Chyrology: The Art Of Reading With The Fingers

A profile of Thomas Lucas

In January 2017, RSBC merged with the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB). Although we are now called RSBC, there may be some references to RLSB in the following article.
When the team at RLSB began publishing our archives at the beginning of 2013, we didn’t know a lot about RLSB’s founder Thomas Lucas.

But over the year we have learnt so much about this fascinating man and his important work, which you can read about in our archives. And when we came across a sketch of his profile as a smart looking man in a black coat and white frilled collar, we were delighted.

The sketch was found in a book he wrote called Chyrology; Or the Art of Reading, Spelling and Ciphering by the Fingers, which was published more than two centuries ago to outline a system of communication for people with hearing loss or impairment.

The book was published on 1 January 1812, some 20 years before he formulated his Lucas Type of embossed text for blind and partially sighted readers, and 36 years before he founded RLSB in London.

Here’s an extract from the book:

A diagram of hands marked with Thomas Lucas's reading systemChyrology signifies the word, or language, of the hand: and by this comprehensive science, any two persons may make known their ideas to each other, without the aid of speech, in a most simple, but very expressive manner.

Aleph and Beth being the two first letters of the Hebrew, and Alpha, Beta of the Greek, gave the name Alphabet to a set of letters, which serve to express all the principal sounds that the human voice can form.

The finding out visible signs whereby all the ideas of all the men in the world may be expressed, from the beginning of time to the final period of it, is truly surprising, and that these signs should be so few in number.

It may be justly affirmed, that of all the inventions of men, there is not any one that has ever excelled that of the alphabet: we should therefore study to render the knowledge of letters easy and familiar.

If the editor has contributed towards it, the learner will be instructed, and his labour well rewarded.

This system of Chyrology is a novel, useful and curious discovery: on four hands engraved for that purpose, the alphabet, ordinals and cardinals are completely delineated.

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