The Italian Renaissance saw the rebirth of the arts within Italy and so the typography from there also evolved. This category of fonts based off of the handwriting of the Italian Renaissance is known as Oldstyle.
Oldstyle types have been evolving since 1470, first starting with the Venetian Oldstyle. Nicholas Jenson of France designed this typeface. Jenson was a successful foundry owner and when he served in the court of King Charles VII of France was sent to Maintz, Germany (identifont.com par 1). Jenson’s type was copied throughout the 1500s creating such typefaces as the French and the Aldine Oldstyle (identifont.com par 2). The descendents of these humanist Venetian fonts can be found within the work of William Caslon.
Caslon, born in 1693, was an English font designer. During Caslon’s early career “English printing was at a low ebb and was dependent on Holland for its types. Caslon changed all this and stopped the importation of Dutch type. Thus, Caslon heralded a turning point for English type-founding” (identifont.com par 1). A group of printing firms in London asked to use Caslon’s new type when making copies of the New Testament to be sent on ships to the new world of America. It was the publisher’s hope and also that of the English government to convert the natives of America to Christianity.When his work reached the new world, the taste for the typeface spread across America. It’s most famous use was in 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was printed and distributed among the people of the new world. The author “George Bernard Shaw insisted that only Caslon be used for all his books” (identifont.com par 3). The Caslon font became one of the most used fonts of the 18th century.
The Caslon typeface has undergone many revisions during its existence and continues even today. Most commonly, the font referred to as Caslon Old Face is the truest example of the font designed by William Caslon. The “Caslon Letter Foundry” currently owns this font. During the revival of Caslon, the American Type Founders created the Caslon 471 font based off of a book sample found dating back to 1865 (typophile.com par 1). The American Type Founders have continued to create variations of the font throughout the years.
With in the Oldstyle font there are general classifications that can be found within any of the families. The first is the minimal variation of thick to thin strokes with the letterforms. Also the x-height of the letterform is very small. The small compactness of the letterform continues with its small serif often causing a concave looking base of the letter. Since the design of the Oldstyle font is to emulate handwriting, there is a small oblique shift within the round curves of the letter causing a stress to be on the diagonal. The ascending line of the letterform and the capital line are always almost nearly separate from each other (graphicdesign.spokanefalls.edu par 2). The Caslon typeface does keep with many of these attributes but does vary as well. Caslon was revolutionary for its day so it does contain some unexpected variations.
When William Caslon created his type it was said that he used Dutch letterforms as inspiration for his work. Many compare his work to that of early Dutch typographers, Van Dijck and Janson (Bigelow Class Lecture). His font shares the characteristics of Dutch forms in that short ascenders and descender characterize the font, serifs are short and the text is of high contrast. There is a modulation of the stroke and the “A” contains a concave curve within the apex (graphicdesign.spokanefalls.edu par 12). The capital “G” does not contain a spur. In the style of imitating handwriting Caslon’s italic forms are in the style of calligraphy and contain a stroke with movement. Lowercase italic letters, especially the p, q, v, w, and z “all have a suggestion of a swash” (Wikipedia par 1).
The Caslon typeface has fallen in and out of favor over time, with its most recent revival in the 1980s. Caslon, since it has so many variations, can have many different uses. For example, Caslon 540 is a bold typeface that is mostly used for advertisements and large posters. More recently, a custom version of Caslon 540 is used for Vogue Magazine for their cover headings (typophile.com par 2). During the 1700s the Caslon typeface was so popular it was used for all the British newspapers. This theme continues today in magazines and newspapers that use Caslon typefaces. The magazine, Boston, uses the Williams Caslon Text, a modern version of Caslon developed by William Berkson (Boston Magazine par 1).
People really love Caslon, as George Bernard Shaw once said; “I’ll stick with Caslon until I die.” The Caslon font family is a very readable and legible font family. It contains strong contrasting letterforms that allow the typeface to be easily read. “To the question, ‘What is the best type for all purposes which has been designed from the beginning of printing until the present day?’ there can be no uncertain answer. The type is that designed and cut by William Caslon. It can be used for years for all purposes without palling on the taste” (McMurtrie). Its success as a display and body text shows the versatility and staying power of Caslon.There are those who believe that the Caslon font family is a predictable choice: “I am not a great enthusiast over Caslon. It is at most a safe type for general use and moderately picturesque” (Rogers).
William Caslon passed away in 1766, and with his death his font family fell out of style. Yet almost a hundred years later his font has undergone a revival, most recently seen in the Adobe Caslon typeface. Caslon continues to be a readable functional choice for any printed material.
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