Louis Braille (1809-1852) was a French educator who developed a system of printing and writing used extensively by the
blind. Braille was himself blind. Soon after his third birthday, he accidently stabbed an awl into his left eye, blinding it. A
resulting infection spread and left him blind in both eyes. At the age of ten, Braille entered Institute des Jeunes Aveugles
(National Institute for the Young Blind), in Paris, founded by Valentin Haüy, who was attempting to teach the young blind
to read. In 1784, Haüy had introduced a large typeface that the pupils learned to compose and emboss onto soft paper
using the letterpress technique. The pupils could then decipher by touch, but the process was long and tedious. By 5
December 1786, Haüy's pupils had embossed from movable letterpress type his
Essai sur l'Éducation des Aveugles the first
book ever published for the blind. By 1826, Braille had become a teacher at the Institute and was looking for ways to
improve Haüy’s system. He recalled how, when he was a child, he could feel the dots created by the impression of the awl
as he played with his father’s stock of leather. At that time, Captain Charles Barbier, a French army officer, had devised a
system of dots embossed on cardboard that symbolized phonetic sounds. It was called “night writing” and was intended
for night-time battlefield communications; soldiers could “read” these coded messages in the dark by touch. Braille and
Barbier met, and Louis felt that a similar coded system for touch reading by the blind would be possible. At age 15, Braille
worked out an adaptation of Barbier’s system, written with a simple instrument that met the needs of the sightless. The
characters are “read” by passing the fingers lightly over the embossed cardboard or paper. He later took this system, sixty-
three characters that consist of six-dot “cell” codes—six dots, arranged three vertically and two horizontally in a rectangle
for each alphabet letter or other symbol—and adapted it to musical notation. Officials would not allow the official
introduction of this new system into the Institute, however, so Braille began teaching it to students in the evenings. He
published a treatise on his type system in 1829, and in 1837 published a three-volume Braille edition of a popular history
schoolbook. A century after his death, Braille's remains (minus his hands, which were kept in his birthplace of Coupvray)
were moved to Paris for burial in the Panthéon. Braille’s system was not officially adopted by the school in Paris until
1854, two years after his death. A universal Braille code for the English-speaking world was not adopted until 1932, when
representatives from agencies for the blind in Great Britain and the United States met in London and agreed upon a
system known as Standard English Braille, grade 2. There are now many Braille and raised-dot letter books and magazines
for the blind and partially sighted, all reverse-embossed. Printing is done with special types set in the normal way and
blind-embossed on the back of the paper. Line illustrations can also be achieved by using a photoengraved zinc plate.
Solid-dot Braille was introduced in 1952. A transcribing machine that converts letters into the dot pattern cuts a stencil.
Liquid plastic ink is forced into the holes created, and the dots are welded to the paper by infrared drying. Today,
computers have been programmed to translate the roman alphabet into Braille and print it out on a specially designed
printer onto soft thick paper. (Excerpted from “Biographical Dictionary of Printing Luminaries Appearing on Stamps: Louis
Braille, 1809-1852,” by Paul Horton, et al., a Supplement to
Philateli-Graphics, Vol. 25, No. 3 (July 2003)].
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This portrait bust of Braille by an
unknown artist now resides at the
Archiv für Kunst und Geschichte,
Berlin. It served as the basis for
several postage stamps, including
France, Scott #B222 and Russia,
Scott #2220.
This chart from Encyclopaedia
nicely summaries the
Braille system of writing.
A semi-postal stamp issued on 19
January 1948 that features a side
view of the Braille sculpture
(France, Scott #B222).
This 60-kopek stamp was issued on 16
July 1959 to commemorate the 150th
anniversary of Braille’s birthday (Russia,
Scott #2220).
This stamp commemorates the
sesquicentennial of the
invention of the Braille system
of writing for the blind
(Argentina, Scott #1132). Similar
to Luxembourg, Scott #602
A stamp issued on 3 May 1977 and an associated FDC of the
same date that features the 6-franc stamp commemorating
Louis Braille. The portrait of Braille is by Lucienne Filippi, a
miniature portrait on ivory that was derived from a
daguerreotype taken shortly after his death (Luxembourg,
Scott #602).
Louis Braille is featured on one
of eight stamps issued on 19
October 1992 to commemorate
“Inventors and Pioneers”
(Antigua & Barbuda, Scott
This 60-centavo stamp
commemorates the 100th
anniversary of the founding of the
Benjamin Constant Institute in
Urca, Brazil; it features a portrait of
Constant and a hand that's reading
Braille (Brazil, Scott #807).
This Danish stamp, printed in both
gravure and with Braille embossing, was
issued on 5 October 1990 for “Fredericia,
‘The Town for Everybody.’” In 1991 the
stamp was given a medal and a diploma
at the First International Philatelic Arts
Festival in Italy for its “cultural, moral,
and civilian aspect” (Denmark, Stamp
This 2.20-france value was issued on
28 January 1989 to commemorate
Valentin Haüy (1745-1822), founder
of the School for the Blind in Paris
in 1784. The inspiration to devote
his life to the education of the blind
came to Haüy in 1771 after
witnessing a burlesque performance
at a local fair in which the blindness
of sightless beggars was made the
object of ridicule and general
merriment. "I shall substitute truth
for mockery [and] shall teach the
blind to read and to write, and give
them books printed by themselves"
(France, Scott #2140).
This stamp was issued on 12 February
1981 to commemorate the 100th
anniversary of the birth of Helen Keller
(1880-1968), an American author,
activist, and lecturer, who was the first
deaf and blind person to graduate from
college. Keller learned Braille and used
it to read not only English, but also
French, German, Greek, and Latin. The
stamp depicts her initials both written
and embossed in Braille (Venezuela,
Scott #1243).
The first value in a set of four semi-
postals designed as a surtax for the
China Welfare Fund, the stamp depicts
hands reading Braille (People’s Republic
of China, Scott #B3).
The same design appeared on three
different stamps from the U.A.R. in
1961, Scott #520, B21, and N80, all
commemorating World Health
Organization (W.H.O.) Day. The stamps
depict the W.H.O. emblem and hands
reading Braille (Egypt, Scott #B21 and
#N80 are shown).
A stamp issued on 1 November 1990 to
mark the centennial of Japanese Braille
(Japan, Scott #2070).
This semi-postal stamp was issued on
21 March 1969 to help designate the
Week of the Blind, 21 to 29 March. It
features a map of Morocco and hands
reading Braille (Morocco, Scott #B14).
This 35¢ stamp, issued on 7 October
1975, commemorates the
sesquicentennial of the invention of the
Braille system of writing (Netherlands,
Scott #533).
On 22 January 1985, Netherlands issued
a stamp commemorating the 50th
anniversary of the Royal National
Institution, where guide dogs are trained.
The government provides guide dogs free
of charge to citizens of that country who
need one. The Stichting Konichlyh
Nederland Gelendehonderfonds
(K.N.G.F.) has trained more than 3,000
guide dogs in the past seventy years. The
60¢ stamp shows a picture of Sunny, the
first guide dog in Holland in 1935. The
Braille on the stamp is the initials for the
guide dog school, K.N.G.F. (Netherlands,
Scott #662).
The year 1975 was World Braille
Year to mark the sesquicentennial
of Braille’s invention. The German
Democratic Republic issued a set
of three stamps on 14 October 1975
to commemorate Braille’s
accomplishment. The stamps
depict Braille and the embossed
dots he used in his invention,
hands reading Braille, and an
eyeball and protective glasses,
which can be worn to prevent
accidental blindness (German
Democratic Republic, Scott #1690-
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