Journal Assignment #2: John Baskerville

8 02 2011

John Baskerville (1706-1775)


John Baskerville was a type founder, printer, stone cutter, and an expert in lacquer ware. He was the inventor of the typeface, Baskerville which was used first around the 18th century. It is classified as a transitional, serif typeface. The creation of Baskerville was meant to be an improvement on the types invented by William Caslon. The typeface’s characteristics include a contrast between the thick and thin lines in the letters, sharper and more tapered serifs, and the more vertical position of the rounded letterforms. The curved strokes of the typeface are also more circular in shape which ultimately leads to greater consistency in form and size.

Baskerville’s reasoning for creating this typeface was improve legibility. Although it was extremely popular in the 18th century, toward the 19th century, people returned to “old face” types as opposed to Baskerville’s more modernized typeface. It was later revived in the 20th century by Bruce Rogers who took an interest in John Baskerville as well as his typeface. This is when it is said the “transitional” label may have been used to categorize it. A transitional type suggests that a typeface was simply a “stretch of road” between two peaks in design. This label hardly does justice to it’s modernism as well as originality. Hugh Williamson, in Methods of Book Design (1965), was quoted as saying the Baskerville typeface is “one of the most readable and pleasant designs now in use.”

It was said that the typeface was popular mostly for book work during the letterpress era. It has various versions which have very different designs for use at its different sizes. It is not surprising that each version of Baskerville looks noticeably different, which means that each one, regardless of the differences may be “authentic.”

More notable characteristics of the typeface include the distinct tail on the uppercase Q as well as the cursive-like serifs on the italic versions of the font.

This is the example of the “g” character in the typeface Baskerville, which shows some of its more defining characteristics.

Above is an insert taken from the Old Testament Bible John Baskerville printed with his own printing press. This page showcases both his printing skill as well as his typeface.

A type sample from one of the printed works of John Baskerville.









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