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John Baskerville

After becoming wealthy, Baskerville did not stop his business focusing his attention only on the type design, printing, publishing, papermaking and ink manufacturing. The chronological reports show that Baskerville supported his “japanning” (lacquering) business in 1738 – 1773 years. It was his current japanning business that generated cash-flow, which supplied Baskerville’s Research & Development and his glorious personal aspirations of superiority in the graphic arts.

For common customers Baskerville’s typography was expensive. He used custom resources, and customized tools, shared with customized print-production and final refinement. In his time, the average value of printing was around 18 shillings; Baskerville’s price was three pounds, ten shillings. For most publishers this price was too high. Baskerville has concentrated mostly on the exclusive editions, publications that would surely provide his immortality.

That shows his editions 1757 Virgil and 1763 folio Bible. It is indisputable that the greatest authority of Baskerville’s type design, book design, and excellent printing skills didn’t appear in England but in France, Italy and the Low Countries. Indisputably, Baskerville has given to the roman letter not only to England but even to the whole Europe, the most geometric proportions combined with the greatest grace. A well deserved praise should be given to a great master of typography.

The Baskerville’s fonts were not recognized by English printers which resulted in rejecting his fonts from the commercial market into relative gloom for more than 150 years. The certain fact is that, in spite of his recognition (or perhaps because of it); up to 1773 English printers didn’t buy any type, mats or punches of John Baskerville. Insignificant sales from his type foundry during the last two years of his life only confirmed the substantial denial of his fonts by English printers. The narrow-minded and scanty craftsman-merchants frowned upon the innovators.

In every original respect — as well as applied investigation and development, paper and ink technology, printing press innovations, type and book design, and precision printing — Baskerville was much more ahead of his time. It was not his jealous and squabbling compatriots but History that became the final judge of his achievements. Based on irresistible evidence, it is logical to conclude that John Baskerville had reached the top of superiority that had ever equaled, or will ever equal, in the graphic arts.

Almost a hundred and fifty years later, the “Baskerville renewal” was started by the Stephenson Blake Foundry in 1909 when they offered some partial specimens of Fry’s Baskerville fonts. Then Morris Fuller Benton created a Baskerville font in 1915, which was also based on Fry’s Baskerville form. The real Baskerville’s fonts were introduced again by Bruce Rogers?? in 1917, produced new Baskerville fonts by Monotype in 1924, Stempel in 1928, German Linotype in 1928, English Linotype in 1931, Deberny & Peignot, with new mats made from the original punches, in 1931 and Intertype in 1932.

Baskerville improved the printing press. Other printers of those times pressed their hold-downs on the paper that has been laid with a thick cylinder to reduce discrepancies in depth of the type by ingesting the pressure. This designer was confident in the coordination of his type. His hold-downs have been manufactured of machine-tooled finish brass an inch thick to give even pressure, and could have been distributed with the thick cylinder and reached a dark impression. The dark impression was not created only of his perfected press, but also of his new recipe of ink.

“He took the finest and oldest linseed oil and boiled with long-continued fire till it acquired a certain thickness of tenacity, which was judged by putting small quantities upon a stone to cool, and then taking it up between the finger and thumb; on opening which, if it drew into a thread an inch long or more, it was considered sufficiently boiled. The oil thus prepared was suffered to cool, and had then small quantity of black or amber rosin dissolved in it, after which it was allowed some months to subside; it was then mixed with the fine lampblack to a proper thickness.

” Another Baskerville’s novelty was his paper processing. The paper he printed was finished with the “hot press” technique. When it was typed, it was pressed between two warmed up plates made of copper. This caused the dampness in the paper and resulted in an even surface. Baskerville was the first who applied a paper type named “wove paper. ” Baskerville applied two paper types, still, his invention of wove paper resulted in its eventually becoming the industrial standard that is being applied even nowadays.

Baskerville died in 1775. His individual struggle was lastly succeeded when he was called one of the best type designers. It was a proper cenotaph to a person whose fonts are still applied. Distinguished for his interest to the tiny elements and his ability to overcome difficulties, he deserved to have a place in people’s memory.

References 1. Fiedl Frederich, Nicholas Ott and Bernard Stein (1998). Typography: An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques Through History. Black Dog & Leventhal.

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