Compared to earlier designs popular in Britain, Baskerville increased the contrast between thick and thin strokes, making the serifs sharper and more tapered, and shifted the axis of rounded letters to a more vertical position. The curved strokes are more circular in shape, and the characters became more regular. These changes created a greater consistency in size and form, influenced by the calligraphy Baskerville had learned and taught as a young man. Baskerville's typefaces remain very popular in book design and there are many modern revivals, which often add features such as bold type which did not exist in Baskerville's time.
As Baskerville's typefaces were proprietary to him[b] and sold to a French publisher after his death, some designs influenced by him were made by British punchcutters. The Fry Foundry of Bristol created a version, probably cut by their punchcutter Isaac Moore. Known in the twentieth century as "Fry's Baskerville" or "Baskerville Old Face", a digitisation is included with some Microsoft software.[c]
Baskerville's first publication, an edition of Virgil. The design shows the smooth, gleaming finish of his paper and minimal title pages.
Baskerville's typeface was part of an ambitious project to create books of the greatest possible quality. Baskerville was a wealthy industrialist, who had started his career as a writing-master (teacher of calligraphy) and carver of gravestones, before making a fortune as a manufacturer of varnished lacquer goods. At a time when books in England were generally printed to a low standard, using typefaces of conservative design, Baskerville sought to offer books created to higher-quality methods of printing than any before, using carefully made, level presses, a high quality of ink and very smooth paper pressed after printing to a glazed, gleaming finish.
Having been an early admirer of the beauty of Letters, I became insensibly desirous of contributing to the perfection of them. I formed to myself ideas of greater accuracy than had yet appeared, and had endeavoured to produce a Set of Types according to what I conceived 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 which the public may be pleased to see in an elegant dress, and to purchase at such a price as will repay the extraordinary care and expense that must necessarily be bestowed upon them.
Baskerville's preface to Milton
While Baskerville's types in some aspects recall the general design of William Caslon, the most eminent punchcutter of the time, his approach was far more radical. Beatrice Warde, John Dreyfus and others have written that aspects of his design recalled his handwriting and common elements of the calligraphy taught by the time of Baskerville's youth, which had been used in copperplate engraving but had not been previously been cut into type in Britain.[d] Such details included many of the intricate details of his italic, such as the flourishes on the capital N and entering stroke at top left of the italic 'p'. He had clearly considered the topic of ideal letterforms for many years, since a slate carved in his early career offering his services cutting tombstones, believed to date from around 1730, is partly cut in lettering very similar to his typefaces of the 1750s.[e] The result was a typeface cut by Handy to Baskerville's specifications that reflected Baskerville's ideals of perfection. According to Baskerville, he developed his printing projects for seven years, releasing a prospectus advertisement for the project in 1754, before finally releasing his first book, an edition of Virgil, in 1757, which was followed by other classics. At the start of his edition of Paradise Lost, he wrote a preface explaining his ambitions.
A slate carved by John Baskerville in his early career offering his services carving tombstones, in blackletter, roman, script and italic. The design is similar to his typography. A recreation in Monotype Baskerville shows the similarities of letterforms.
A detail view of Baskerville's Bible for Cambridge, showing the crispness of the impression.
The crispness of Baskerville's work seems to have unsettled (or perhaps provoked jealousy in) his contemporaries, and some claimed the stark contrasts in his printing damaged the eyes. Baskerville was never particularly successful as a printer, being a printer of specialist and elite editions, something not helped by the erratic standard of editing in his books. Abroad, however, he was much admired (if not directly imitated, at least not his style of type design), notably by Pierre Simon Fournier, Giambattista Bodoni and Benjamin Franklin (who had started his career as a printer), who wrote him a letter praising his work.[f] His work was later admired in England by Thomas Frognall Dibdin, who wrote that 'in his Italic letter...he stands unrivalled; such elegance, freedom and perfect symmetry being in vain to be looked for among the specimens of Aldus and Colinaeus...Baskerville was a truly original artist, he struck out a new method of printing in this country and may be considered as the founder of that luxuriant style of typography at present so generally prevails; and which seems to have attained perfection in the neatness of Whittingham, the elegance of Bulmer and the splendour of Bensley."Thomas Curson Hansard in 1825 seems to have had misgivings about his work, praising his achievement in some ways but also suggesting that he was a better printer than a type designer. On his death his widow Sarah eventually sold his material to a Paris literary society connected to Beaumarchais, placing them out of reach of British printing.
