Which is the best / favorite digital cut of Baskerville? Why do so many of them suck?

designpuck's picture

Finally got around to reading "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," set toward the end of the 1700s. The cover is fun, but inside is really interesting...the whole book is set in Baskerville —and unusually, an entire page at the end is dedicated to one small sentence naming the typeface.

I loved it's hearty color, the way it seemed born to embody the story's visual voice, and fit so snugly with the setting, mood, syntax, etc... Cut to this week—I tested a version of Baskerville I happened to have, and was utterly appalled. Horrible, useless stuff. Blech.

I guess I'm curious as to what digital cuts or interpretations of Baskerville have good color, which feel right or have gorgeous swashes, etc, and which in the end just don't work?

Is it really because so many digital Baskervilles strive for a fidelity to the matrices over anything else, and don't take into account real-world conditions like ink spread — and just end up so light and anemic-looking on the digital page? What versions don't suck with today's incredibly-refined, razor-sharp print technology?

From Baskerville in his own words, in his foreword to Milton's Paradise Lost: “Amongst the several mechanic Arts that have engaged my attention, there is no one which I have pursued with so much steadiness and pleasure, as that of Letter-Founding. Having been an early admirer of the beauty of Letters, I became insensibly desirous of contributing to the perfection of them. I formed to my self Ideas of greater accuracy than had yet appeared, and have endeavoured to produce a Sett of Types according to what I conceive to be their true proportion. … It is not my desire to print many books: but such only, as are books of Consequence, of intrinsic merit, or established Reputation, and to which the public may be pleased to see in an elegant dress, and to purchase at such price, as will repay the extraordinary care and expense that must necessarily be bestowed upon them.”

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"There’s also a wonderful chapter on John Baskerville and the many versions of his typeface in Simon Loxley’s Type: The Secret History of Letters; particularly take note of his comments on Fry’s Baskerville, 'a piece of 18th century intellectual piracy'"

"RIT’s Archibald Provan — one of the greatest typography professors in the known world — confesses to wanting to be reincarnated as a font of 72-pt Frys Baskerville. True story."

_Palatine_'s picture

Baskerville 1757.

R.'s picture

A disadvantage of Baskerville 1757 lies in the fact that it offers nothing more than one weight with a corresponding italic. Moreover, some letter forms — ‘f’ and ‘g’ among them — seem somehow questionable to me. But these are just theoretical caveats, I’ve never seen it printed.

A Baskerville worth considering may be the one by František Štorm: He offers a family called Baskerville Original containing display and text cuts as well as an additional ‘Baskerville Ten Pro’ set that obviously comes with an extended character set. Especially this latter one looks nicely dark in the specimen, on the screen at least. Unfortunately, I neither have any practical experience nor acquaintance on paper with this one, as well.

The longer I think about it, the more I get the impression that I’ve hardly seen any book decently set in digital Baskerville. The anemic versions seem to be preponderant. Why? Maybe this is some sort of vicious circle: As the first digital versions of Baskerville turned out to fall short of what most people liked about metal Baskerville, popularity decreased, which, in turn, reduced the urge to create a better digital rendering soon etc. Nowadays I see bad Baskerville mainly in book series of publishing houses that haven’t been reconsidering their choice of font since 1993 – contexts in which you are also likely to find anemic Bembo or anemic Sabon.

blank's picture

Storm’s Baskerville is so good that it makes me want to design a few novels. I could really only imagine a better Baskerville coming about if some person of means decided to publish the most beautiful books in the world, using the most beautiful type in the world, just because he can. Oh, wait…

kentlew's picture

What is ironic in this discussion, of course, is that Baskerville’s type (and paper and printing) was criticized as being too light and dazzling and sharp and anemic in his own time.

ncaleffi's picture

Adelphi, one of the best publishing house in Italy, always set its book in Baskerville - from metal Monotype in the Sixties to digital ITC New Baskerville in more recent years. The resulting quality is varying, depending on the grades of black, but I can say that ITC New Baskerville generally works well in this publisher's books (which are, interestingly, snobbish and very popular at the same time). Here's a small sample, found on the web:

zeno333's picture

ITC New Baskerville is my all time fave quality text typeface, I feel it is the most "readable" typeface out there, but IMHO it is too far away from what Baskerville actually used in 1757 to be called Baskerville, especially the small letter "a" in ITC New Baskerville...I prefer the a in ITC New Baskerville, I feel its better, but it's too far away from the original Baskerville to properly be called that.....It should have it's own individual unique name.

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