William Caslon, 18th Century Typographer

William Caslon I (1692-1766) was an English gunsmith and typographer. His typefaces, particularly his roman typeface that eventually took his own name, was an instant success. Historians have said that Caslon gave England a national typeface. By the mid 18th century, printers all across Europe and the American colonies were using the Caslon typeface to print books, newspapers and pamphlets.  A Caslon typeface was even used to print the original Declaration of Independence. Shown above is one example of a Caslon typeface, fashioned after the original, by the International Typeface Corporation, which is available for purchase.

Before Caslon, most English books and newspapers were printed using Dutch-made fonts. According to A Concise History of the Origin and Progress of Printing (Philip Luckombe, 1770), “It may be observed that it was owing to the ingenuity and care of more than one Dutch founder, and the stupidity and carelessness of our own, that the preference, till of late years, was given to Dutch letter; but it has now entirely lost its former credit by the influence and conspicuous superiority of the laborious productions of the late ingenious Mr. W. Caslon, and his son, now his successor.”

For more information on colonial printing practices, check out The Colonial Printer by Lawrence Wroth. This book was recommended to me by Gary Gregory, founder of Lessons on Liberty and a leading authority on 18th century printing. If you’re visiting Boston soon and want a walking tour with a focus on colonial newspaper printing, check out Ben Edwards of Walking Boston.

9 Comments

  1. raglinen (Historic Newspapers)
    March 23, 2010

    Can you name the font used to print the original Declaration of Independence? http://tinyurl.com/ygxgej9

  2. opheliacat (Laura )
    March 23, 2010

    Typeface, not font: RT @RagLinen

    Can you name the font used to print the orig. Declaration of Independence? http://tinyurl.com/ygxgej9

  3. raglinen (Historic Newspapers)
    March 23, 2010

    Thx @opheliacat – Can you name the *typeface* used to print the original Declaration of Independence? http://tinyurl.com/ygxgej9

  4. bostonhistory (Ben Edwards)
    March 23, 2010

    RT @raglinen: New Rag Linen blog post on William Caslon I, 18th Century Typographer – http://tinyurl.com/ygxgej9

  5. bostonhistory (Ben Edwards)
    March 23, 2010

    @raglinen Thanks for the mention in your recent blog post! http://tinyurl.com/ygxgej9

  6. mutabilis (Lisa Bunker)
    March 23, 2010

    RT @opheliacat: Typeface, not font: RT @RagLinen

    Can you name the font used to print the orig. Declaration of Independence? http://tinyurl.com/ygxgej9

  7. wynkenhimself (Wynken de Worde)
    March 23, 2010

    short but sweet: RT: @RagLinen: New Rag Linen blog post on William Caslon I, 18th Century Typographer – http://tinyurl.com/ygxgej9

  8. KYNDNP (Kentucky NDNP)
    March 23, 2010

    RT @raglinen: Thx @opheliacat – Can you name the *typeface* used to print the original Declaration of Independence? http://tinyurl.com/ygxgej9

  9. Understanding the Colonial American Tea Trade | Rag Linen | Online Museum of Historic Newspapers
    November 11, 2010

    [...] here.  Design geeks will appreciate the fact that the typeface used in this reference guide is Caslon, the same typeface 18th century printers all across Europe and the American colonies used to print [...]

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