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Caslon and printing types

Page showing samples of primer, English and Pica typesPage showing samples of primer, English and Pica typesJust as important as the printer in the history of book production is the often overlooked figure of the type founder, none more so than William Caslon (1692-1766), whose name is recalled in one of the best known fonts of type in use today.

Caslon challenged the continental monopoly of type founding, setting up business as a type cutter and type founder in 1716. By the mid-18th century his types were among the most heavily used in England.

They were to be equally popular in North America and were chosen by Benjamin Franklin for the printing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Caslon was joined in business by his son, also called William (1720-78), and it was he who initiated the production of samples of type in book form for the use of potential customers.

The pages reproduced to the right show samples of his Primer, English and Pica types. Caslon always chose the opening lines of Cicero’s first Catiline oration as his sample text, perhaps because it provided a rare opportunity to demonstrate the little-used letter Q.

In A new introduction to bibliography, Philip Gaskell describes Caslon’s types as ‘tasteful, subdued, and rather dull’ and perhaps their strength and attraction to 18th century readers lay partly in their unobtrusive quality.

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