Of the hundreds of typefaces that the Center for Book Arts has in its collection, there are 22 different variations of Caslon, named for William Caslon I (1692-1766), the great British type designer. Caslon's typefaces were inspired by Dutch Baroque types, commonly used types in England at that time. They are characterized by short ascenders (the portion of a lower-case letter that extends upward, above the letter's x-height) and descenders (the portion that extends below the baseline), and bracketed serifs (the decorative detail on the end of some of the strokes of each letter).
Caslon's designs were immediately popular and used for many important printed works, including the first printed version of the Declaration of Independence. After his death, the use of his types diminished, but they experienced a revival in the 1840s as a part of the British Arts and Crafts movement. New versions based on his original 18th Century designs spread, sometimes having little or nothing in common besides the serifs and the name. Today there are many typefaces called "Caslon" with some other distinguishing element, which reproduce the original to varying degrees.
The Center's collection includes several different variations on Caslon, including Caslon 540, issued by American Type Foundry in 1902; Caslon Openface, issued by Barnhart Brothers & Spindler in 1915; and Caslon Antique, a decorative American typeface that was designed in 1894 by Berne Nadall. Despite the name, Caslon Antique is not actually a member of the Caslon family of typefaces at all, since it has little to do with the original forms designed by William Caslon. Nadall's foundry, Barnhart Bros. & Spindler, renamed the face in the mid-1920s.as a a marketing maneuver to boost the popularity of a previously unpopular typeface by associating it with the more popular Caslon.
Many of our variations on Caslon can be classified as display faces, suitable for headlines and posters and other occasions that call for a decorative touch. These faces are perhaps not suitable for an entire novel, but may be perfect for a title page or invitation.
A wonderful part of working at the Center for Book Arts is the ability to use (or simply look at) all the different styles of type that it has to offer. With the electronic age, it is easy to take it for granted that each typeface was designed by an artist who took each letter into consideration. Each piece of type, crafted in metal or wood, is a work of art in itself, and it is great to take the time to appreciate that. Caslon Openface is just one, so join us next week for another!
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