N HISTORIATED INITIAL is an enlarged letter at the beginning of a paragraph or other section of text, which contains a picture of a person or story. SHARP member Paul Dijstelberge, from the Netherlands, has put together a gallery of 50,000 images on Flickr under this heading, so if you browse through them all you may become an expert. He is asking for volunteers to help arrange them in order and weed-out duplicates.

The etymology of “historiated” is a little opaque:  it seems to come from the 14th century Middle French historier to write (a history book or chronicle), and by extension “to decorate with depictions of historical events”.  Familiar early examples are from illuminated manuscripts, and in early printed books space was often left on the printed page so that historiated initials could be inserted by hand.

Ideally in print the text following should align with the top (or base align with the bottom) of the Initial Cap. The example from Barry Moser’s Moby Dick given in this post from The World’s Greatest Book is very elegant. Often the rest of the first word or phrase following is set in (letterspaced) caps or small caps.