Baskerville's styles of type and printing, although initially unpopular in Britain, proved influential for a brief transitional period in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, with printers and type designers such as Joseph Fry, his punchcutter Isaac Moore, and Wilson of Glasgow. Bulmer, cut by the brother of Baskerville's foremen, was one design inspired by it, as is the Bell type cut by Richard Austin. Austin's biographer Alastair Johnston has described this period as a "glorious but short-lived" period of innovative type design in Britain "of harmonious types that had the larger-on-the-body proportions of the Romain du Roi, with the modelling of Baskerville but more colour and fine serifs".Philip Gaskell particularly highlights as a successful typeface of this period the Wilson foundry of Glasgow's 'startling' English-sized (14 pt) roman of 1760, following soon from Baskerville's first editions of 1757 and cut extremely large for its point size: "Baskerville's influence is obvious, but Wilson has outdone the master in the width, weight and even the size of the face. I think myself that with its large x-height, generous width and clean execution, this elegant fount carries out Baskerville's ideas better than did Baskerville himself." This period saw an increasing influence of Didone printing from the Continent, in particular the types of the Didot family and the editions published by Bodoni. The style then disappeared from view altogether following a full trend towards Didone typefaces, often with a much darker style of impression; Updike suggests that this change mostly happened around 1815-20. The Scotch Roman genre which proved popular in Britain and America is something of an intermediate between Didone typefaces and Baskerville's influence. The succession of more extreme "Didone" typefaces quickly replacing Baskerville's style has led to Baskerville being called "transitional" on the road to the Didone style which dominated printing for a long period, although of course Baskerville would not have considered his design "transitional" but as a successful end in itself.
The original Baskerville type (with some replaced letters) was revived in 1917 by Bruce Rogers, for the Harvard University Press, and also released by G. Peignot et Fils in Paris (France). Modern revivals have added features, such as italics with extra or no swashes and bold weights, that were not present in Baskerville's original work.
Fry's Baskerville showing its key features: a nearly vertical axis of thinnest points (a), a high stroke contrast (c) and nearly-horizontal serifs which are sharp points (d). This compares to earlier type designs such as Bembo (below) with a diagonal axis (b), less stroke contrast (d) and serifs at a greater angle to the horizontal (e).
Key features of Baskerville are its E where the bottom arm projects further than the upper, a W with no centre serif, and in the lower-case a g where the bottom loop is open. Some fonts cut for Baskerville have an 'R' with a straight leg; in others it is curved. Many characters have clear ball terminals, in contrast to the more wedge-shaped serifs of earlier fonts. Most distinctive is the italic, in which the J has a centre-bar and many other italic capitals have flourishes, the 'p' has a tail pointing downwards and to the left (similar to the entrance stroke that would be made with a pen) and the w has a clear centre loop and swash on the left. In general, Baskerville's type has been described as 'rounder, more sharply cut' than its predecessors. (Some of these distinctive features are discarded in many revivals, as seen below.) Baskerville's type featured text figures or lower-case numbers, the only form which was used at the time (Roman numerals would be used to align with the capitals). The capitals are very bold, and (like Caslon's) have been criticised for being unbalanced to the lower-case at large sizes.
An American adaptation of Isaac Moore's type following Baskerville's style, from the late metal type period. Note the 'Q' and 'a', unlike Baskerville's. The lining figures are not original and the descenders have likely been shortened to fit the American "common line" standard.
The Fry type foundry's copies of first Baskerville (above) and then Caslon (below), shown in a specimen attached to an edition of The Printer's Grammar, 1787. The image illustrates the limits of Baskerville's type's popularity, since they apparently felt the need to cut a copy of Caslon's type also, although the book is set in Baskerville-style type.
