Caslon Egyptian

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Caslon Two Lines English Egyptian in an early specimen book[1]

The Two Lines English Egyptian typeface is a font created by the Caslon foundry of Salisbury Square, London around or probably slightly before 1816, that is the first general-purpose sans-serif typeface in the Latin alphabet known to have been created.[2][3][4][5][a]

Historical background[edit]

Sans-serif lettering in block capitals had been developing in popularity over the past decades, initially due to interest in classical antiquity in which inscriptions often had minimal or no serifs, and come to be used by architect John Soane and copied by others, particularly in signpainting.[9][10] Historian James Mosley, the leading expert on early sans-serifs, has suggested in his book The Nymph and The Grot that Soane's influence was crucial in spreading the idea of sans-serif letterforms around the end of the eighteenth century.[2] However, it was some decades before a printing typeface would be released in this style, now commonly used. The name "Egyptian" had become commonly used in England by 1816 to describe this style of lettering; for example on September 13, 1805 the painter Joseph Farington wrote in his diary of seeing a memorial[b] engraved "in what is called Egyptian Characters".[11]

The name "Egyptian" may originate from the image of sans-serifs being historical in style, the Egyptomania of the period and the "blocky" nature of ancient Egyptian architecture.[12] (The term "Egyptian" has since become associated with slab-serif typefaces.)


The "Egyptian" typeface was released by the Caslon type foundry of Salisbury Square, London, run by William Caslon IV. (This was not the Caslon foundry of the eighteenth century, set up by William Caslon I: William Caslon III had left his family's business, buying up the type foundry set up by Joseph Jackson, a former apprentice of William Caslon II, and his son William Caslon IV had then succeeded to running this foundry.[13]) It is somewhat "classical" in style, being capitals-only, formal in design and not particularly bold (although still bolder than conventional body text fonts), appearing similar to Soane's lettering. The matrices survive in the collection of the Type Museum, London, with some replacement letters.[14] "Egyptian" is the only part of its name referring to its design: the first part of its name in specimen books, Two Lines English, is simply the standard name used at the time for its size, around 28 modern points.[15]

Caslon's Egyptian typeface was shown in the foundry's specimen books, the earliest edition with a date dated 1816 although some possibly earlier.[c] It appears sandwiched by larger and much more ornate typefaces, apparently not marketed with any prominence. Aside from its documented existence and survival, the reasons behind its creation are not clear, especially since no contemporary uses of it have been found. Mosley suggests that it may have been created on commission by a specific client.[17]

The matrices of the Caslon sans-serif were acquired by the Stephenson Blake company when it took over the Salisbury Square Caslon company. Sans-serifs returned to printing when Vincent Figgins' foundry started to issue a new series of sans-serifs starting around 1828, so the company revived the matrices.[14][8] (These should not be confused with Stephenson Blake's unrelated "Grotesque" typefaces of the late nineteenth century.)


Signage in a Caslon Egyptian revival at Dulwich Picture Gallery. The 'G' in the original typeface had a spur at bottom right down to the baseline.[14]

Several digital revivals of Caslon's Egyptian have been made, for commercial use by Miko McGinty, Cyrus Highsmith and Christian Schwartz of Font Bureau (adding a lower case invented by Schwartz)[18] and for private use by Justin Howes and by James Mosley, both with a modified G.[14] Howes' revival is used for signage at Dulwich Picture Gallery, designed by Soane.[14][19][20][17] In 1987 metal type was cast by Oxford University Press from the original matrices to print a special edition of reprinted type from the early nineteenth century crafted by Ian Mortimer.[21][22]

To mark the two-hundredth anniversary of the first dated printing of a sans-serif typeface, a conference was held at Birmingham City University in September 2016.[16]


  1. ^ Though not the very first. Printing types had already been made in a sans-serif style for ancient Greek and Etruscan, and by Valentin Haüy for embossing letters to be read by the blind.[6][7][8]
  2. ^ to Isaac Hawkins Browne in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, extant
  3. ^ Historian John A. Lane, who has examined surviving Caslon specimens, suggests that the design is actually slightly earlier and may date to around 1812-4, noting that it appears in some undated but apparently earlier specimens. The matrices also were first used in unsuccessful attempts to punch out different fonts, which also may date to some years before 1816.[16]


  1. ^ Caslon, William IV (1816). [Untitled fragment of a specimen book of printing types, c. 1816]. London: William Caslon IV. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b Mosley, James. "The Nymph and the Grot: an Update". Typefoundry blog. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
  3. ^ Tracy, Walter (2003). Letters of credit : a view of type design. Boston: David R. Godine. ISBN 9781567922400.
  4. ^ Majoor, Martin. "My Type Design Philosophy". Typotheque. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  5. ^ Tam, Keith (2002). Calligraphic tendencies in the development of sanserif types in the twentieth century (PDF). Reading: University of Reading (MA thesis). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-06. Retrieved 2016-10-15.
  6. ^ "Perkins School for the Blind". Perkins School for the Blind. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  7. ^ Johnston, Alastair. "Robert Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing". San Francisco Public Library. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b Mosley, James. "Comments on Typophile thread - "Unborn: sans serif lower case in the 19th century"". Typophile (archived). Archived from the original on 28 June 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  9. ^ Mosley, James (1999). The Nymph and the Grot: the Revival of the Sanserif Letter. London: Friends of the St Bride Printing Library. pp. 1–19. ISBN 9780953520107.
  10. ^ John L Walters (2 September 2013). Fifty Typefaces That Changed the World: Design Museum Fifty. Octopus. pp. 1913–5. ISBN 978-1-84091-649-2.
  11. ^ Farington, Joseph; Greig, James (1924). The Farington Diary, Volume III, 1804-1806. London: Hutchinson & Co. p. 109. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  12. ^ Alexander Nesbitt (1998). The History and Technique of Lettering. Courier Corporation. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-486-40281-9.
  13. ^ "Collections". Type Archive. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  14. ^ a b c d e Mosley, James; Shinn, Nick. "Two Lines English Egyptian (comments on forum)". Typophile. Archived from the original on 2010-03-14. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  15. ^ Chambers, David (1986). Specimen of Modern Printing Types by Edmund Fry 1828: a facsimile. London: Printing Historical Society. p. 17. ISBN 9780900003080.
  16. ^ a b "The Song of the Sans Serif". The Centre for Printing History and Culture. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  17. ^ a b Simon Loxley (12 June 2006). Type: The Secret History of Letters. I.B.Tauris. pp. 36–8. ISBN 978-1-84511-028-4.
  18. ^ Schwartz, Christian. "Caslon's Egyptian". Orange Italic. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  19. ^ Hui, Julius. "From Egypt to Dulwich". Dalton Maag. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  20. ^ "Ornamented types: a prospectus" (PDF). imimprimit. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
  21. ^ Coles, Stephen (7 May 2016). "Ornamented Types Introduction and Prospectus". Fonts in Use. Retrieved 26 May 2020.

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