taught and used in English-speaking countries. Naturally, the merits of New York Point and Braille (both American and English), raised print, and other systems, were hotly debated. The debate is also widely documented; just google. After decades of debate (and in a nutshell), New York Point lost.

Although the autograph page image above isn’t very clear (it’s a captured still from a video I took of the album page, which is a good reminder to check your camera settings every once in a while), Mary’s entry to Laura reads: “Aug 11 83 Dear Laura I wish you success and happiness. Think of me when I am gone and remember tempus fugit. Mary.” The image below is what took me several hours to decipher:


New York Point