The following foundries offered versions of Baskerville:
With Baskerville's equipment unavailable in France, the Fry type foundry of Bristol cut its own version in the late eighteenth century, presumably by house designer Isaac Moore who later showcased them on his own specimen.[h] Moore's designs feature a slightly different 'a' at large sizes followed in many revivals. Mosley comments that "In its larger sizes it is one of the most elegant types which have ever been cut, and it is by no means a simple derivative. The curves of the lower-case letters are flatter than Baskerville's and the serifs are slightly more tapered." It was showcased in a specimen attached to a 1787 reprint of John Smith's[i]Printer's Grammar, in which it was frankly admitted that "The plan on which they first sat out was an improvement of the Types of the late Mr. Baskerville of Birmingham" but, presumably failing to achieve sufficient popularity, they additionally created copies of Caslon's types.
When Fry's successors closed, this version was acquired and issued (and some sizes possibly recut) by Stephenson Blake under the name "Baskerville Old Face", with many imitations following its design, often adding lining figures at cap height and the cropped descenders necessary for "standard line" American printing.
More loosely, the Scotch Roman genre of transitional types reflects the influence of Baskerville's work, with increasing influence of Didone type from the continent around the beginning of the nineteenth century; the font Georgia is influenced by this genre. Due to the cachet of the name, other completely unrelated designs were named 'Baskerville' in the hot metal period.
Cold type versions
Two Baskerville revivals. The top design (Baskerville Old Style in the common Microsoft release) is more suitable for headings and that below (Berthold's) with its thicker strokes for body text. Baskerville Old Style is based on Isaac Moore's recreation, distinguishable by the slightly different curve of its 'a'.
Baskerville revivals take a variety of approaches and the differences are often particularly visible in italic. Monotype’s, at top, favours historical accuracy and a quite light colour, retaining the elegant swashed N, Q and T of Baskerville’s original. ITC’s uses conventional capitals, presumably to offer a more homogenous appearance. Impallari’s revival makes the same choice on a thicker structure, more suitable for use at small sizes or onscreen display where there will be no ink spread.
As a somewhat precise design that emphasises contrast between thick and thin strokes, modern designers may prefer different revivals for different text sizes, printing methods and onscreen display, since a design intended to appear elegant in large text sizes could look too spindly for body text. Factors which would be taken into account include compensation for size and ink spread, if any (the extent of which depends on printing methods and type of paper used; it does not occur on screens). Among digitisations, František Štorm's extremely complete range of versions is particularly praised for featuring three optical sizes, the text version having thicker strokes to increase legibility as metal type does. Meanwhile, the common digitisation of Baskerville Old Face bundled with many Microsoft products features dramatic contrasts between thin and thick strokes. This makes it most suited to headings, especially since it does not have an italic.
Another common question facing revivals is what to do with some letters such as 'N' in italics. On faithful revivals such as the Storm digitisation (shown at top right) they have a swash, but this may be thought too distracting for general use or to space poorly in all-caps text. Accordingly, many revivals substitute (or offer as an alternate) capitals without swashes.
We went to Birmingham where we saw original prints by Baskerville. I was quite astounded by how sharp the printing of his specimens is. They are razor-sharp: it almost hurt your eyes to see them. So elegant and high-contrast! He showed in this way what he could achieve. That was Baskerville's ideal - but not necessarily right for today.
Many companies have provided digital releases (some of older Baskerville revivals), including Linotype, URW++, Bitstream and SoftMaker as well as many others. These may have varying features, for example some lacking small caps. Monotype Baskerville is installed on Macs as part of Mac OS, while many Windows computers receive Moore's adaptation under the name of Baskerville Old Face in the URW digitisation (that described above) without an italic or bold weight.
A particularly idiosyncratic Baskerville revival is Mrs Eaves (1996), designed by Zuzana Licko. Named after Baskerville's housekeeper-turned-wife, it uses a low x-height to create a bright page without reducing stroke width. Not intended for extended body text, it is often used on book titles and headings. It uses a variety of ligatures to create effects with linked characters. Licko later created a sans-serif companion, Mr. Eaves.
