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Louis Braille (1809-1852)
The Inventor of Print for the Blind

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This page                Machins for Disabled

In 1786, Valentin HaŁy (approximate pronunciation: Aee-yi), the founder of France's first school for the blind, produced a first book in blind writing using relief printing of Latin-alphabet capital letters.  1810 saw the publication in Vienna of the first book for the blind where Latin-alphabet characters were embossed using dotted lines, with the help of lead type. Read further about Valentin HaŁy below on this page. However, reading the characters with these two methods turned out to be too time consuming, and the relief printing also took up a lot of space.  

France 1959.  Semi-postal showing the portrait of Valentin HaŁy (1745-1822), founder of France's first school for the blind. France 1948.  Semi-postal showing the portrait of Louis Braille.†

Braille -- named after a French teacher of the blind, Louis Braille -- was one of the key inventions of the 19th century, and probably crucial for the integration of the blind into society.  

Braille, the Print for the blind, with its easy-to-feel dots is today used worldwide.  

The stamps on the left are: 

  • France 1959.  Semi-postal showing the portrait of Valentin HaŁy (1745-1822), founder of France's first school for the blind.

  • France 1948.  Semi-postal showing the portrait of Louis Braille. 

The Braille Alphabet. The dots read Louis Braille.

  • The Braille Alphabet. The dots read Louis Braille, see the below scheme. 

The alphabet consists of six Braille cells, two dots wide and three dots high.  Each letter consists of a different combination of one to six raised dots within the Braille cells; blind people read the characters by feeling the raised dots with their fingers.

Numbers in the Braille-system are introduced by a special symbol, visually looking like a mirrored  "L".  When this symbol is placed in front of e.g. the 3rd letter of the alphabet (the letter "C"), it creates a "3". 

Following the alphabet shown above, it is easy to read the Braille-print on the Danish stamp below right.  The top row says "Danmark", and the bottom row reads "350".   The number is preceded by the (visually) inverted "L", then comes the letter "C" standing for 3, then the letter "E" standing for 5, and finally the letter "J" standing for "0". 

Denmark 1986.  Semi-postal for the benefit of the 75th anniversary of the Institute for the Blind, Denmark.  Denmark 1990. Stamp with Braille Print.
  • Denmark 1986.  Semi-postal for the benefit of the 75th anniversary of the Institute for the Blind, Denmark.  It is impossible to see the notches on the scan, but they are there, and one can easily feel them with one's fingertips.

  • Denmark 1990.  The stamp is shown largely oversized, as it would otherwise be impossible to show the Braille-print on the white background colour clearly.  The stamp's natural size is 4 x 2,5 cm. 

Belgium 1967.  Semi-postal depicting Desiderius Erasmus.†

Netherlands 1969.  500th birth anniversary of Desiderius Erasmus.

The  Roman rhetorician Quintilian (who lived from 35 to 100 AD) had letters engraved on tablets, as part of writing instruction, so that his (sighted) students could hone their writing skills by following the set outline of the letters. 

Desiderius Erasmus -- Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) -- adopted this method and also recommended it for teaching writing to the blind.  However, blind people were still unable to read what was written by themselves.

  • Belgium 1967.  Semi-postal depicting Desiderius Erasmus. 

  • Netherlands 1969.  500th birth anniversary of Desiderius Erasmus. Scans by courtesy of Rob Vlaardingerbroek (The Netherlands).

During the 17th century the Jesuit, Francesco Lana, was a pioneering advocate of a useful system of writing for the blind.  He searched tirelessly for new systems, such as knotted cords, letters notched into wood or various other materials.  Finally, he came up with a combined dot and line system that comes very close to that of Louis Braille. 

Netherlands 1975.†150th anniversary of Braille script.†† Brazil 1974.†Souvenir sheet in Braille Script Switzerland 2003.†Stamp in Braille Script.
  • Netherlands 1975. 150th anniversary of Braille script.  

  • Brazil 1974. Scan by courtesy of Marge Schleining (USA). 

  • Switzerland 2003. Stamp in Braille Script. 

In 1786, Valentin HaŁy -- see stamp top left -- produced a first book in blind writing using relief printing of Latin-alphabet capital letters.  1810 saw the publication in Vienna of the first book for the blind where Latin-alphabet characters were embossed using dotted lines, with the help of lead type.  However, reading the characters with these two methods turned out to be too time consuming, and the relief printing also took up a lot of space.  

