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This article is about the typeface. For the person, see William Caslon. For other uses, see Caslon (disambiguation).
Category Serif
Classification Old-style
Designer(s) William Caslon I
Foundry Caslon Type Foundry
Variations Adobe Caslon
Williams Caslon
Big Caslon
LTC Caslon
Founders Caslon
ITC Founders Caslon
Caslon 3
Caslon 224
Caslon 471
Caslon 540
Caslon 641
Caslon Old Face
Shown here Adobe Caslon by Carol Twombly

Caslon is a group of serif typefaces designed by William Caslon I (1692–1766), and various revivals thereof.

Caslon shares the irregularity characteristic of Dutch Baroque types. It is characterized by short ascenders and descenders, bracketed serifs, moderately high contrast, robust texture, and moderate modulation of stroke. The A has a concave hollow at the apex, the G is without a spur. Caslon's italics have a rhythmic calligraphic stroke. Characters A, V, and W have an acute slant. The italic p, Q, v, w, and z all have a suggestion of a swash.


William Caslon in an engraved portrait by John Faber the younger
English roman, a Latin text face of the Caslon stable of typefaces. Restored extract from the specimen sheet below.
William Caslon's 1734 Specimen sheet, some of which is set in the Caslon typeface.

Caslon began as an engraver of ornamental designs on firearms and other metalwork.[1] The accuracy of his work came to the attention of prominent London printers, who advanced him money to carve steel punches for printing.[2] His earliest design dates to 1722.[3] Punchcutting was a very difficult technique and many of the techniques used were kept secret by punchcutters or passed on from father to son.[4] As British printers had little success or experience of making their own types, they were forced to use equipment bought from the Netherlands, or France.[5] Caslon is cited as the first original typeface of English origin.[citation needed]

Type historians Stanley Morison and Alfred F. Johnson, a scientist who worked at the British Museum, point out the close similarity of Caslon's design to the Dutch Fell types cut by Voskens and other type cut by the Dutchman Van Dyck.[6][7] Dutch fonts were in use by several printers in England at that time. The Oxford University Press used the "Fell-types", character cut by the Dutch typefounder Voskens. The Cambridge University Press had received in January 1698 some 52 series of alphabets from Holland, all cut by Van Dyck.[8] But even before that in 1697 they used the text-sized roman and italic of Van Dyck in an edition of Gratulatio Cantabrigiences.[9]

John Nichols, writing in 1782, claims that the first fonts cut by William Caslon were:

  • Arabic, used in a "Psalter" in 1725
  • Hebrew, used for John Selden's collected works in 1726.
  • Koptic, used for the bi-language Pentateuch of Dr. David Wilkins in Latin and Hebrew in 1731

There is much uncertainty about the first roman and italic Latin characters cut by Caslon himself. Nicols writes: "he (Caslon) cut the beautiful font of English which is used in printing Selden's Works [of] 1726." Nicols describes this character as far superior to contemporary Dutch fonts used in English books at this period. However, Johnson concluded in 1936 that this was incorrect, and that the earliest use of a roman and italic cut by Caslon could be identified in books printed by William Bowyer in:

  • 1725: roman and italic Pica-size (modern 12pt), in the notes in Anacreon in Greek and Latin.
  • 1726: roman and italic, Pica-size again in Reliquæ Baxterianæ (a collection of work by clergyman Richard Baxter)
  • 1730: roman and italic, English-size (modern 14 pt), in the preface of Richard Baker's Chronicles of the Kings of England. The text-part is set in the Caslon Pica.

The Caslon types were distributed throughout the British Empire, including British North America. Much of the decayed appearance of early American printing is thought to be due to oxidation caused by long exposure to seawater during transport from England to the Americas.[citation needed] Caslon's types were immediately successful and used in many historic documents, including the U.S. Declaration of Independence. After William Caslon I’s death, the use of his types diminished, but had a revival between 1840–80 as a part of the British Arts and Crafts movement. The Caslon design is still widely used today.

