- James Mosley
John Baskerville (1706–1775)
Baskerville, John (1706–1775), printer and typefounder, was born at Sion Hill, Wolverley, near Kidderminster, Worcestershire, the son of John Baskervile (d. 1738) and his wife, Sara or Sarah; he was baptized at Wolverley on 28 January 1707. It is likely that the family were landowners and farmers in a small way. In later life Baskerville (who occasionally spelt the name Baskervill) was accustomed to allow his parents the sole benefits, amounting to £75 a year, from a small inheritance.
Early years and marriage
According to a story gathered at second hand after his death, Baskerville was a footman to 'a clergyman of King's Norton, near Birmingham, who used to instruct the poor youths of his parish in writing', a task in which Baskerville assisted him (Noble, 362). In 1726 he moved to Birmingham, where he became a writing-master in a little court near the upper part of High Street. He was also a letter-cutter and about 1730 cut the following text on a slab of slate, 22 by 27 cm, in five lines of roman, italic, and Gothic lettering: 'Grave stones cut in any of the hands by John Baskervill writing-master' (the slate is now held by the Central Library, Birmingham). Some lines are ornamented with professionally executed flourishes in the manner of contemporary writing-masters, and one is cut in a letter that closely resembles the style that he later adopted for his printing type. Although anecdotes were published during the nineteenth century of two unsigned gravestones that were said to have been cut by Baskerville, no known surviving example can be attributed to him.
In 1728 Baskerville and his father jointly mortgaged their estate at Wolverley, probably in order to provide capital for the son's enterprises. In 1742, describing his occupation as 'Japanner' and referring to essays that he had already made for several years, Baskerville submitted a petition for a patent for 'Machinery for Rolling and Grinding Metal Plates or Veneers'; the making of 'japanned' or varnished goods which imitated imported lacquer work from Japan or China was already being carried on successfully in Birmingham, notably by John Taylor. Baskerville had taken a house in Moor Street, Birmingham, in 1740, and it served as his warehouse and workshop until 1749. Samuel Derrick, in a letter describing a visit to Baskerville in 1760, noted the large scale of the japanning business and Baskerville's talent for recruiting the skilled workmen that gave the enterprise its reputation. He carried on this profitable business throughout the greater part of his life, constantly introducing technical improvements.
In 1748 Baskerville secured a lease on 8 acres to the north-east of Birmingham. He named the estate Easy Hill, and built himself the house, with extensive gardens, in which he lived for the rest of his life. At some point before 1757 and possibly even before 1750, he was joined here by Sarah Eaves, née Ruston (d. 1788), married with a son and two daughters, whose husband, guilty of fraud, had deserted her and fled the country. He lived with Mrs Eaves, who was nominally his housekeeper, until the death of her husband in 1764 enabled them to marry at St Martin's, Birmingham, on 1 June—a disregard of contemporary ideas of morality that prompted ill-natured remarks in more than one memoir, although a more tolerant visitor, G. C. Lichtenberg, found her in 1775 to be 'an excellent woman' (Lichtenberg's Visits to England, 94).
Printer and typefounder
Judging by a letter written in 1757 in which Baskerville recalled that he had 'pursued the Scheme of printing and Letter founding for Seven Years', it was about 1750 that he began his career as a printer and typefounder (Jay, 9). The earliest surviving news of his preparation for printing is given in his letter dated 2 October 1752 to the London publisher and bookseller Robert Dodsley, sending impressions of some punches for new types 'to remove in some Measure y[ou]r Impatience'. It has been suggested that Baskerville's close link with Dodsley may have been established by an author already published by the latter, the poet William Shenstone, who was a close acquaintance of Baskerville's. In his letter Baskerville adds an assurance that 'the press is creeping slowly towards Perfection' and concludes with a request, relating to the examples of types: 'Pray put it in no One's Power to let Mr [William] Caslon see them' (Straus and Dent, 94). It is clear from this letter that Dodsley was already in agreement with Baskerville for the distribution of his first production, and that the novelty of its appearance was designed to make an impact on the public.
