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AN Australian scientist is trying to trace ancestors of a 19th Century Birmingham professor who had a bizarre talent for writing BACKWARDS.

Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci, famous writer Lewis Carroll and Brummie Frank James Allen all had a rare ability to 'mirror-write'.

The unusual skill meant they could write sentences properly with one hand -at the same time as writing the same words backwards with the other.

The words only become clear if viewed in a mirror.

Now Aussie scientist Dr Iain Mathewson is hoping to trace descendents of the late professor to see if he has passed on what could be a rare gene.

Midland academic Allen was head of Physiology at the former Mason University College in Birmingham until 1899 and died in 1942.

The professor, son of a cheese merchant from Somerset, wrotenormallyfrom left to right with his right hand while penning the same thing backwards with his left.

Dr Mathewson, 70, said: 'I have been doing research on mirror-writing and trying to find out if it is passed on through genetics.

'I thought it would be interesting to find an example of someone in history who was a mirror-writer to discover if their relatives now have the gene.

'I heard about Professor Allen because he wrote about his ability in a journal called Brain in 1896.

'In one direction his writing was beautiful and legible but in the other it was complete gobbledegook - until you looked at it in the mirror and it became clear.'

The most famous historical mirror-writer was Leonardo da Vinci, but Dr Mathewson is unable to research his genetics because he died in 1519 - too far back to trace.

Da Vinci only wrote backwards when he was penning something other people might see. Some experts think he used mirror-writing so no-one could steal his art or invention ideas. Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll could also mirror-write and there are examples in letters he sent to children. Dr Mathewson's research has indicated that left-handed people are more likely to be mirror-writers than righthanded and he has so far found 11 people in Australia with the skill.

The scientist believes that ability is also linked to gender.

'The data is transmitted by a single dominant sex-linked gene on the X-chromosome,' he explained. 'This means more women will probably be affected than men.

'Frank Allen's gene must have come from his mother, because male mirror-writers only pass on the gene to their daughters.'

The only other harmless genetic condition passed down in the same way is synaesthesia - hearing in colour. People with this gene dream in colour and link days of the weekandnumbers to different shades.

If youthinkyou're related to Professor Allen or if you can wirte backwards, write to Mirror Writing, Sunday Mercury, Weaman Street, Birmingham B4 6AY, call our newsdesk on 0121 234 5567 or send us an e-mail at


WRITE WAY: Leonardo da Vinci
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jan 25, 2004

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