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 born January 1706 on Sion Hill in Worcestershire. He was raised on a farm with an income from an inheritance of about £75 per year. There is much wonder as to from where and why this money came to him. One theory says that it was an inheritance from a prominent line of Baskervilles. What we do know is that at seventeen John Baskerville decided to venture out on his own and leave the money of his inheritance to his parents. He first went to King’s Norton, an old settlement near Birmingham where he acquired employment as a footman in a clergyman’s home. The clergyman there discovered that Baskerville was a young man of talent and skill; he constantly had a pen in his hand creating intricate letterforms. The clergyman had Baskerville begin teaching the poor boys of the parish to write, with the appointment Baskerville had gained the title of writing master for the poor at a young age. It was clear though that Baskerville was meant for better things, he did not stay long at this small village and ventured on to Birmingham next.
He left the small village around 1726 before the age of nineteen and was on his way to Birmingham after the much-sought position of writing-master for the King Edward’s grammar school. 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...