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14 July 2017: Typography, Baskerville and the Oscars

 This post shall begin with a tenuous link to a seemingly gargantuan gaffe of the year; the Oscars ‘scandal’. It has been said that the blunder of this year’s Oscars (where the wrong film was announced for the ‘Best Picture’ award) could have been avoided if the organisers had cared more about the typography and design of the cards. A different typographical setting would have made the cards easier to read and therefore the presenter could have identified that they had the incorrect card. Typography is an art form, a (what should be) carefully thought about process in so many things we see in everyday life, especially for us at Rooke because.. well.. books..

Without typography, or typefaces, the manufacturing of books would not be possible. We would all still be reading hand-produced work which would have a very small circulation. The first moveable typeface was established in the 1400s by Guttenberg. It was a much cheaper way to produce the written word on a larger scale. Guttenberg also created the first typeface, Blackletter. The Blackletter typeface is somewhat gothic in style and rather thick. It was based on hand-written scripts and the style dates back to approximately 1150.  Following this new innovative type, several typefaces were produced including Aldus Manutius’ italic typeface and Nicholas Jenson’s Roman Type.
 
The development and progression in typeface is paralleled with technological advances as well as cultural change. By the eighteenth century real change began with contrasting between bold and thin strokes. The mid eighteenth century saw the development of transitional type, and in particular, the Baskerville typeface. Transitional typefaces represent the move from the Old Style tradition (such as Blackletter and Roman) and immediately predate the Modern period of typeface of Firmin Didot and Giambattista Bodoni. Baskerville is often seen as a chief influence and pioneer in the transitional typeface in addition to other significant printing innovations.
 
John Baskerville started his working life as a businessman in the field of japanning and papier mache. Prior to this he was a calligraphy teacher and gravestone carver. Baskerville cared a lot about typography and the quality of work. He believed that he could produce printed texts to a higher quality than was already widely produced and to produce clearer typography there needed to be a better typeface. The Baskerville typeface showed a larger contrast between thick and thin strokes, producing sharper serifs. There was also a shift in the axis of rounded letters to a more vertical position. In comparison to previous works Baskerville’s typeface provided a greater consistency in size and form. The first work he produced with this typeface was his quarto edition of Virgil on his own wove paper. It was due to this work, which took three years to complete, that he was appointed as printer to the University of Cambridge.
 
Further innovations in printing made by Baskerville includes a technique to produce a smoother whiter paper to showcase his strong black type called wove. He also worked on developing ink formulas capable of producing denser and a richer black colour. He also built a sturdier press from metal, capable of a more even and meticulous pressure. As well as these developments in printing, Baskerville also made a bold advance and change in typography, by adding wide margins and leading between each line.
 
His type and printing techniques can be seen in the copies of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained we have on our website. We have the first Baskerville editions of these epic, blank verse poems by John Milton. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained were some of the earliest works Baskerville printed in his typeface, both are dated 1758. To his preface of Paradise Lost he explains his mission in typography, printing and typeface revolution.
 
Baskerville worked hard to produce a new method of printing and typography. Transitional typefaces and methods like his helped to pave the way for further development into the more modern type. Referring back to my questionable introduction, Baskerville would probably not be impressed with the somewhat lackadaisical approach to the typography of the Oscars’ award cards. It is also quite possible that the Oscars could have learnt from paying closer attention to typography when designing their award cards. Alternatively, they could have given the correct card to the presenter.  
 

 

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