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Baskerville and the business of printing

Title page of Virgil’s Bucolica, printed by John Baskerville, displaying simple and elegant typography Title page of Virgil’s Bucolica, printed by John BaskervilleOne of the greatest benefits to derive from the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1695 was the flowering of provincial printing.

This is reflected in the fact that perhaps the greatest English printer of the 18th century, John Baskerville (1706-75) had his press not in London but in Birmingham.

As with William Morris a hundred years later, Baskerville was in many ways closer in spirit to the printers of the Renaissance than to his contemporaries.

Like them he combined the business of printing with type design and type founding; and paid close attention to the quality of ink and paper; like them he eschewed a reliance on illustration and ornament and sought a unity of design in a book’s typography alone.

The quarto Bucolica was the first book to be printed by Baskerville and came off the press in 1757. Our copy, however, is probably a later impression, printed in 1770.  As an example of fine book production it was enormously influential.

The simple and elegant typography and the innovative use of wove paper (paper made with a new type of mould so as to avoid the appearance of mesh lines, developed for Baskerville by the papermaker James Whatman) marked a real departure from the cluttered and untidy appearance of much English book production.

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