John Baskerville: An Influential Typographer

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Considered one of the most influential typographers in history, John Baskerville made a significant mark on the world of print and type founding. Although considered a failure at printing during his lifetime he produced some of the works we look to today when we speak of the development of the typography and printing fields. An influence to other well-known typographers such as Bodoni and Didot and printers such as Benjamin Franklin, Baskervilles’ works met with hostility in the English Isles. Baskerville was more than a typographer; he was an artist, printer and stonecutter. He developed his own inks and papers, seeking the perfect surface and substances for many of his endeavors including printing and japanning.

John Baskerville was
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There he taught writing and bookkeeping. It was during this time he developed a fascination for calligraphy. He had learned the art of stone cutting at his former appointment in which he could use his skills in forming letters. Unknown exactly when he started stonecutting, speculations say that he started carving gravestones as early as 1729. It is commonly held that

there are only two surviving pieces of his stone cutting works left, one is in the churchyard at Edgbaston. There is also a small square slate slab with the inscription: “Grave Stones Cut in any of the Hands by John Baskervill Writing Master.” Baskerville did not append the last E to his name until after he had amassed some degree of success. Baskerville maintained these two occupations simultaneously until about 1736. (Benton) (Dent, Straus)

Baskerville longed to be rich and it was in Birmingham that he carved a life for himself as a successful businessman in the commission and manufacturing of Japanned goods (highly varnished). Stories are told that Baskerville, in order to discover the secrets of the local successful Japanning professional named John Taylor, followed him about and ordered the same materials in the same quantities and discovered the recipe to Taylor’s formula for cheap varnish. It was in this Japanned goods business that Baskerville maintained his wealth until he died.
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