by Katie Sutton
Walk into a library and you will find books. Big books and small books. Books with pictures and books with only words. Books that are funny and books that will make you cry. Books that offer facts on molecular biology and books that make you want to move to Ireland. Now open a bunch of these books and you are guaranteed to stumble across one of the most widely used inventions of book history that typically goes unnoticed: the Caslon typeface.
Caslon is named after the English type founder William Caslon, who designed the typeface in 1722. Getting into type design was not as easy as it is today. You couldn't just sit down with a pencil and paper and then scan in your sketches into a computer to refine your letterforms. William Caslon started out as an apprentice to an engraver for gunlocks and barrels. For seven years, he learned all of the ins and out of metalwork, and became an excellent letter engraver. His metal craftsmanship was noticed by a printer, and he was asked to cut type punches for several presses. Through jobs like this, word spread of his type engraving, and he was eventually asked to design an English Arabic typeface for Christian publications to be distributed in the Middle East. This typeface was a huge success, and led him to design an English version of Roman letters and italics that is now known as the Caslon typeface family.
In 1726, he set up his own type foundry. One of his most noted pieces is a one page type specimen that shows 47 different typefaces, which were inspired by Dutch Baroque typefaces. His became so good at type design and metal type casting that he surpassed all of his competitors and became the exclusive type foundry for the King's printers.
His type was extremely legible, yet graceful and classic making it an excellent choice for printed communication pieces. Caslon was one of the last "Old-style" typefaces before "Transitional" typefaces were designed. Old-style type has characteristics of wedged serifs, greater contrast between thin and thick strokes, upright stress, and horizontal crossbars. Typefaces have a rich history, and the design of letterforms were hugely influenced from the tools that were available to write, engrave, or carve with.
William Caslon doesn't get enough credit nowadays, just like most type designers in general. His type foundry paved the foundations for future type designers like Baskerville, which continued to evolve into more type styles. William changed how the printers of London were communicating. He changed the visual voice of the text during the time period of the Industrial Revolution and his Caslon type is even used on the first printed copy of the American Declaration of Independence. By 1742, Caslon's son, also named William, was designing his own type specimens and eventually took over the foundry when his father retired in 1750.
If you're printing a lot of text that you want to read well, and have a traditional, friendly feel, look at the works of William Caslon. His letterforms are everywhere at your local library.