Although details of many of his improvements would be given in his letters to Dodsley and to other correspondents, Baskerville's only public explanation for his move at this time into this new activity is contained in the preface to his edition of Milton's Paradise Lost (1758):
Amongst the several mechanic Arts that have engaged my attention, there is no one which I have pursued with so much steadiness and pleasure, as that of Letter-Founding. Having been an early admirer of the beauty of Letters, I became insensibly desirous of contributing to the perfection of them. I formed to my self Ideas of greater accuracy than had yet appeared, and have endeavoured to produce a Sett of Types according to what I conceived to be their true proportion.sig. A3r
In the same passage there is a further reference to Caslon who, having served an apprenticeship in Birmingham as a metalworker and set up in business in London, had turned to punch-cutting and typefounding about 1720 in order to supply a consortium of London printers with types modelled largely on those that were available to them from typefounders in London or abroad. By 1730 the familiar design of his types and the high quality of their manufacture had enabled Caslon's typefoundry to dominate the market for types in Britain. His unceasing industry had also enabled him to make types for Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Coptic, and other non-Latin scripts, as well as blackletter and ornaments. For all the superficial politeness of the phrasing, it is with evidently ironic intention that in his preface Baskerville offered the observation that by attempting to do too much Caslon had left 'room for improvement' in his roman and italic type .
The letters of which Baskerville claimed to have been an early admirer were probably those of the published work of writing-masters. During the second half of the sixteenth century a new calligraphic style was developed in Italy. Smoother curves and a greater contrast between thick and thin strokes resulted from the use of a finer, more flexible pen. This effect was enhanced in printed writing manuals by the use of copperplate engraving. On the other hand printing types in use in the first half of the eighteenth century often repeated styles that had been introduced almost two centuries before. A contrast had thus developed in England, as in other countries, between the style of the letters used by printers and those of a new generation of writing-masters. Among the latter, the names of John Ayres, Charles Snell, and George Shelley were prominent, and they gained a wide reputation with their manuals during the years of Baskerville's youth.
Although his own references to the progress of the new type in correspondence with Dodsley imply that he was solely responsible for it, Baskerville appears to have had his punches made for him by a professional craftsman who worked under his close guidance. An obituary notice of John Handy in 1793 calls him 'the artist who executed the admired types of the late celebrated Mr. Baskerville', and it is not difficult to identify Handy as the unnamed person who was still in the service of Sarah Baskerville in 1775 after her husband's death and who was described as a:
very honest man which performed all the manual opperations both in respect of filing the punchions, making the letter moulds and every other improvement which Mr Baskerville made in printing … This man can manage both the making of original punchions the foundry the paper and everything.GM, 91; Pardoe, 140
Baskerville's innovations in printing went far beyond the making of new printing types. He had new presses made in which, although he maintained that no new principle was introduced, great attention was paid to accuracy of construction. The platen, or plate which made the impression on the type, was of brass instead of wood, and the ‘stone’ or bed on which the type rested was also of brass, features that had long been common in the Netherlands. Ink also received attention. Long after Baskerville's death, the printer T. C. Hansard claimed to have Baskerville's recipe, which he described in his technical manual Typographia (1825). After the basic varnish for the ink had been made in the conventional manner by boiling linseed oil, a quantity of amber and rosin was dissolved in it after it had cooled, an addition that (according to C. H. Bloy) would give an added sheen to ink after it had dried. The quality of the ink also depended on taking great care in the selection of the finest old linseed oil as a basis, on the careful preparation of the lampblack that was used as a pigment (which according to a French report was made by burning colza oil), and on the maturing of the varnish for some months before the pigment was added to it.
