The world and the people in it have always been influenced by words. In particular, the ability to record and share words in a written format has changed the world. Today, type is all around us. Some fonts like Helvetica are familiar and comforting. Others, like Comic Sans, should never be seen unless you are a five-year-old girl writing a story about rainbows and unicorns. As one of the great Classic typographers, John Baskerville had a great impact on typography and printing. At the young age of 20, John Baskerville started a writing-school in Birmingham and a business of cutting the letters on tombstones and memorials (Bigmore and Wyman p. 6).
He made is fortune in japanning due to its wide success. Japanning is the popular 18th century process “for finishing and ornamenting wood, leather, tin, and papier-mache in imitation of the celebrated lacquerwork of the Japanese” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). In 1750, his artistic tastes and love for literature led him to the world of printing. When he saw the “very unsatifacotry condition” it was in, he began to implement some improvements. As told by Bigmore and Wyman, “He began by establishing a type-foundry, and used unceasing efforts to excel all of the existing English founders” (Bigmore and Wyman p. 6). His attention to detail and drive to succeed lead him to pursue the best punch-cutters. He made his own type, molds for casting, chases, ink, and presses.
Not only is his work still admired today for its elegance, but also he initiated many great improvements to the printing world. For example, after printing his rich purple-black ink on the fine, thick quality paper, he inserted it between two copper plates. This process simultaneously expelled the moisture, set the ink, and left a beautiful gloss. He issued his first production, a quarto Virgil, in 1756 (Bigmore and Wyman p. 6-37). However, he did run into trouble on this next major project. He wanted to print Milton’s works, but he ran into a problem as Bonnell explains, “The Booksellers claim an absolute right in Copys of books”. Eventually he was able to print Milton’s works on two conditions. He had to add the phrase “for J. and R. Tonson” to his Birmingham imprint and to praise Tonson’s generosity and “singular politeness” (Bonnell). He continued printing several beautiful books, however the number of people who “could appreciate his work was very limited” (Bigmore and Wyman p. 37).
From 1758 to 1765, he also had the privilege of being the Cambridge University printer. Sadly, John Baskerville died in January 8th, 1775 (Bigmore and Wyman p. 37). Thankfully, his legacy lives on in his font, Baskerville. The font Baskerville introduced many new concepts to the classic typography era. As Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia states, “[lt] introduced the modern, pseudoclassical style, with level serifs and with emphasis on the contrast of light and heavy lines”. His style went on to influence fonts such as Didot in French and Bodoni in Italy (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia).
In this way, Baskerville and other classic typefaces continue to inspire modern typographers everywhere. Another typographer that has inspired many is Carol Twombly. Although she did not come into prominence until the late 1980s, Twombly has created many fonts throughout her career (Shaw p. 103). When she first started at Rhode Island School of Design, she was studying sculpture. However, she decided to study graphic design because it “offered a welcome balance between freedom and structure” (Adobe Type). She was introduced to the world of graphic design by Chuck Bigelow, her RISD professor, and Kris Holmes.
While working in their studio during the summer, she gained valuable experience from editing letters and creating outline letters. A year after graduation, she joined the newly formed digital typography program at Stanford University. Twombly was awarded a Masters of Science degree after two years of studying computer science and typographic design. While continuing her work for Bigelow and Holmes, she entered her first type design in an international competition. Upon winning first prize in the Latin text category, Morisawa, a Japanese manufacturer of typesetting equipment, started marketing her design under the licensed name Mirarae.
Twombly then started working for Adobe Systems and became a “full-time type designer in the Adobe Originals program” in 1988 (Adobe Type). In 1994, she also became the first woman and second American to receive the Charles Peignot award from the Association Typographique Internationale for “outstanding contributions to type design” (Adobe Type). Carol Twombly has become an inspiration to many typographers. She designed many popular typefaces during her eleven years at Adobe. She was inspired by “classic letterforms of the past,” when designing fonts like Trajan, Charlemagne, Lithos, and Adobe Caslon (Adobe Type).
In particular, Trajan has had great success and has become a staple in many Hollywood movies. The font that was based on the inscription at the base of the Trajan Column in Rome can be found in movies such as The Lion King, Interview With the Vampire, and Star Wars: Episode 1 (Shaw and Dover, Typecasting). She also explored “new territory while maintaining traditional roots” in her fonts like Viva and Nueva (Adobe Type). Her various fonts have opened doors to new possibilities with typography and graphic design. When comparing Baskerville and Trajan, one can find many differences and similarities.
Baskerville is characterized as a serif font with high contrast of thick and thin stems. On the other hand, while Trajan is also a serif font, its stems have less contrast than Baskerville. When it comes to serifs, Baskerville features a more vertical and straight-edged serif. In contrast, Trajan’s bottom serifs are shorter and the ends are more rounded compared to Baskerville. Its top serifs are slightly angled out while Baskerville has vertical serifs. Trajan also uses small capitals to capture the essence of Roman letters.
Due to this, it cannot have any finials n “e” or true descenders, although the “j” does go slightly below the baseline. The “j”s” descender is also less curved than the “j” in Baskerville font. Although both “Bs” have a similar bowl compared to each other, some differences can be found. In contrast with Baskerville’s even bowls, the top bowl of Trajan is slightly smaller than its bottom bowl. Overall, Baskerville is also more condensed than Trajan due to its slightly shorter cap height and typically tighter leading than Trajan. Although these fonts share some similarities, they have very different uses. Baskerville can be used for anything from titles to footnotes.
On the other hand, Trajan can only be used for titles and headers due to its various afore mentioned characteristics. While blazing new territory in the typographic world, Twombly also created Nueva. Unlike Trajan, Nueva uses lowercase letters and thus has ascenders and descenders similar to Baskerville. These letters also allow Nueva to be used for more than titles and headers. Although the ascenders in letters like “k” and “T” are similar, the descender of the “j” has some differences. For example, Nueva’s “j” features a wider curve than Baskerville’s. There are, however, larger differences between these two fonts.
Nueva has more thick and thin contrast and thinner serifs than Baskerville. Nueva also adds a modern twist by deviating from the usual even serifs and stems. In particular, the “N’s” stem of Nueva tapers from top to bottom on the left and bottom to top on the right. It also a combination of straight serifs, like in the “V” and “N,” and angled top serifs, like in the “u” and “n. ” Another difference is that the eye of the “e” in Nueva is taller and slightly wider than Baskerville. While Nueva has a slightly shorter cap height, the x-height is taller than Baskerville’s x-height.
In addition, Nueva’s width is thinner than Baskerville’s width. Both John Baskerville and Carol Twombly have impacted the typographic world with their respective fonts, Baskerville, Trajan, and Nueva. They dedicated their lives to their fonts, and we, as a society, will always be grateful. By using their fonts, we, as graphic designers and typography enthusiasts, are able to further enhance various moods and speak to the masses of people. These serif fonts continued their designer’s legacy by being used in a variety of projects from high school papers to Hollywood blockbusters.