Caslon's original designs do not include a bold weight. This is because it was unusual to use bold weights in typesetting during the 18th century, and Caslon never designed one for body text, although some of his titling-size fonts are quite bold.[10] For emphasis, italics or a larger point size, and sometimes caps and small caps would be used instead.

Besides regular text fonts, Caslon created blackletter types, which were also printed on his specimen. These could be used for purposes such as title pages and drop caps.[11]


Caslon's types fell out of interest in the late eighteenth century, due to the arrival of transitional typefaces like Baskerville and then Didone design, and his foundry split into successor companies, which began to sell alternative designs.[12][13] However, a successor company remained in business under the Caslon name and his reputation remained. The printer and social reformer Thomas Curson Hansard wrote in 1825:

At the commencement of the 18th century the native talent of the founders was so little prized by the printers of the metropolis, that they were in the habit of importing founts from Holland, ...and the printers of the present day might still have been driven to the inconvenience of importation had not a genius, in the person of William Caslon, arisen to rescue his country from the disgrace of typographical inferiority.[14]

Many of Caslon's original punches and matrices survived in the collection of the Caslon company's descendants, and are now part of the St Bride Library and Type Museum collections in Britain. Copies held by the Paris office of the Caslon company, the Fonderie Caslon, were transferred to the collection of the Musée de l'Imprimerie in Nantes.[15]


The History of Henry Esmond, a novel by Thackeray written as a fictional memoir. The first edition of 1852 was printed in Caslon type, then just coming back into fashion.[16] The goal was to achieve a period feel appropriate to its early eighteenth-century setting.

Interest in eighteenth-century printing returned in the nineteenth century with the rise of the arts and crafts movement, and Caslon's types returned to popularity in books and fine printing among companies such as the Chiswick Press.[17] Some printing was done using Caslon's original matrices or electrotyped copies, while other releases used new designs in the same style to achieve a similar but cleaner appearance, making use of the improved technology of hot metal typesetting at the close of the 19th century.[16][18] For many years a common rule of thumb of printers and typesetters was When in doubt, use Caslon.[19]

Caslon again entered a new technology with phototypesetting, mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, and then again with digital typesetting technology, mostly since the mid-1980s. As a result of that, and the lack of an enforceable trademark on the name "Caslon" by itself, there are many typefaces called "Caslon" which reproduce the original designs in varying degrees of faithfulness.

In the USA, Caslons (many recut, or expanded with bold and condensed styles) became almost a genre, with many foundries cutting their own design.[20] By the 1920s, American Type Founders offered a large range of styles, some numbered rather than named.[21] (Bookman Old Style is a descendant of one of these American Caslon revivals. A series of modifications has given most modern Bookman digitisations a somewhat exaggerated appearance with extremely high x-height very unlike the original Caslon.)

Caslon Old Face[edit]

Caslon Old Face in a sample advertisement by the H.W. Caslon company, 1915

Caslon’s company was divided by its shareholders not long after his death, with one branch continuing to operate as H.W. Caslon & Sons and the other bought by Stephenson Blake in 1818. As Caslon’s types began to attract the attention of fine printers, the H.W. Caslon & Sons foundry reissued Caslon’s original types as Caslon Old Face from the original matrices and augmented them by adding new features such as swash capitals, more regular italics, bold type and condensed styles.[16][18][a]

The H.W. Caslon company also licensed matrices made by electrotyping to other printers, although some companies may also have made unauthorized copies or made completely new designs in the same style, and the type become popular in American printing.[16] In 1937, the H.W. Caslon & Sons foundry was also acquired by Stephenson Blake & Co, who thereafter added 'the Caslon Letter Foundry' to their name.

George Ostrochulski adapted the designs from Stephenson Blake & Co for photocomposition at Mergenthaler Linotype during the 1950s. It has been digitised and released by Bitstream.[22]

A variety of typefaces called Caslon Old Face are available commercially. Visual differences exist between typefaces from different companies and the authenticity of some of these typefaces is debatable.