The characteristics of Baskerville's paper and its treatment after printing were no less novel than his typography. However, the source of his paper stock remains largely undocumented. He dealt in writing paper, which was advertised in the press and also in the prospectus for his edition of Paradise Lost, and Gaskell, remarking that there was no evidence that Baskerville ever owned a paper mill, observed that references in these advertisements to the special treatment applied to Baskerville's writing papers as 'manufacture' may account for occasional contemporary statements that he was a paper maker. Several sheets of Baskerville's edition of Virgil (1757) were printed on a ‘wove’ paper without a watermark, and this remains the first known use of such paper. Prized by fine printers for its smoothness, wove paper was made with a mould covered with a fabric of uniformly woven fine brass wires in place of the traditional use of single parallel ‘laid’ wires stitched at intervals; its invention was subsequently sometimes attributed to Baskerville, but it was probably invented by James Whatman of Kent. Similar paper is used in Baskerville's quarto edition of Milton (1759) and his edition of Dodsley's Select Fables (1761) but, although these are the only three titles for which he used wove paper, Baskerville's laid papers were often made in moulds of a fineness that makes their characteristic ribbing far less obtrusive than it is in most contemporary laid papers. The features of Baskerville's printing papers suggest that they were also the fruit of experimentation by Whatman, but there is some slight evidence that Baskerville may have had paper made to his own specification: in a letter of 7 April 1759 Dodsley asked Baskerville for 'twenty reams of Post made from your own moldes' (Hanson, review, 141).
Among the best-known of Baskerville's innovations, and the source of severe criticism of his books by some contemporaries, was his treatment of the printed sheets by ‘glazing’ or pressing them. Details of the process were guarded by him as a secret and as a result accounts are both sketchy and contradictory. According to information given by the manager of the printing office of Beaumarchais, which bought Baskerville's equipment after his death, the process involved two big brass cylinders between which the printed sheets were passed under pressure, while Hansard was told by an unnamed informant that Baskerville's method was to have 'a continued succession of hot plates of copper ready, between which as soon as they were printed … the wet plates were inserted. The wet was thus expelled, the ink set, and the trim, glossy surface put on all simultaneously' (Hansard, 331). It is possible that both sources give an incomplete account of Baskerville's technique, or that it changed over time. Several commentators observed that, with their glossy finish, the products of his printing office echoed the characteristics of his japanned wares. More relevantly, two visitors to Birmingham in 1765 found his printing 'so much resembling Copper Plate engraving as not to be distinguished' (Pardoe, 98). Baskerville inserted a minimum of packing in the tympans of his presses (the pair of frames that intervened between the solid platen and the type in order to cushion the impression) so that his new type was sharply impressed on the smooth paper with a thin film of ink, and the sheet received an additional gloss from the pressing that was applied after printing. The result was an effect that had hitherto been obtainable by the infinitely more laborious and expensive technique of printing from engraved copperplates.
Although Baskerville's books were priced in sheets (that is, unbound) and he is not known to have had a bindery of his own, a group of surviving bindings with similar tools and using his types for their labels indicate that one may have been closely associated with his printing office. There is also evidence that he was concerned in the production of marbled paper.
Printing Virgil, Milton, and the Bible
In 1754 Baskerville issued a specimen of his type incorporating a prospectus for his first printed work, a collection of Virgil's works, with additional specimen settings for the title-page and a page of the text. Publication was to be by subscription, with a price of 1 guinea in sheets. The correspondence with Dodsley dating from this time continues to give an account of Baskerville's progress of the different sizes of his type and the perfection of his printing press. The edition was announced for the beginning of 1757, and the continued delay in its completion caused Dodsley some anxiety until its appearance early in May. Publii Virgilii Maronis Bucolica, Georgica, et Aeneis, a quarto of nearly 450 pages, is regarded by many critics as the most accomplished of all Baskerville's printed books. Its startlingly novel and calligraphic type, the density of the ink, the excellence of the presswork, the smoothness and gloss of the paper—all these elements work in harmony in a design that was unusually sober for a relatively expensive book, since there are no copperplates or ornaments of any kind. Baskerville's biographers Straus and Dent rightly named the simplicity of the work of Robert and Andrew Foulis, university printers in Glasgow, among the influences on his book design. Before the completion of the Virgil edition Baskerville had been inclined to follow it with what he called a 'pocket classic'. In the event the second work from his press, and the most successful and often reprinted, was an octavo edition of Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Issued for reasons of copyright under the names of J. and R. Tonson and published with the date 1758 (it appeared in January 1759), it was oversubscribed, the greatest success of all Baskerville's productions in terms of sales.
