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John Baskerville

Indices : Designers : John Baskerville

John Baskerville (1706-1775)

John Baskerville was born in Worcestershire, England in 1706. As a young man he was introduced to the art of letters while working as a master writing teacher and stone engraver. He later began a career in manufacturing, making japanned ware (a type of lacquered metalware popular at the time). He soon amassed great wealth and purchased an estate near Birmingham.

Around 1751, Baskerville began experimenting with printing. Baskerville was a perfectionist, and as such he demanded complete control over the entire printing process. He designed and created type and layouts; improved the presses and inks; and developed new paper making techniques enabling the creation of smooth bright papers.

Baskerville’s type was influenced by the works of Italian renaissance printers, like his English contemporary, William Caslon. But Baskerville refined their forms–creating type with more extreme contrast of thick and thin strokes. This gave his text great lightness and color. His letterforms were also wider and his italics showed his calligraphic mastery. Baskerville’s page layouts were spartan (especially compared to the ornate designs of French and Italian renaissance printers). Generally, they were completely typographic, allowing his letterforms to stand on their own. His designs stand as a pinnacle of transitional typography and as a prelude to the modern Didone design of later years.

Baskerville’s work was widely dismissed during his time by British contemporaries as the work of an amateur. However, his influence on type and printing spread to Italy and France where Giovanni Battista Bodoni and the Didots furthered his ideas.

Baskerville’s types have been the source of many revivals, some of which include:
John Baskerville by Storm Type Foundry
Mrs Eaves by Emigre

Other designs inspired by Baskerville’s work:
John Sans also by Storm

Books & Materials about:

(John Baskerville). Letters of the famous 18th century printer, John Baskerville of Birmingham, together with a bibliography of works printed by him at Birmingham; collected, compiled and printed under the direction of Leonard Jay, Birmingham School of Printing, Birmingham, 1932.

(John Baskerville). Some correspondence concerning the making of printing type / by John Baskerville of Birmingham, Zurich : The Hand Press, 1991.

Bennett, William. John Baskerville, City of Birmingham School of Printing, Birmingham, 1937.

Dreyfus, John. The Survival of Baskerville’s Punches. Cambridge, Privately printed by the University Printer for Friends in Printing and Publishing 1949 Limited edition of 250 copies. Includes folding specimen sheet of Baskerville types in rear sleeve.

Gaskell, Philip. John Baskerville: A Bibliography, Cambridge University Press. 1959

Harvey, Edward Hooker. Notes on the life of John Baskerville, an eighteenth century printer, Cleveland, 190. “Read at the Rowfant club, February twenty-four, MDCCCXCIX.

Jennett, Sean. Pioneers in Printing: Johann Gutenberg, William Caxton, William Caslon, John Baskerfille, Alois Senefelder, Frederick Koenig, Ottmar Merganthaler & Tolbert Lanston. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958.

Morgan Paul. John Baskerville. Printer, Birmingham, Albright & Wilson Ltd., 1955.

Pardoe, F. E. John Baskerville of Birmingham Letter-Founder & Printer. Frederick Muller, London, 1975.

Pardoe, F. E. John Baskerville, 1705-1775. An address to the Wynkyn de Worde Society … to mark the 200th anniversary of Baskerville’s death.

Strauss, Ralph and Dent, Robert K. John Baskerville, A Memoir. Cambridge, Printed at the University Press for Chatto & Windus, 1907.

Walker, Benjamin. The Resting Places of the Remains of John Baskerville. The Thrice-Buried Printer, Birmingham, City of Birmingham School of Printing 1944.