Ludlow Typograph Company, Chicago, Illinois, USA[edit]

Ludlow had a wide variety of Caslon-types. The type-number is added between brackets behind the name.

The Monotype Corporation Limited at Salfords, UK[edit]

This company produced three Caslon revivals:

1903, Series 20 Old Face (special) after 1967 out of production
1906, Series 45 Old Face Standard, after 1967 out of production
1915, Series 128 & 209, Caslon & Caslon Titling.

Caslon 471[edit]

Caslon 471 was designed by the staff of American Type Founders as their first revival of Caslon. It is based on the Old Style No. 1 typeface used in an 1865 specimen book from the L.J. Johnson foundry in Philadelphia.

Caslon 540[edit]

Caslon 540 on an album cover. It was popular with American advertisers.

Caslon 540 was designed by the staff of American Type Founders and released in 1902. The typeface was originally intended for use in advertising and is based on Caslon 471 with shortened descenders. In use at large sizes it is more even than Caslon's original display faces or more faithful renditions of them such as Big Caslon (see below), quite light in colour. Its italic is extremely sharply slanted.[23] The italic was distributed by Letraset, whose designer Freda Sack created a matching set of swashes. As a result, this often became sold or used without the regular or roman style of this revival.[24]

Caslon 3[edit]

A slighter bolder version of Caslon 540, released by American Type Founders in 1905.[25] BitStream sells Caslon 3 under the name of Caslon Bold with its Caslon 540 release.[26] Russian studio ParaType have released both with Cyrillic glyphs.[27]

Caslon Openface[edit]

A decorative openface serif typeface with very high ascenders, designed by Barnhart Brothers and Spindler in 1915. It is only loosely based on the typefaces designed by William Caslon himself.

Caslon 641[edit]

A heavy version of Caslon 540, released by American Type Founders in 1966.

Caslon 224[edit]

Caslon 224 was designed by Ed Benguiat of ITC, and released in 1983. A classic advertising and display typeface, it features a large x-height, smooth weight transitions, and careful structuring of hairline strokes, offered in four weights (book, medium, bold, and black) each with a matching italic.

In lectures, Benguiat has frequently said he chose the number 224 because it was the address of the building where he did most of his work.

Digital-only releases[edit]

The ligatures of Adobe Caslon Pro. Th is not historic.

Adobe Caslon (1990)[edit]

Media related to Adobe Caslon Pro at Wikimedia Commons

Adobe Caslon is a very popular revival designed by Carol Twombly.[28] It is based on the Caslon's own specimen pages printed between 1734 and 1770.[29] A member of the Adobe Originals programme, it added many features now standard in high-quality digital fonts, such as small caps, old style figures, swash letters, ligatures, alternate letters, fractions, subscripts and superscripts and matching ornaments.[30][3]

Adobe Caslon is the typeface used for body text in The New Yorker and is one of the two official typefaces of the University of Virginia.[31] A modification is used on its logo.[32] It is also available (in some weights for free) with Adobe's Typekit programme.

Big Caslon (1994)[edit]

Two alternative revivals of Caslon, designed for large and small text sizes.

Big Caslon by Matthew Carter is inspired by the three largest sizes of type from the Caslon foundry. These have a unique design with dramatic stroke contrast, complementary to but unlike Caslon's text faces. The typeface is intended for use at eighteen point and above.[33][34] The standard weight is bundled with Apple's OS X operating system in a release including small caps and alternates such as the long s. Initially published by his company Carter & Cone, in 2014 Carter revisited the design adding bold and black designs with matching italics, and republished it through Font Bureau.[35][b] It is used by Boston magazine and the Harvard Crimson.[38]

LTC Caslon (2005)[edit]

LTC Caslon is a digitisation of the Lanston Type Company's 14 point size Caslon 337 of 1915 (itself a revival of the original Caslon types).[39][40] This family include fonts in regular and bold weights, with fractions, ligatures, small caps (regular and regular italic only), swashes (regular italic weight only), and Central European characters.[41] An notable feature is that like some hot metal releases of Caslon, two separate options for descenders are provided for all styles: long descenders (creating a more elegant designs) or short (allowing tighter linespacing).

