Happy Birthday, Relatively-Unknown Friend!

It’s John Baskerville’s birthday, but that wouldn’t have meant anything to me if I hadn’t married Carl, so I guess this post is as much about my husband as some random dead British person from the 18th Century.

Incidentally, Baskerville was not related to the slightly more famous, albeit fictional, family of the Sherlock Holmes novel. In case you were wondering.

He was actually a printer, and he developed a typeface. You probably have it, and you’ve almost certainly seen it.

Nice, isn’t it? Clean, classic, a little bit understated while still being reassuringly stylish… Carl loves fonts and collects them whenever possible. He has hundreds of them already, maybe thousands. It’s slightly obsessive, yes, but so much more benign than spoons or shot glasses or pets.

To be fair, he uses them for work all the time, and will spend literally hours trying to find exactly the right font for whatever project he’s working on. Because every font says something about the project or product, either clarifies or clashes with the image. A font can make all the difference between cheesy and sophisticated, serious and ironic.

(I know this because Carl tells me. Also because he occasionally asks me with pent-up triumph which of two prints looks better. My accuracy is improving).

Back to J. Baskerville. I checked his Wikipedia page and found some biographical information that I thought was especially interesting.

In 1757, Baskerville published his first work, a collection of Virgil, which was followed by some fifty other classics. In 1758, he was appointed printer to the Cambridge University Press. It was there in 1763 that he published his master work, a folio Bible, which was printed using his own typeface, ink, and paper.

The perfection of his work seems to have unsettled his contemporaries, and some claimed the stark contrasts in his printing damaged the eyes. Abroad, however, he was much admired, notably by Fournier, Bodoni, and Benjamin Franklin.

“The perfection of his work seems to have unsettled his contemporaries”… I don’t know about you, but this makes me laugh. I like imagining 18th century folks in a huff over the perfection of someone’s work. And the mildly dismissive tone of the whole thing.

And there you have it. I was going to wish you a font-filled day, but that’s sort of a given—especially considering you’re already on the Internet. That being said, may you enjoy the fonts you encounter, may their perfection never unsettle you, and may you ALWAYS find the one you’re looking for.


3 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Relatively-Unknown Friend!

  1. I think fonts are a great collection. Too bad you can display them in pretty flocks on top of the china cabinet. *grin* (Or maybe you can!!!)

    I am totally with you on the love of the perfectionism comment. So great.

  2. Totally charming. I am delighted to know the history of the illustrious Baskerville font, and what an awesome quote to go along with it! Unsettling perfection. My, my.

    Carl’s asking you about fonts makes me smile. Gene would often do that with pictures he was post processing. “Do you like it with this much unsharp mask, or this much? Here’s one. Here’s two.” It’s amazing what we can learn to appreciate once someone who cares about it opens our eyes.

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