In January 1758 Baskerville made an application to the University of Cambridge for leave to print an octavo prayer book (the university held the sole rights for this title jointly with the king's printer in London) and proposed to send two presses and workmen to Cambridge as soon as a place could be found for them. He was appointed university printer in December 1758, with permission to print two octavo prayer books, and—a project that he had described as his highest ambition—a folio Bible, for which he issued a prospectus in 1759. These projects were far from remunerative. Baskerville paid the university £20 for every 1000 copies of the octavo prayer book. Moreover in granting him his title, which he had leave to use only on these two projects, the university did not restrict the output of their existing university printer, Joseph Bentham, who continued to print prayer books and a folio Bible with the Cambridge imprint. Three editions of Baskerville's octavo prayer book were printed, the first of which was in big type (the Great Primer size used for the Virgil), 'calculated for people who begin to want Spectacles but are ashamed to use them at Church', and each appeared in two different versions, with and without a border of type ornaments to each page (Straus and Dent, 97). An initial prospectus for the Bible showed the same border but offered subscribers the opportunity of expressing a choice of border or 'plain lines', and a revised prospectus of 1761 acknowledged that '[a]s many Gentlemen have objected to every Kind of Ornament round the Page, the work will be printed quite plain, with the marginal notes all at the bottom' (The Holy Bible, specimen, 1759; The Holy Bible, specimen, 1761). The resulting work, the folio Bible of 1763, has been judged as coming close to the Virgil, and the little duodecimo edition of Horace—a ‘pocket classic’ issued in 1762—as an example of Baskerville's mastery of his new style of book production, thus justifying his choice of the simpler design.
Shortly after the appearance of the Virgil in 1757 Baskerville approached the University of Oxford, offering to make a Greek type for its exclusive use. The offer was accepted and plans were laid for the production of a Greek New Testament as soon as the type should be ready. However, the resulting type was a disappointment both to printers and to classical scholars, and although the New Testament was printed in 1763, in quarto and octavo, the type was put aside by the university press and hardly ever used again.
The 'tragedy' of Baskerville's professional life as a printer—the term is L. W. Hanson's—is that the high hopes of recognition for his unique contribution to his new profession, which were encouraged by Dodsley and by an initially friendly reception in the press, turned quickly to bitter disappointment (Hanson, review, 135). Writing to Horace Walpole in 1762, Baskerville complained already that 'the Booksellers do not chuse to encourage me, tho' I have offered them as low terms as I could possibly live by'. His work at Cambridge was done 'under such Shackles as greatly hurt me', and he complained of the expense of carriage to and from Cambridge and of maintaining a second printing house there:
It is surely a particular hardship that I should not get Bread in my own Country (and it is too late to go abroad) after having acquired the Reputation of excelling in the Most useful Art known to Mankind, while everyone who excels as a Players, Fidler, Dancer &c. not only lives in Affluence, but has it in their power to save a Fortune.
He had sent specimens to the courts of Russia and Denmark, and would do the same to the other courts of Europe, offering to sell them 'the whole scheme', unless Walpole would save it for his own country. Its loss, a friend had said, would be 'a national Reproach' (Jay, 19–20). It was no doubt with the imminent disposal of his materials in mind that Baskerville prepared a first complete specimen of his types about this date.
One problem was the cost of Baskerville's printing, the result of methods of production which could not fail to be greater than those of the trade printers. There was also the matter of the text. Quite early in his correspondence with Dodsley, Baskerville outlined a scheme of proof correction which made it 'scarcely possible for the least difference, even of a point, to escape notice' (Straus and Dent, 96). 'Would that he had used it himself', wrote Gaskell, 'for his books are extraordinary as a group for their textual inaccuracy' (Gaskell, xxi). The make-up of Baskerville's books is hugely complicated by the innumerable cancels (inserted reprinted leaves with textual corrections) that they contain—such practices added greatly to the cost of each title. It is not that Baskerville did not find any patronage at all among the London booksellers: the list of works with his imprint runs to over fifty items. But 'a closer look at the books which Baskerville printed for others suggests … that he resembled Oscar Wilde's acquaintance who had dined once in every great house in London. Very few publishers asked Baskerville to print for them twice' (Hanson, review, 142).
