In addition to inventing round shredded wheat, Scott H. Perky also patented an audacious font concept in 1909. Citing the inefficiencies of reading only from left to right, Perky proposed a symmetrical font that would allow books to be typeset in lines of alternating direction…
The invention consists in certain means of printing alternate lines, whereby the reading can be done from left to right and from right to left in a continuous manner, and the skipping from end of one line to the opposite end of the next is avoided.
It is hardly necessary to allude to the strain upon the eyes and brain, which results from much reading. To students, researchers and others whose lives are cast among books, any device which promises to … lessen fatigue of the optical tract, and consequent headache and brain fag, will appear of unusual importance. In ordinary reading … the brain is exerted through the eyes in movements from left to right with alternate senseless skippings from right to left …
In carrying out this invention it is designed to use a font of type, whereof each… letter, number or other character… is of symmetrical form… and is thus adapted to present the same appearance whether read backward or forward…
In reading print of this character… difficulty will at first be found owing to the unaccustomed appearance of the symmetrical characters, but in a limited amount of time, the mind becomes familiar with them and this trouble will disappear. And in the continuous hold of the eye and mind on the text, as the reading proceeds, without skipping or losing place or connection, will be found much compensation.
from the text of Patent No. 921,156
Note: the highlighted phrase “brain fag” is no typo:
The term “brain fag” was used in the US as far back as 1852, describing an overworked brain, in 1877 to describe mental exhaustion in professionals similar to neurasthenia, and later in 1919 to describe mental fatigue in the elderly. The term ‘fag’ is believed to have been derived from ‘fatigue’. This American usage declined by the 1950s.
from Wikipedia entry on Brain Fag
The other phrase “senseless skippings” is highlighted because I thought it was kind of poetic for a patent.
(The first 3 lines of Perky’s patent, set in his patented font, after the fold…)
Why did I not just go ahead and set the entire text in this audacious 2-way font? Brain fag.
(See also: Ambigram Branding)
Update: My friend, David Wilder, just pointed out to me that bi-drectional text (in 1909) was nothing new…
Boustrophedon: from Greek βουστροφηδόν “ox-turning”—that is, turning like oxen in ploughing), is a type of bi-directional text, mostly seen in ancient manuscripts and other inscriptions. Every other line of writing is flipped or reversed, with reversed letters. Rather than going left-to-right as in modern English, or right-to-left as in Hebrew and Arabic, alternate lines in boustrophedon must be read in opposite directions. Also, the individual characters are reversed, or mirrored.
from Wikipedia’s entry on Boustrophedon
Beach Packaging Design