by Henk de Beijer

      "Do you know what this is?" asked Héctor Gómez, director of the Rehabilitation Center for the visually handicapped in Santurce, a suburb of San Juan, Porto Rico, when we visited him during our stay in that beautiful and friendly country. He handed me a thick magazine with all kinds of strange raised symbols on each page and said it had come from England. As I felt the strange lines and circles and dots I was rather baffled and then, suddenly it occured to me that this must be a magazine printed in the "Moon-system". When I mentioned the word "Moon-script" Mr. Gómez was still at a loss to understand, so I explained a little further, but couldn't recall all the facts exactly, so, once home again, I started rummaging in my files of documentation and found a brief article on the "Moon system".

      Great Britain, curiously enough is one of the leading producers of brailled books and magazines for the blind. Certainly in Europe, Great Britain is a leader in the production of brailled material, both in the field of litterary, scientific and musical publications. That has been so for many years and yet, it is also typically British that this great achievement has not been able to do away with at least one of the other systems for printing material for the blind: the Moon system. Every year, at least fifty books and several magazines are still being produced in the Moon system.


      William Moon was nine years younger than Louis Braille. He was born in 1818 and lost one eye when he was four years old as a consequence of scarlet fever. In 1839 he also lost his other eye. Nevertheless he managed to finish his university career in law and graduated as a doctor of law.

      At the time several systems were in use in England for teaching the blind to read such as the Gall-alphabet which was based on combinations of little triangles, the Universal British Alphabet for the Blind developed by T.M. Lucas, consisting of eight basic symbols like the dot, the comma, circles and half circles. Based on this Lucas system, the Frere-system was developed which contained 36 symbols.

      Dr. William Moon had learnt to read the Frere-system but when he started to teach it to other blind persons, he discovered several flaws in it and developed his own system which he published in 1847. As early as 1848 he started to print the Bible in his new system.

      Dr. Moon's system is not based on the existing Latin alphabet, but on English stenography. It has to be read alternately from left to right and from right to left so that finding the next line is no problem.

     Dr. William Moon died in 1894. His daughter Adelaide continued his life's work by taking the lead at the Moon printing house in Brighton, that her father had founded. By that time the entire Bible had been printed already. The system was also being advocated in those days in the United States and Australia and even in Germany books were printed in the Moon system.


      There is one primary reason why Dr. Moon's system lost the battle against the six dots of Louis Braille: the Moon system cannot be written by hand, in spite of the fact that in the early 80s , there was a strange news item declaring in rather bombastic terms that at long last it had been made possible for the blind to write by hand because a couple of young people in England had developed a machine to write...the Moon system! The Moon system has other disadvantages as compared with braille, but its advocates maintain that it is so much easier to read, especially for elderly people.

      However, even if it should be more flexible than Braille -- which is of course very limited by its six dot cell -- and even if it can now be written by hand, though with a special machine, which you cannot carry around in your pocket, the Moon system is now little more than a curiosity, a typically British curiosity, because where else in the world would anybody still be able to raise enough financial means to maintain a curiosity like that. The advocates of the Moon system will surely be furious to read a critique like this, but, even if their system were better than braille, they have just as little chance to replace braille, as any group has to alter English spelling.