A sense of wounded provincial pride is evident in Baskerville's reactions. In 1760, shortly after a visit to Birmingham where he called on both Matthew Boulton and Baskerville, Benjamin Franklin wrote intended words of comfort to the printer:
Let me give you a pleasant instance of the prejudice some have entertained against your work. Soon after I returned, discoursing with a gentleman concerning the artists of Birmingham, he said you would be a means of blinding all the readers in the nation; for the strokes of your letters, being too thin and narrow, hurt the eye, and he could never read a line of them without pain. ‘I thought,’ said I, ‘you were going to complain of the gloss on the paper some object to.’ ‘No, no,’ said he, ‘I have heard that mentioned, but it is not that; it is in the form and cut of the letters themselves; they have not that height and thickness of stroke which make the common printing [type] so much more comfortable to the eye.’Jay, 17
The conclusion of Franklin's letter, in which he tells how he got his gentleman to denounce a specimen of Caslon's type by tearing off the heading and passing it off as Baskerville's, can only have served to confirm Baskerville in his sense that the jealousy and prejudice now directed against him was personal and irrational.
From 1764 to 1768 Baskerville seems almost to have withdrawn from book printing, and in 1767–8 his assistant, Robert Martin, printed works under his own name with Baskerville's types. However, Baskerville was aroused again to activity by a Birmingham printer, Orion Adams, who in 1768 advertised a family Bible to be printed by Robert Martin, of which the title would be 'much more beautifully and methodically displayed than in Mr. Baskerville's'. A vituperative public argument ensued with Adams's partner Nicholas Boden, prompting Baskerville to print another folio Bible. He also began to print a new series of quarto classical texts under his own imprint: Lucretius's De rerum natura, the works of Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius, and the comedies of Terence, a three-volume edition of Shaftesbury's Characteristics, and a four-volume edition of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, for the Molini brothers in Paris.
The printing of the Orlando Furioso is significant, since it demonstrates that Baskerville's reputation was growing in continental Europe. Voltaire, to whom Baskerville had sent copies of his Virgil and Milton, had permitted the printer to set specimen pages of his own works in 1771. Fournier the younger praised his types in the second volume of his Manuel typographique (Paris, 1766). When the young Giambattista Bodoni left Rome in 1768 bound for England, it was presumably the reputation of Baskerville that had attracted him. In the preface to his first type specimen of 1771 Bodoni noted the praise that Baskerville's types had attracted and although at that date, as a printer in the Bourbon state of Parma, Bodoni prudently expressed a preference for those of Fournier, his mature style clearly shows Baskerville's influence. Among Bodoni's types of 1771 there is already a close copy of Baskerville's Greek.
Reaction to Baskerville's types was grudging in England, especially in London. The materials of a new typefoundry, established in Bristol by Joseph Fry and brought to London in 1768, were based on Baskerville's, but finding that the reception from the English trade was lukewarm, the foundry added types imitating closely the more traditional forms of those of the Caslon foundry. Nevertheless, the new style gradually became more acceptable. In the 1770s the Glasgow typefoundry of Alexander Wilson introduced types that were strongly influenced by Baskerville's.
Baskerville's failure to impose his style on the English book trade, centred as it still largely was on London, must have been all the more galling to an entrepreneur whose success in Birmingham, among a population renowned for its vigorous activity, was conspicuous. In 1761, the coronation year of George III, he was appointed high bailiff of Birmingham, a civic office with largely ceremonial duties. He was also a member of the Lunar Society, the club of scientific and industrial figures of the midlands founded by Matthew Boulton and including Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir William Herschel, and Joseph Priestley among its members. But although he had risen to become one of the major entrepreneurs of the city, Baskerville was not immune from local jealousies. As early as January 1749 he had found it necessary to place a notice in the Birmingham Gazette denying a malicious allegation that he had been arrested some time previously for debt. Contemporary accounts of his gorgeous coach, with painted panels 'got up in the japanware fashion', and of his showy clothes, display unconcealed dislike and derision: '[h]is favourite dress was green, edged with narrow gold lace; a scarlet waistcoat, with a very broad gold lace; and a small round hat, likewise edged with gold lace' (Noble, 361–2).