To celebrate its release, LTC included in early sales a CD of music by The William Caslon Experience, a downtempo electronic act, along with a limited edition upright italic design, 'LTC Caslon Remix'.[42][43]

Williams Caslon Text (2010)[edit]

A modern attempt to capture the spirit of Caslon by William Berkson, intended for use in body text.[44][45] Although not aimed at being fully authentic in every respect, the typeface closely follows Caslon's original specimen sheet in many respects. The weight is heavier than many earlier revivals, to compensate for changes in printing processes, and the italic is less slanted (with variation in stroke angle) than on many other Caslon releases. Berkson described his design choices in an extensive article series.[46][47]

Released by Font Bureau, it includes bold and bold italic designs, and a complete feature set across all weights, including bold small caps and swash italic alternates as well as optional shorter descenders and a 'modernist' option to turn off swashes on lower-case letters for a more spare appearance.[48][c] It is currently used in Boston magazine and by Foreign Affairs.

A notable feature of Caslon's structure is its widely-splayed T, which can space awkwardly with an 'h' afterwards. Accordingly, an emerging tradition among digital releases is to offer a 'Th' ligature, inspired by a tradition in calligraphy, to achieve tighter letterspacing.[49] Adobe Caslon, LTC Caslon, Williams Caslon and Big Caslon (italics only, in the Font Bureau release) all offer a 'Th' ligature as default or as an alternate.

Distressed revivals[edit]

The Caslon family tomb at St Luke's church, London
Caslon Old Face marketed in a 1915 specimen brochure with mock-18th century title page

A number of Caslon revivals are 'distressed' in style, adding intentional irregularities to capture the worn, jagged feel of metal type.

ITC Founder's Caslon (1998)[edit]

ITC Founder's Caslon was digitized by Justin Howes. He used the resources of the St. Bride Printing Library in London to thoroughly research William Caslon and his types.[50] Unlike previous digital revivals, this family closely follows the tradition of building separate typefaces intended for different sizes, despite the use of scalable typefaces in the digital counterpart. Distressing varies by style, matching the effect of metal type, with large optical sizes offering the cleanest appearance.

This family was released by ITC in December 1998.[51] It includes separate fonts for 12 point, 30 point, 42 point, and Poster sizes, and a typeface for ornaments. Also following the original Caslon types, it does not include bold typefaces, but uses old style figures for all numbers.

Another feature in the Windows TrueType version of the typeface is the allocation of extra ligatures and alternate forms to Basic Latin and ISO Latin-1 blocks, replacing |, <, >, =.

The OpenType Std version of the typeface adds small caps to the family and updates the character set to support the Adobe Western 2 character set.

H. W. Caslon version[edit]

Following the release of ITC Founder's Caslon, Justin Howes revived the H.W. Caslon & Company name, and released an expanded version of the ITC typefaces under the Founders Caslon name.

Caslon Old Face is a typeface with multiple optical sizes, including 8, 10, 12, 14, 18, 22, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 60, 72, 96 points. Each font has small capitals, long esses and swash characters. The 96 point font came in roman only and without small capitals. Caslon Old Face was released in July 2001.

Caslon Ornaments is a typeface containing ornament glyphs.

These typefaces are packaged in the following formats:

  • Founders Caslon 1776: Caslon Old Face (14), Caslon Ornaments.
  • Founders Caslon Text: Caslon Old Face (8, 10, 12, 14, 18), Caslon Ornaments.
  • Founders Caslon Display: Caslon Old Face (22, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 60, 72), Caslon Ornaments.

However, following the death of Justin Howes, the revived H.W. Caslon & Company went out of business, and the expanded Founders Caslon is no longer offered in the retail market.

