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Firstly, I hope this question is within the scope of this exchange.

I know that the character '&' predates its English name "ampersand". I have read that the name 'ampersand' had "entered common English usage by 1837"[1] but the symbol itself is much older, originating as a ligature of the letters "et" which means "and" in Latin.

My question is, how long has the character '&' (not the ligature for et) been used to denote the conjunction word "and"? I cannot find a good source that tells when the shift from the ligature to its own symbol happened.

I found a book written in Latin and published in 1691 that uses the character in this way: http://digitale.bibliothek.uni-halle.de/vd17/content/pageview/7936102

Does this usage of the symbol predate even the 17th century? Do we know of the first recorded use of '&' to represent the conjunction word "and"?

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    Just to be clear: Are you looking for a version of & meaning "and" in English? Or any other language than Latin? In Latin there seems to be no real difference between a ligature for et at a symbol meaning et. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 1 '17 at 22:46
  • Orbis Sensualium Pictus was published in 1658 and contains many ampersands. – Middle School Historian Apr 1 '17 at 23:32
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    Is there a clear delineation between the et-ligature and the ampersand? I thought that the et-ligature just gradually came to be written like "&", and also gradually came to be considered its own separate symbol. – Tanner Swett Apr 2 '17 at 3:46
  • As a continuation of my previous comment, I would also point out that translations of the Orbis Pictus translate & as and, spelled out. This might imply that it wasn't used often in English at the time. This doesn't really add anything to the post, but I just thought it might be interesting. – Middle School Historian Apr 3 '17 at 17:55
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From Keith Houston, Shady characters: the secret life of punctuation, symbols & other typographical marks (Norton, 2013), 64–5:

If the Tironian et was Tiro's brainchild, the ampersand was an orphan: its creator is not known, and the closest it comes to a parent is the anonymous first-century graffiti artist who scrawled it hastily across a Pompeian wall.

On his blog, on which the book is based, Houston includes this image of one page from typographer Jan Tschich­old's For­m­en­wand­lun­gen der &-Zeichen, which shows the example from Pompeii (#1), and also one from an 8th-century Merovingian document (#13) that's unmistakably an ampersand.

However, Houston goes on (69) to ascribe the introduction of 'the most regular and recognizable ampersand' to the development of roman type in the mid-15th century, when 'refugees from Johannes Gutenberg's hometown of Mainz first brought the technology of printing to Italy [and] created type that matched the prevailing local handwriting,' which was commonly believed to be a revival of the letterforms of ancient Rome but 'was, in fact, the much later Carolingian minuscule of the monk Alcuin.'

The whole chapter about ampersands in Houston's book, or the whole set of 2-1/2 postings on his blog, is worth reading in full.

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