John Baskerville

John Baskerville is notable in graphic design for his work with type design and print design. His name may be recognized from the typeface named after himself, Baskerville, a serif type with thin and thick contrast, great legibility, and often used in books or novels. John Baskerville was born at Sion Hill farm in Worcestershire, England in 1706 and died in 1775. Outside of being an artist, Baskerville was recognized for living with a woman unwed, which was a huge scandal during the time period, they ignored the comments and shared this radical companionship. Baskerville was also a committed atheist and often went against religion. At the age of seventeen John Baskerville started his career and became a tombstone engraver, this is the first (documented) time that Baskerville entered the print design and type design world. He was very talented and created very beautifully carved tombstones. Baskerville is one of the first noted designers and set a pathway with his work done with the printing press. He decided to move to Birmingham around 1740 where he became a writing teacher, and went on to make his fortune by starting a varnishing business. His business brought him great wealth because of his great talent and hard work. With his wealth from engraving he had the means to explore and experiment with type. Type design could be very expensive during this time because it required a printing press, ink,right kind of paper, and lots of time. At the age of forty-four Baskerville decided to give up engraving and start a printing business. During this time Baskerville published his first work, Virgil. Virgil is a poet, Baskerville printed an edition of his poetry. The work became famous for its typography and overall design. Virgil was done in John Baskerville typeface, Baskerville. During the three year printing process Baskerville realized his delicate typeface needed a clean image which meant less pressure from the plate. He changed and refined his paper making process and created the first book which part was printed on wove paper. He invented this style or quality of work that was done on glossy paper. He also created a dense, true black ink, this style helped baskerville achieve the best process for printing his typeface and led him to many beautiful pieces. After a few more published works including, and edition of John Milton poetry, John Baskerville became printer to University of Cambridge. Here he created what is known as his greatest work, an edition of the King James Holy Bible. Some say it is the most beautiful Bible ever made. The printer of the University of Cambridge is one of the few people who was allowed to print the King James version, along with the king’s printer and the printer of University of Cambridge. The bible is adorned by beautiful Baskerville type printed on fine paper. What is interesting about this famous work is that John Baskerville was a very outspoken atheist, this shows how committed to his work that Baskerville is that he was willing to produce a Holy Bible, a religious piece of art in which he does not believe in. Baskerville struggled to make a profit out of his work and often put a lot more money into his work then he was able to receive for it, this was very frustrating for him, as it would be for anyone. After publishing his edition of The Holy Bible, Baskerville didn’t publish any works for several years.

Before his death in 1775 Baskerville requested that he be buried in a lead – lined coffin and not in a consecrated ground. However, the whereabouts of his body changed quite a bit. First he stood in a mausoleum on his own garden. This land got destroyed and sold during the Burminham riots. Once his coffin was found by workmen, he was moved to a warehouse where his coffin was used as a workbench for a plumber. That lasted until a bookseller took Baskerville to Christ Church cemetery where he lay just until being truly laid to rest at Warstone Lane Cemetery. There is a memorial outside Baskerville house in Centenary Square that spells out virgil in his typeface.

John Baskerville was a member of the Royal Society of Arts, where he met and became friends with a fellow printer, Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin was impressed by Baskerville’s prints, he even brought a few over to the very new United States of America. His typeface Baskerville was very impactful for type at the time, it was a transitional face that transitioned Old Style to Modern. Baskerville is notable for his innovation in printing, including his innovations with paper and ink. John Baskerville felt strong in all of his beliefs and was extremely dedicated to his work. It is important to study Baskerville and his work to understand the evolution of type design and print design.


Works Cited

“1 Comment.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University,


“Baskerville’s Bible.” SMU,


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “John Baskerville.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 24 Jan. 2019,


Douglas, Ava. “John Baskerville.” History of Graphic Design,


No. 1761: John Baskerville,


Discussion — One Response

  • Rachael Paine 05/03/2019 on 1:44 PM

    It sounds like John Baskerville was quite the rebel, not falling into line with societies expectations (not marrying, being an atheist who designs bibles, etc). I love this. How designerly 😀 I thoroughly enjoyed this post!

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