Caslon - History

History

Caslon's earliest design dates to 1722. Caslon is cited as the first original typeface of English origin, but type historians like Stanley Morison and Alfred F. Johnson, a scientist who worked at the British Museum, did point out the close similarity of Caslon's design to the Dutch Fell types cut by Voskens and other type cut by the Dutchman Van Dyck.

The earliest information about William Caslon as punch-cutter and typefounders can be found in:

  • Rowe More, Dissertation 1778
  • John Nicols, Biographical and Litarary Anecdotes of William Bowyer 1782, start at: pag. 316
  • John Nicols, Litarary Anecdotes, 1812–1815

The two next authors fully based their writings on the three publications previously mentioned.

  • Reed Talbot Baines, A History of Old English Letter Foundries, 1897
  • Daniel Berkeley Updike, Printing types, their History, forms and use, 1937

The first founts cut by William Caslon were:

  • Arabic, used in a "Psalter" in 1725
  • Hebrew, used for John Selden's Works in 1726.
  • Koptic, used for the bi-language Pentateuch of Dr. David Wilkins in Latin and Hebrew in 1731

There is much uncertainty about the first roman and italic Latin characters cut by Caslon himself, and the literature on this is partly incorrect.

Nicols writes: "he (Caslon) cut the beautiful fount of English which is used in printing Selden's Works 1726. Nicols describes this character as far superior over comtemporary Dutch founts used in English books at this period. Rowe More does not give any comment on this.

Dutch founts were in use by several printers in England at that time. The Oxford University Press used the "Fell-types", character cut by the Dutch typefounder Voskens. The Cambridge University Press had received in January 1698 some 52 series of alphabets from Holland, all cut by Van Dyck. But even before that in 1697 thay used the Text-sized roman and italic of Van Dyck in an edition of Gratulatio Cantabrigiences. Character of Van Dyck and Voskens is found also in: William Harison, Woodstock Park, Tonson, 1706.

Although Nicols attributes this character to Caslon, the fount used in Seldens Works is actually cut by Van Dyck. The italic is identical to the Van Dycks Augustijn Cursijf fount in specimen sheets issued in 1681 by the widow Daniel Elzevir. This woman had bought the typefoundry of Van Dyck after Van Dyck died.

The roman in this book is a Garamond. This fount is used in the first volume and in the greater part of the second volume, It is found in a specimen sheet of the Amsterdam printer Johannes Kannewet, in accompagny with Van Dyck's Augustijn Cursijf. The only thing known about this Kannewet is that he was a printer, not a typefounder. This specimen-sheet is preserved in the Bagford-collection in the British Museum, and can be dated 1715 or earlier because Bagford died in 1716. There is no reason to suppose anything is added on a later date to this collection. The roman is named: Groote Mediaan Romyn. This fount is also found on a specimen sheet of the widow of Voskens. Therefore it can be assumed to be the work of Voskens. The earliest use of it at Amsterdam is 1684.

The earliest use of a roman and italic cut by Caslon can be identified in books printed William Bowyer in:

  • 1725: roman and italic Pica-size, in the notes in Anacreon in Greek and Latin.
  • 1726: roman and cursief, Pica-size, in: Reliquæ Baxterianæ
  • 1730: roman and italic, English size, in the preface of Richard Baker's Chronicles of the Kings of England. The text-part is set in the Caslon Pica.

The founts cut by Caslon and his son, were close copies of the Dutch Old face cut by Van Dyck. These founts were rather fasionable at that time. The alternative founts they cut for text were a smaller, rather than a condensed letter.

The Caslon types were distributed throughout the British Empire, including British North America. Much of the decayed appearance of early American printing is thought to be due to oxidation caused by long exposure to seawater during transport from England to the Americas. Caslon's types were immediately successful and used in many historic documents, including the U.S. Declaration of Independence. After William Caslon I’s death, the use of his types diminished, but saw a revival between 1840–80 as a part of the British Arts and Crafts movement. The Caslon design is still widely used today. For many years a common rule of thumb of printers and typesetters was When in doubt, use Caslon.

Several revivals of Caslon do not include a bold weight. This is because it was unusual practice to use bold weights in typesetting during the 18th century, and Caslon never designed one. For emphasis, italics or a larger point size, and sometimes caps and small caps would be used instead.

It should be noted, that some revivals have little or nothing in common with the 18th century type cut by Caslon, besides the serifs and the name.

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