William Caslon

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For other uses or meanings of Caslon, see Caslon (disambiguation).
William Caslon
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William Caslon I in an engraved portrait by John Faber the Younger
Born 1693
Cradley, Worcestershire
Died 23 January 1766 (aged 72–73)
London, England
Occupation Gunsmith and type designer

William Caslon I (1692/1693 – 23 January 1766), also known as William Caslon the elder,[1] was an English gunsmith and designer of typefaces.[2] The distinction and legibility of his type secured him the patronage of the leading printers of the day in England and on the continent. His typefaces transformed English type design and first established an English national typographic style.[3]


Caslon was born in Cradley, Worcestershire in 1692 or 1693[1] and trained as an engraver in nearby Birmingham.[4] In 1716 he started business in London as an engraver of gun locks and barrels, and as a bookbinder's tool cutter. Having contact with printers, he was induced to fit up a type foundry, largely through the encouragement of William Bowyer.

He died on 23 January 1766, and was buried in the churchyard of St Luke Old Street, London, where the family tomb (bearing his name and others) is preserved.


A specimen sheet of typefaces and languages, by William Caslon I, letter founder; from the 1728 Cyclopaedia

Caslon's typefaces were inspired by the Dutch Baroque types, the most commonly used types in England before Caslon's faces. His designs influenced John Baskerville and are thus the progenitors of the typeface classifications Transitional (which includes Baskerville, Bulmer, and Fairfield), and Modern (which includes Bell, Bodoni, Didot, and Walbaum).

Caslon typefaces were immediately popular and used for many important printed works, including the first printed version of the United States Declaration of Independence. Caslon's types became so popular that the expression about typeface choice, "when in doubt, use Caslon," came about. The Caslon types fell out of favour in the century after his death, but were revived in the 1840s. Several revivals of the Caslon types are widely used today.

The Caslon family tomb in the churchyard of St Luke Old Street, London

Caslon Foundry[edit]

William Caslon founded the Caslon Foundry at around 1720, which became the leading English typefoundry of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

After the death of William Caslon I, his son William Caslon II took over the Caslon Foundry business, which lasted until William Caslon IV sold the foundry to Blake, Garnett & Co. In 1792, William Caslon III sold his share of Caslon Foundry to his mother and his sister-in-law, the widow of his brother Henry. In the same year, William Caslon III purchased the Salisbury Square foundry from the recently deceased Joseph Jackson, and renamed it to Caslon & Son. In 1807, Caslon & Son was passed to William Caslon IV. In 1819, William Caslon IV sold the Caslon & Son to the new Sheffield foundry of Blake, Garnett & Co. In 1837, the Caslon Foundry became the property of Stephenson, Blake & Co. The family of William Caslon III's sister-in-law kept the main Caslon foundry running until 1937, when Stephenson Blake acquired the remaining H.W. Caslon & Sons foundry.[5]

H. W. Caslon and Company Limited[edit]

In 1998, Justin Howes reestablished the Caslon foundry, under the name H. W. Caslon & Company Limited, with an expanded version of ITC Founder’s Caslon as the company's initial product. However, following the death of Justin Howes in 2005, the revived H.W. Caslon & Company was no longer in business, and the expanded Founders Caslon is no longer offered in retail market.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mosley, John (2008). "Caslon, William, the elder (1692–1766), typefounder". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Online ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4857. Retrieved 2014-10-12. 
  2. ^ "History of Printing", British Printing Society Retrieved on 29 April 2014.
  3. ^ Luna, Paul; Ould, Martyn (2013). "The Printed Page". In Gadd, Ian. Beginnings to 1780. History of Oxford University Press 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 515–516. ISBN 0199557314. Retrieved 2014-10-12. 
  4. ^ Hill, Joseph (1971) [1907]. The Book Makers of Old Birmingham: Authors, Printers, and Book Sellers. New York: B. Franklin. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0833717065. 
  5. ^ Description in the font collection


Further reading[edit]

  • Ball, Johnson (1973). William Caslon, 1693–1766: the ancestry, life and connections of England's foremost letter-engraver and type-founder. Kineton: Roundwood Press. ISBN 0900093137. 
  • Blackmore, H.L. (1981). "William Caslon, gun engraver". Journal of the Arms and Armour Society 10: 103–7. 
  • Howes, J. (2000). "Caslon's punches and matrices". Matrix 20: 1–7. 
  • Mosley, James (1967). "The early career of William Caslon". Journal of the Printing Historical Society 3: 66–81. 
  • Mosley, James (1984). British type specimens before 1831: a hand-list. Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society. ISBN 0901420115. 
  • Mosley, James (1993). "The Caslon foundry in 1902". Matrix 13: 34–42. 
  • Mosley, James (2008) [2004]. "Caslon, William, the elder (1692–1766)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4857.  (subscription required)

External links[edit]