NotCaslon (1995)[edit]

An exuberant parody of Caslon italics created by Mark Andresen, this 1995 Emigre font was created by blending together samples of Caslon from "bits and pieces of dry transfer lettering: flakes, nicks, and all".[52][53][54]

Wyld (2002)[edit]

A somewhat distressed modern day recreation of Caslon by David Manthey which is intended to exactly match the typeface found in The Practical Surveyor, by Samuel Wyld,[55] published in London in 1725. The typeface contains a regular and italic style, with glyphs for several ligatures commonly used in printing during the early 18th century. It was released by Mathey as freeware for private use.

Franklin Caslon (2006)[edit]

Caslon 540 in a digital version of the Letraset revival, showing some swashes and alternate characters.

This 2006 creation by P22 is based on the pages produced by Benjamin Franklin circa 1750. It has a distressed appearance.[56]

Caslon Antique[edit]

Main article: Caslon Antique

This decorative serif typeface was originally called Fifteenth Century, but later renamed Caslon Antique. It is not generally considered to be a member of the Caslon family of typefaces, because its design appears unrelated, and the Caslon name was only applied retroactively.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haley, Allan (1992). Typographic milestones ([Nachdr.]. ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. p. 31. ISBN 9780471288947. 
  2. ^ Loxley, Simon (2005). Type : the secret history of letters. London [u.a.]: I. B. Tauris. p. 30. ISBN 9781845110284. 
  3. ^ a b "Adobe - Fonts : Adobe Caslon Pro". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  4. ^ Musson, A.E. (2013). Trade Union and Social History. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. p. 138. ISBN 9781136614712. 
  5. ^ Downer, John. "The Art of Founding Type". Emigre. Retrieved 19 August 2015. 
  6. ^ Johnson, Alfred (1936). "A Note on William Caslon" (PDF). Monotype Recorder 35 (4): 3–7. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  7. ^ Stanley Morison, A tally of types, Cambridge at the University Press, second edition, 1973, pag 24-27
  8. ^ Mr.S.C. Roberts, History of the Cambridge University Press, p. 77
  9. ^ Alfred F. Johnson, A note on William Caslon, in: The Monotype Recorder, vol. 35, no. 4, 1936-7, pag. 6
  10. ^ Haley, Allan. "Bold type in text". Monotype. Retrieved 11 August 2015. 
  11. ^ "Old English Text MT". MyFonts. Monotype. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  12. ^ A specimen of printing types. Wm. Caslon. 1798. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  13. ^ Foster, Dave. "Palladium Caslon" (PDF). Type & Media masters programme, Royal Academy of Art in The Netherlands. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  14. ^ Hansard, Thomas Curson (1825). Typographia, an Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing. p. 348. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  15. ^ Mosley, James. "The materials of typefounding". Type Foundry. Retrieved 14 August 2015. 
  16. ^ a b c d Mosley, Professor James. "Recasting Caslon Old Face". Type Foundry. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  17. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica - Caslon. Cambridge University Press. 1911. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  18. ^ a b Specimens of Type. London: H.W. Caslon & Co. 1915. Retrieved 19 August 2015. 
  19. ^ "Learn About Fonts & Typography". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  20. ^ a b Pichotta, Jill. "Caslon FB". Font Bureau. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  21. ^ Specimen Book & Catalogue. American Type Founders. 1923. pp. 130–191, 780. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  22. ^ "Caslon Old Face". MyFonts. Bitstream. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  23. ^ "Caslon 540 LT". MyFonts. Linotype. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  24. ^ "Caslon 540 Italic with swashes". MyFonts. Letraset. Retrieved 20 October 2015. 
  25. ^ "Caslon 3 LT". MyFonts. Linotype. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  26. ^ "Caslon Bold". MyFonts. Bitstream. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  27. ^ "ParaType Caslon 540 Bold". MyFonts. ParaType. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  28. ^ Silverman, Randy (December 1994). "Carol Twombly on Type". Graphic Arts. Retrieved 22 September 2015. 
  29. ^ "Adobe - Fonts : Adobe Caslon". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  30. ^ "Adobe - Fonts : Adobe Caslon Expert". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  31. ^ Gopnik, Adam (February 9, 2009). "Postscript". The New Yorker: 35. 
  32. ^ "University of Virginia Usage Guidelines". Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  33. ^ "Big Caslon promotional page". Font Bureau. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  34. ^ "Big Caslon - Desktop font « MyFonts". 2000-01-01. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  35. ^ "Big Caslon FB". Font Bureau. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  36. ^ Buchanan, Matthew. "Quarto Review". Typographica. Retrieved 19 August 2015. 
  37. ^ "Quarto". Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Retrieved 19 August 2015. 
  38. ^ "Big Caslon". Fonts in Use. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  39. ^ "LTC Caslon MyFonts". MyFonts. Retrieved 19 August 2015. 
  40. ^ "LANSTON FONT | CASLON OLDSTYLE, 337 | WILLIAM CASLON". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  41. ^ "LTC Caslon Family". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  42. ^ "Microsoft Typography - News archive". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  43. ^ "Audio". P22. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  44. ^ Berkson, William. "Announcement on Typophile thread". Typophile. Retrieved 19 August 2015. 
  45. ^ "Boston Pops: A Conversation with Patrick Mitchell". 
  46. ^ Berkson, William. "Reviving Caslon, Part 1". Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  47. ^ Berkson, William. "Reviving Caslon, Part 2". I Love Typography. Retrieved 21 September 2014. 
  48. ^ "WCT Features" (PDF). Font Bureau. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  49. ^ Shaw, Paul. "Flawed Typefaces". Print magazine. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  50. ^ "Download ITC Founder's Caslon™ font family". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  51. ^ "New Releases -". 2012-10-16. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  52. ^ "NotCaslon". Emigre. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  53. ^ "Buy NotCaslon". Emigre. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  54. ^ "NotCaslon". MyFonts. Emigre. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  55. ^ "The Practical Surveyor". Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  56. ^ "P22 Franklin Caslon". MyFonts. P22. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  1. ^ Due to the cachet of the Caslon name, some of these recuttings and modifications were apparently not publicly admitted.
  2. ^ The modern family Quarto by Hoefler & Frere-Jones is a well-received revival of the Dutch display types that inspired Caslon’s larger sizes, and is therefore quite similar.[36][37]
  3. ^ It is not to be confused with a totally different 'Caslon FB' by Jill Pichotta, inspired by bold condensed Caslon-inspired typefaces used in American newspaper headlines.[20]

