This summer I was in Naples and I visited the Historical Archives of the Bank of Naples. They hold more than 300.000 Bank documents with 17 millions of names on them. The history of Southern Italy of the last 450 years is stored in these Archives.
I was walking along the corridors of the Archives surronded by thousands of documents when I decided to open one. I started reading when…I couldn’t believe my eyes….I run to the window, carrying the book in order to have more light because… it was not possible that the symbol @ could be in a book writtten in 1610!! It was!…The symbol @ was in all pages……!!
I had always tought that it was something invented in the States by a computer engineer but…The origin of the symbol itself, one of the most graceful characters on the keyboard, is something of a mystery. One theory is that medieval monks, looking for shortcuts while copying manuscripts, converted the Latin word for “toward”—ad—to “a” with the back part of the “d” as a tail. Or it came from the French word for “at”—à—and scribes, striving for efficiency, swept the nib of the pen around the top and side. Or the symbol evolved from an abbreviation of “each at”—the “a” being encased by an “e.”
The first documented use was in 1536, in a letter by Francesco Lapi, a Florentine merchant, who used @ to denote units of wine called amphorae, which were shipped in large clay jars.
The symbol later took on a historic role in commerce. Merchants have long used it to signify “at the rate of”—as in “12 widgets @ $1.” (That the total is $12, not $1, speaks to the symbol’s pivotal importance.) Still, the machine age was not so kind to @. The first typewriters, built in the mid-1800s, didn’t include @. Likewise, @ was not among the symbolic array of the earliest punch-card t which were precursors to computer programming.
The symbol was used in 1971, when a computer scientist named Ray Tomlinson was facing a vexing problem: how to connect people who programmed computers with one another.
Tomlinson’s challenge was how to address a message created by one person and sent through Arpanet to someone at a different computer. The address needed an individual’s name, he reasoned, as well as the name of the computer, which might service many users. And the symbol separating those two address elements could not already be widely used in programs and operating systems, lest computers be confused.
Tomlinson’s eyes fell on @, poised above “P” on his Model 33 teletype. “I was mostly looking for a symbol that wasn’t used much,” he told. “
But the oldest document in which you can find the symbol@ is not an accounting document but religious one. In 1345 the @ was used for the Word “Amen” in a book kept in the Vatican Apostolic Library in Rome.
As always..if you wish to understand the present, it’s important to look into in the past.