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John Baskerville (1706-1775)

Born in Worcestershire in 1706, he spent the rest of his life in Birmingham. His masterpiece, the Holy Bible of 1763, is regarded by many to be the finest book printed in English.

A towering figure in the history of English typography, he broke one tradition and started another. Before Baskerville, the standard English type of the early 18th century was Caslon - a tradition which stretched back to Aldus Manutius of the 15th century. John Baskerville improved existing types, ink and presses and produced a clearer blacker type than any of his contemporaries. Unfortunately, his type was severely criticised due to the thinness of the strokes. Critics maintained that his type "hurt the eye" and would be "responsible for blinding the nation". It was a commercial failure and wasn't revived until the early 20th century.

He has been called "the greatest printer England ever produced" but was very much disliked by his contemporaries. He was regarded as nouveau-riche, provincial, and had unpopular anti-establishment views on religion. He insisted on being buried standing up in a special building in his garden and was thence branded an atheist. In 1820, his body was dug up and used as a sort of local peepshow. The curious could view it for the sum of 6 pence.

"Having been an early admirer of the beauty of Letters, I became intensely desirous of contributing to the perfection of them."


Fonts designed by John Baskerville

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