Gothic Script – an introduction

When you want to read old Danish texts you will come across Gothic script. The Gothic alphabet was the official script in Denmark and its dependencies and colonies until 1875. Gothic script is also called Old German Script because it was originally developed and used in German-speaking countries. The Gothic alphabet can be found both in printed and handwritten records. It can be a challenge to read, even for people who can read Danish, but you can learn to read it with a little patience.

Why learn to read Gothic script

If you want to read handwritten records in Danish that are older than 1875, you will need to learn how to read Gothic script. This applies to genealogists, local historians, students and researchers alike.

It is quite simple to learn to read printed Gothic script, but it can be more difficult to decipher Gothic handwriting.

Printed text in Gothic script

Printed text in Gothic script is simple to learn because once you have learned to separate and recognize the letters they look the same every time.

Handwritten Gothic script

Handwritten texts in Gothic script are a greater challenge than printed texts. This is due to the fact that every person had his or her own personal style of writing. Writing was also a tool for work and sometimes the text was written in a hurry, just like today.

In addition, the style of writing developed through the centuries. Texts from the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries look very different.

How do I start?

Practice makes perfect! For people who understand little Danish or none at all we recommend starting by taking the German Script Tutorial provided by Brigham Young University. The tutorial was developed for an English speaking audience to learn how to read texts written in Gothic script in the German language, but since the script is virtually identical to Danish Gothic script (both printed and handwritten), it is a very useful learning tool regardless of the language being German and not Danish.

German Script Tutorial (Brigham Young University)

When you have taken the tutorial, you should continue practising with texts in Gothic script and a table of Danish Gothic letters. You can start with a text in printed Gothic and continue with a text in Gothic handwriting from the archive.

Gothic alphabets, handwritten

Old currency units

The names of old currency units can be difficult to interpret. Coins had different names through the centuries and the name was often abbreviated with a special symbol.

Symbols of old currency units