A French captain, Charles Barbier (1767-1843) developed a form of "night writing" for the transmission of war dispatches, a phonetic notation with a basic form consisting of 12 raised dots that were embossed on paper.  Barbier believed that his invention could also serve as a system for use by the blind and went to the Royal Institute for the Blind in Paris, where he got to know young Louis Braille who had lost his sight at the age of 3 as the result of an accident in his father's workshop.  Although Barbier's system with its numerous dots was very difficult to read, the 12-year-old Louis realized the superiority of raised dots over tactile letters, and he very quickly worked out a new system of writing consisting of a basic pattern of six raised dots.

France 1989.  Stamp issued for the aid of the blind.
  • France 1989.  Stamp issued for the aid of the blind. Scan by courtesy of Pierre Courtiade (France).

  • A bust depicting Louis Braille, who died in 1852 from a lung disease, only 43 years old.  

A bust depicting Louis Braille, who died in 1852 from a lung disease, only 43 years old.†

In 1825, he submitted the system he had developed to the Paris Institute for the Blind.  Whereas his fellow students fell to using the new system which was truly readable for blind people with enthusiasm, the Director of the institute was opposed to it from the outset, on the grounds that it separated sighted people from the blind.  He therefore prohibited the use of Braille's system, imposing severe penalties on those who defied the ban, and even went so far as to burn the books which had been printed in Braille.  It took several years for the ban to be lifted, but in 1878, at a congress in Paris, it was finally officially declared the international method for teaching at schools for the blind reading and writing world wide.  

Many -- if not most -- countries world wide have issued stamps for the aid of the blind, printed in Braille.  Any visitor to this page is invited to submit scans of stamps from their country, showing the Braille-print, and I will publish such contributions with full credits.  Below are shown examples of such stamps. 

Great Britain 1993.  Definitive 10 Pound-note, with the denomination "10" printed in Braille.†† Israel 2001.  A stamp in a very original design, commemorating the Institute for the Blind, Jerusalem, 1902-2002.  Belgium 1975.  150th anniversary of Braille-script.
  • Great Britain 1993.  Definitive 10 Pound-note, with the denomination "10" printed in Braille.  

  • Israel 2001.  A stamp in a very original design, commemorating the Institute for the Blind, Jerusalem, 1902-2002.  The stamp has a black background, symbolizing the blind person's world all in black.  The Braille-dots are in different colours for each character.  On the tabs is shown an outline drawing of the Institute for the Blind in Jerusalem.  The text is in English, Hebrew and Arabic. 

  • Belgium 1975.  150th anniversary of Braille-script.  The Braille print is hardly visible on the scan, but appears in black dots along the left side of the violet part of the stamp. 

South Africa 1981.  Braille Print.

Visually impaired people around the world celebrate White Cane Day every year on October 15.  In observance of this meaningful day, the Ministry of Information and Communication of South Korea issued a Braille postage stamp, with letters raised while keeping Australian Curlew design on the existing 170-won definitive postage stamp.   The white cane is used by visually handicapped persons around the world as a guide when walking in unfamiliar areas.  It was first formally adopted in France during World War I, enabling blind people there to move about safely and efficiently.  
  • South Africa 1981.  Braille Print.  Scan by courtesy of Rodney Cork (Australia). 

In 1980, the white cane became the symbol of the blind, and October 15 declared International White Cane Day. Roughly 17 million people world wide are visually impaired, including 220 thousand in Korea.  

The visually impaired bravely seek to lead normal lives despite their challenging circumstances.  Although we cannot actually restore sight to blind people, we can make a difference in their lives by helping to see the world around them. 

'10. 15',  which stands for White Cane Day, is printed on the Korean Braille stamp to the right. Barely visible on the scan, but a close look at the bird's tail reveal the Braille print.   The stamp's actual size is 2,6 x 2,3 cm. 

South Korea 1998.†Braille - White Cane Day.

  • South Korea 1998.  Scan by courtesy of Blair Stannard (Canada).  

The latest news for Braille-users is the Jot-a-Dot, the blind person's equivalent of a notebook and pen. Roughly the size of a VHS, the Jot a Dot is a small plastic Braille typewriter made up of the six standard Braille keys.  Read more here about this new invention. 

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Revised 31 jul 2007 
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