Early sources[edit]

  • Rowe More, Dissertation 1778
  • John Nicols, Biographical and Literary Anecdotes of William Bowyer 1782
  • John Nicols, Literary Anecdotes, 1812–1815

The following two authors based their writings entirely on these three publications.

  • Talbot Baines Reed, A History of Old English Letter Foundries, 1897
  • Daniel Berkeley Updike, Printing types, their History, forms and use, 1937

Further reading[edit]

  • Carter, Rob, Day, Ben, and Phillip Meggs. Typography Design: Form and Communication. John Willey & Sons, Inc.: 1993. ISBN 0-471-28430-0
  • Friedl, Friedrich, Nicolaus Ott and Bernard Stein. Typography, An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques throughout History. Black Dog & Leventhal: 1998. ISBN 1-57912-023-7
  • Lawson, Alexander S., Anatomy of a Typeface. Godine: 1990. ISBN 978-0-87923-333-4.
  • Meggs, Phillip B, McKelvey, Roy. Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces. RC Publications, Inc.2000. ISBN 1-883915-08-2
  • [4] Nesbitt, Alexander The History and Technique of Lettering (c) 1998, Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-486-40281-9, The Dover edition is an abridged and corrected republication of the work originally published in 1950 by Prentice-Hall, Inc. under the title Lettering: The History and Technique of Lettering as Design.
  • Updike, Daniel Berkeley. Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use. Dover Publications, Inc.: 1980. ISBN 0-486-23929-2

Specimen books available online[edit]

External links[edit]