Death and reputation
Baskerville died at his house at Easy Hill in January 1775. Most sources date the death 8 January although the Birmingham Gazette of 23 January gives the date as 'Monday last', that is, 16 January (Pardoe, 132). Baskerville's will left legacies to his own relatives and those of his wife, but she was the chief beneficiary, with provision for her daughters should she marry again, 'which If She Chuse I wish her happy Equal to her merit' (Straus and Dent, 116). Some bequests were explicitly curtailed on account of the 'Malice & Spleen' shown by the recipients. Baskerville left directions that his body was to be buried:
in a Conical Building in my own premises Hearetofore used as a mill which I have lately Raised Higher and painted and in a vault which I have prepared for It. This Doubtless to many may appear a Whim perhaps It is so—But it is a whim for many years Resolve'd upon, as I have a Hearty Contempt for all Superstition the Farce of a Consecrated Ground the Irish Barbarism of Sure and Certain Hopes &c I also consider Revelation as it is call'd Exclusive of the Scraps of Morality casually Intermixt with It to be the most Impudent Abuse of Common Sense which Ever was Invented to Befool Mankind.
He also attached to the will the text to be used for his epitaph:
Stranger—Beneath this Cone in Uncons[e]crated GroundA Friend to the Liberties of mankind Directed his Body to be Inhum'dMay the Example Contribute to Emancipate thy mindFrom the Idle Fears of SuperstitionAnd the wicked arts of priesthood.
Straus and Dent, 117The house at Easy Hill was burnt during riots in 1791. Baskerville's body was disinterred in 1820 and, having remained in a plumber's shop for some years, was placed without ceremony in a vault in Christ Church, Birmingham, in 1829. When this church was demolished in 1898 it was removed and buried beneath the chapel of the Church of England cemetery, Warstone Lane, Birmingham. This building in turn was later demolished and the vaults were bricked up.
One of the most balanced views of Baskerville, published anonymously in the European Magazine in 1785, was the work of the historian William Hutton:
In private life he was a humourist, idle in the extreme, but his invention was of the true Birmingham mould, active. He could well design, but procured others to execute; wherever he found merit, he caressed it: he was remarkably polite to the stranger, fond of shew: a figure rather of the smaller size, and delighted to adorn that figure with gold lace.—Although constructed with the light timbers of a frigate, his movement was as solemn as a ship of the line.During the twenty-five years I knew him, though in the decline of life, he retained the traces of a handsome man. If he exhibited a peevish temper we may consider good nature and intense thinking are not always found together.Taste accompanied him through the different walks of agriculture, architecture and the fine arts. Whatever passed through his fingers, bore the lively marks of John Baskerville.Hutton, 356–7
After Baskerville's death his widow offered his printing office with the typefoundry and its materials for sale for £4000. In December 1779, negotiations having brought the price down to £3700, a sale was concluded with Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. He was a principal actor in the Société Typographique et Littéraire which was established in order to produce the complete works of Voltaire at a printing office set up for this purpose at Kehl on the right bank of the Rhine in the principality of Baden-Durlach. To the edition of Voltaire in eighty-five volumes (issued in 1784–9) was added one of the works of Rousseau, and of the comedy Le mariage de Figaro by Beaumarchais himself. Pierre Didot, son of François-Ambroise, whose new types of about 1781 are recognized as among the earliest manifestations of a new and more austere style in European typography, praised Baskerville as having shown the way by eliminating excessive ornament from printing:
Il sembloit que le Goût marchât à ses côtés;Et de tous ces fleurons il a banni l'usage:Le simple est du vrai beau la plus parfaite image.
