John Baskerville was born in 1706 and moved to Birmingham at the age of 20, where he worked as a writing teacher and stonemason. He earned only a modest income until 1738, when he opened a paint shop specialising in japanning
. His profits soon enabled him to pursue his secret passion – that of printing.
As the contemporary Caslon
typefaces did not appeal to him, he began in 1750 to cut his own designs. These were later to be known as “transitional Romans”
, their particular features being greater contrast, almost horizontal serifs on the lowercase characters, and an approximately vertical stress angle.
Baskerville’s first major publication was an edition of Vergil
in 1757. The new typeface met with immediate public approval, and only one year later, in 1758, he was appointed as director of the Cambridge University Press
After his death in 1775, Baskerville, an atheist, was buried at his own request in “unconsecrated ground”
on his own estate. When, in 1821, a canal was being constructed on the property, his coffin was disinterred and opened. As no clergyman could be found who was willing to conduct a reburial, Baskerville’s mummified body was placed on public display in two Birmingham warehouses. It was not until years later that Baskerville reached his final resting place in Warstone Lane Cemetery.
Cover of a book printed by John Baskerville in 1761