Famous Typographers of Famous Fonts: John Baskerville

Famous Typographers of Famous Fonts: John Baskerville

In typography there are two basic ways to style letters – with serifs, or without.

Serifs are the lines added to the strokes of letters to make them more defined – and in modern times sans serif typefaces are supreme, prized for their clean lines and elegance.

But fonts using serifs have their place too, and one of the most classic fonts in history is the Baskerville family of typefaces, invented by the English typographer John Baskerville.

For part three of iFactory’s series on influential typographers it’s time to get back to the classics and meet John Baskerville, the man whose letters quite literally wrote the books.

John Baskerville – a man for all seasons

John Baskerville was born in 1706, carving out a long life as a businessman who dabbled in stone cutting, papier mache and lacquer ware. But it was his work as a typographer that brought him lasting prominence.

He set up a printing business in the year 1750 and took seven years to produce his first printed book! But printing was no easy thing back then – Baskerville had to build his own printing presses, make his own inks and even make the paper. 

So designing his own family of typefaces was a natural progression, and along with his punchcutter John Handy, Baskerville designed a new typeface as well as a new kind of paper, which showcased his new type. He also pioneered the practice of adding wide margins and leading between each line. 

Baskerville’s classic appeal

A transitional font that mixes classical elements and modern lines, the Baskerville font family is elegant, yet also bold and authoritative.

Baskerville’s letters were used to print the first versions of the epic poem Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained by John Milton, and were adopted by the prominent American statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin as the standard typeface for US government publishing.

Baskerville's work was criticised by his competitors and soon fell out of favour. However since the 1920s many new fonts have been released by Linotype, Monotype and other type foundries – revivals of his work and mostly called Baskerville.  Baskerville's most notable typeface Baskerville represents the peak of transitional type face and bridges the gap between Old Style and Modern type design.

Emigre, a type foundry, released a popular revival of this typeface in 1996 called Mrs Eaves, named after Baskerville's wife, Sarah Eaves. 

Baskerville’s finest achievement is considered to be his Bible of 1763 – no mean feat for an atheist! By the time of his death in 1775, Baskerville had etched his name in typography history.

Baskerville’s enduring appeal

Baskerville's type fell out of favour for many years, and was derided as a stereotypical classic font. But in recent times it’s had something of a revival, with many foundries re-releasing Baskerville type with updated features.

Everything old is new again, and Baskerville is here to stay.

iFactory’s classic appreciation

At iFactory we are all about modern innovation, but we do appreciate the classic masters like John Baskerville, who set the classic benchmark for what’s possible.

As a full service creative and digital agency for web design in Brisbane, iFactory has a growing team of Internet professionals that can deliver stylistic, professional, market-driven internet solutions that draw on a huge range of influences, from the modern to the classic. 

Specialising in online business from e-commerce, digital marketing and graphic and web design, iFactory can deliver classic style or cutting edge innovation.

So whether you want to keep it classic or be at the cutting edge of graphic design in Brisbane, contact iFactory on +61 7 3844 0577.

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