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Mr John Baskerville

Mr John Baskerville was a writing master, gravestone engraver, japanner and printer active, particularly in Birmingham, England, in the 18th century and is noted especially for the typeface he designed for his press. He was born 28 January 1706 at Sion Hill Hall, Wolverley, Worcestershire, England and died on 8 January 1775.

Baskerville was baptised on 28 January 1706 OS (1707 NS) at Wolverley church.[4][5] Baskerville established an early career teaching handwriting and is known to have offered his services cutting gravestones (a demonstration slab by him survives in the Library of Birmingham) before making a considerable fortune from the manufacture of lacquerwork items (japanning).

He practised as a printer in Birmingham, England. Baskerville was a member of the Royal Society of Arts, and an associate of some of the members of the Lunar Society.

Baskerville directed his punchcutter, John Handy, in the design of many typefaces of broadly similar appearance. His typefaces were greatly admired by Benjamin Franklin, a fellow printer,[6] but were criticised by jealous competitors and soon fell out of favour. He also pioneered a completely new style of typography, adding wide margins and leading between each line.[7]

In 1757, Baskerville published a remarkable quarto edition of Virgil on wove paper, using his own type. It took three years to complete, but it made such an impact that he was appointed printer to the University of Cambridge the following year.[8] An atheist,[9][10] he nonetheless printed The Book of Common Prayer in 1762[11][12] and a splendid folio Bible in 1763.

Baskerville innovated in printing, paper, and ink production. He worked with paper maker James Whatman to produce a smoother whiter paper, sometimes called "wove paper", which showcased his strong black type.[13]

As an atheist, Baskerville stipulated in his will that he should be buried in unconsecrated ground in the conical base of a disused windmill in his own garden. However, when a canal needed to be built through the garden, his body was disinterred in 1820. It was then briefly put on display for its good preservation and later removed to a plumber's shop for storage, then, in 1829 it was moved to the crypt of Christ Church, Birmingham (demolished 1898), before finally being laid to rest in the consecrated catacombs beneath the chapel at Warstone Lane Cemetery in 1898 (chapel demolished 1953, vaults still intact).


'Famous Brummies', Virtual Brum < > [accessed 18 December 2008]

Mosley, James, 'Baskerville, John (1706–1775)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004 < > [accessed 18 December 2008]

Zuckerman, Joan, The Birmingham Heritage (London: Croom Helm, 1979), pp. 68-70.

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