Big Moore by Matthew Carter is a recent, complex digitisation of the larger sizes of Isaac Moore's early adaptation, that often called Baskerville Old Face, adding an italic. Harriet is an adaptation by Okaytype inspired by American nineteenth-century printing.
^It should be realised that "Transitional" is a somewhat nebulous classification, almost always including Baskerville and other typefaces around this period but also sometimes some of the later "old-style" faces such as the work of Caslon and his imitators. In addition, of course Baskerville and others of this period would not have seen their work as "transitional" but as an end in itself. Eliason (2015) provides a leading modern critique and assessment of the classification, but even in 1930 Alfred F. Johnson called the term "vague and unsatisfactory."
^With a few exceptions - some Birmingham publishers local to him used some of his types occasionally, including his foreman Robert Martin.
^The attribution to more is generally quite confidently accepted by scholars and the Baskerville imitation typefaces appear on a specimen issued credited to him personally although some writers only describe the attribution as probable. They were later claimed to be "cut for John Baskerville in 1768" by its owners Stephenson Blake; modern historians have generally treated this as a misunderstanding or exaggeration.
^'Transitional' faces moving on from the sixteenth-century model had appeared and become popular on the continent, for instance the Romain du Roi typeface, the work of Joan Michaël Fleischman and Fournier, but these had not become popular in Britain.
^The slate survives in the collection of the Library of Birmingham. Unfortunately, none of his gravestones or formal calligraphy are known to survive.
^It is not certain, though, that Bodoni actually planned to come to England with the specific goal of meeting Baskerville, as has sometimes been reported.
^Linotype's upright Baskerville Greek was not based on it but rather copies the style of his roman type.
^Moore was a Birmingham native, but does not appear to have had any connection with Baskerville himself.
^Pardoe, F.E. (1990). "Two unrecorded Baskerville items". Bulletin of the Printing Historical Society (27): 1–3.
^ abcdMosley, James (1963). "English Vernacular". Motif. 11: 3–56. Their roman, known today as Fry's Baskerville, was probably the work of Isaac Moore, who later became a partner in the foundry. In its larger sizes it is one of the most elegant types which have ever been cut, and it is by no means a simple derivative. The curves of the lower-case letters are flatter than Baskerville's and the serifs are slightly more tapered.
^ abSmith, John (1787). The Printer's Grammar (1787 edition). pp. 271–316. Retrieved 16 June 2018. Since the first appearance of Smith’s Printers Grammar, and Mr. Luckombe’s History of Printing, many very useful improvements have been made in the Letter Foundery of Messrs. Fry and Son, which was begun in 1764, and has been continued with great perseverance and assiduity, and at a very considerable expense. The plan on which they first sat out, was an improvement of the Types of the late Mr Baskerville of Birmingham, eminent for his ingenuity in this line, as also for his curious Printing, many proofs of which are extant, and much admired: But the shape of Mr. Caslon’s Type has since been copied by them with such accuracy as not to be distinguished from those of that celebrated Founder…The following short Specimen may serve to convey some idea of the Perfection to which that Manufactory is arrived.
^ abMosley, James. "Comments on Typophile thread". Typophile. Retrieved 28 September 2017. The Fry foundry, whose first types in the 1760s were what they called an ‘improvement’ of Baskerville’s...[Stephenson Blake] cast some types from the Fry ‘Baskerville’ matrices, then decided to add the smaller sizes of this type and market the typeface as Baskerville Old Face.
^Millington, Roy (2002). Stephenson Blake: the last of the Old English typefounders (1st ed.). New Castle, Del. [u.a.]: Oak Knoll Press [u.a.] pp. 104, 228. ISBN9780712347952.
^Bartram, Alan (2007). Typeforms: a history. London: British Library. p. 48. ISBN9780712309714.
^Butterick, Matthew. "Better options for Baskerville". Typography for Lawyers (archived). Archived from the original on 15 March 2015. Retrieved 7 August 2016. The Baskerville system font is mediocre: brittle and excessively quaint. The best recreation of the traditional Baskerville look is Baskerville 10. The definitive modernist reinterpretation is Mrs Eaves.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)