It seemed that Taste walked by his side. He banished the use of all these ornaments. Simplicity is the most perfect image of true beauty. Didot, 4
The knowledge that Baskerville's types were being used at Kehl attracted the attention of Vittorio Alfieri, who ordered the printing of several of his own plays, including L'America libera, from Beaumarchais, placing false dates on some that he judged too radical for immediate publication. The attraction of Baskerville's association with the rationalist and politically radical stream of British thought is nowhere better demonstrated than in the use of his types during the revolution in France in the official journal, the Gazette Nationale, ou, Le Moniteur Universel, following Beaumarchais's move to Paris in 1790; for some years the journal's imprint read, 'imprimé … avec les caractères de Baskerville'. Explicit copies of Baskerville's types were also made by the foundries of De Boubers, Brussels, and by the brothers Levrault in Strasbourg, who in 1797 included 'caractères dans le genre de Baskerville' in their specimen, the work of Claude Jacob, a self-styled pupil of Baskerville who on behalf of Beaumarchais had worked briefly with his punch-cutter in Birmingham.
Baskerville's original materials disappeared from view during the nineteenth century, only for the punches and matrices to be rediscovered in the possession of a Parisian typefoundry in the early twentieth century, and to be employed again for fine printing. Versions of ‘Baskerville’ types were made for the typesetting systems Monotype and Linotype, and for a German typefoundry. The punches were presented by their current owners, the Parisian typefoundry of Deberny et Peignot, to Cambridge University Press in 1953, and are now at the Cambridge University Library.
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- W. Bennett, John Baskerville, the Birmingham printer: his press, relations, and friends, 2 vols. (1937–9)
- C. H. Bloy, A history of printing ink, balls and rollers, 1440–1850 (1967)
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- P. Didot, Épître sur les progrès de l'imprimerie (Paris, 1784)
- J. Dreyfus, ‘The Baskerville punches, 1750–1950’, The Library, 5th ser., 5 (1950), 26–48
- J. Dreyfus, ‘Baskerville's methods of printing’, Signature, new ser., 12 (1951), 44–9
- T. C. Hansard, Typographia: an historical sketch of the origin and progress of the art of printing (1825)
- L. W. Hanson, review of John Baskerville: a bibliography, The Library, 5th ser., 15 (1960), 135–43
- L. W. Hanson, ‘John Baskerville: a bibliography: further notes’, The Library, 5th ser., 15 (1960), 201–6
- [W. Hutton], ‘An account of John Baskerville, printer’, European Magazine (Nov 1785), 356–7
- J. Kerslake, National Portrait Gallery: early Georgian portraits, 2 vols. (1977), 11–12
- Lichtenberg's visits to England, ed. and trans. W. H. Quarrell and M. L. Mare (1938)
- A biographical history of England, from the revolution to the end of George I’s reign: being a continuation of the Rev. J. Granger’s work, ed. M. Noble, 2 (1806), 362
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- D. Patterson, ‘John Baskerville, marbler’, The Library, 6th ser., 12 (1990), 212–21
- T. B. Reed, A history of the old English letter foundries, ed. A. F. Johnson, 2nd edn. (1952)
- R. Straus and R. K. Dent, John Baskerville: a memoir (1907)
- B. Walker, The resting places of the remains of John Baskerville, the thrice-buried printer
- J. Wardrop, ‘Mr Whatman, paper-maker’, Signature, 9 (1938), 1–18
- The letters of William Shenstone, ed. M. Williams (1939)
- GM, 1st ser., 63 (1793), 91
- Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Étienne Alexandre Jacques Anisson-Duperron, ‘Notes recueillies à l'Imprimerie du Fort de Kehl sur cet Établissement’, MSS nouv. acq. fr. 6149–6150
- Library of Birmingham, letters to Matthew Boulton
- J. Millar, oils, 1774, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery [see illus.]
- J. Millar, oils, 1774 (copy), NPG
- S. Raven, miniature (after Millar), Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery