Last week I waxed poetic about ampersands. This week it’s time for (trumpet sound) commercial symbols. This is a fairly arbitrary category, and the glyphs I’ve chosen for this post all involve smaller letters. Three of them involve circles. I lumped them together this way to make use of the practiced motion my hand will me making while drawing the glyphs.

Commercial symbols are any symbol that has to do with commerce or business. Currency symbols could fall under this category. Heck, some mathematic symbols could fall under this category. Most of the symbols in this post designate proprietary words or info. The only one that doesn’t is the commercial at (@).


The commercial at began (as so many glyphs do) as a shorthand for another word. Some theorize the @ symbol began as an abbreviation for amphora, a type of clay jar used for storing, shipping, and therefore counting, containers of consumable goods. When writing up bills of lading, rather than writing out “144 amphora of wine,” one might write “144 @ wine.”

Other theories place the origin of @ in Spain, or France, or elsewhere. Regardless, its earliest uses were to abbreviate a word indicating a rate of measurement or exchange (“ad” or “at”). For centuries the commercial at was used this way (e.g.—12 units @ $10 each). It’s only since 1971 that the @ was used in email, and far more recently that it was used in social media.

I digress. This blog is about the making of the symbol itself, not its history.

at symbol

The at is a single story a, typically in an italic style, surrounded by a circle. The a for the Protest font is single story anyway, so I made the a in this style.

The circle can connect to either the bottom of the stem, or the top of the stem for highly condensed or monospaced typefaces. I’m choosing to have it connect to the bottom, as this is the more familiar and widely used form.

The symbol varies widely in its height. It can be cap height and sit on the baseline, like an uppercase C (Times Roman, Helvetica). The a can sit on the baseline with the circle sweeping below the baseline, the top not reaching cap height (Arno Pro). Or the a can sit on the baseline, and the circle can sweep up (or above) cap height and down below the baseline (Courier). I’ve chosen to make the Protest @ the same height and position as the uppercase.

© and ®

The copyright and registration symbols are fairly straight forward as far as form. One is a capital C in a circle, the other a capital R in a circle. The leg of the R can touch the circle if needed, but only slightly.

These symbols vary similarly to the @. They can be the same height as the cap C, or be smaller. They can sit on the baseline (Goudy) or dip below (Big Caslon). Unlike the @ they don’t align to cap height and go below the baseline at the same time.

The ® often sits higher and smaller when the © does not. The reason for this is that the © sits ahead of text, being an abbreviation for “copyright,” as in ©2017, which reads “Copyright 2017.” The ® on the other hand, is appended to the end of words the way an ordinal would be. However, this is a trend, not a rule. There are typefaces in which the © is high and small as well.

registration mark

I’ve chosen to make my © and ® the same size, but smaller than the @. I don’t want the ® to be as small as the ™, because of the limitations of the giant marker I’m using. I’ve also chosen them to sit higher, as they typically present this way anyway. Really, it comes down to preference.

The trademark symbol (™) is always small and high. I want to say “superscript,” but that’s wrong, as superscript glyphs sit above the ascender or cap height. The ™ symbol is more like an ordinal (the little “nd” after 2nd, or the ª or º in some romance languages). It aligns to the cap height, but sits smaller and higher than lowercase.

trademark symbol

Even though my © and ® glyphs sit higher like ordinals, they aren’t as small. The ™, however, needs to be at the same scale I intend my ordinals to be. It’s a bit smaller than lowercase.

Up Next

Next I’ll be doing ordinals and “superscript” numbers.

  • Letterlike Symbols
    1. &
    2. @ © ® ™
    3. ª º ¹ ² ³ №
    4. $ ¢ £ € ¥ %
  • Punctuation
    1. § ¶ † ‡
    2. * # – – — _
    3. . , ; : ! ¡ ? ¿ ‽ … •
    4. ' ‘ ’ ‚ “ ” „ ′ ″ ‹ › « »
    5. / \ | ¦ ( ) [ ] { }
  • Mathematic symbols (to be determined)
  • Diacritics