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Eric Ladner
06-28-2005, 11:08 AM
Wasn't it Baskerville's designs that were thought difficult to read when they were introduced? I can't find the source right now, but that seems familiar. (Or was it his smooth paper that critics disliked?)

I'm reading a large (782 pages) book called _Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell_. The story is set in England between 1806 and 1817, and the text is set in Baskerville. That seems appropriate and allusive enough, but I thought of the old criticism of Baskerville when I realized that the pages seem rather gray to me, and actually slightly tiring to read. I think the leading is slightly more generous than in many books today; it looks nice to me, but probably does contribute to a lighter page color.

A colophon discusses Baskerville's type, its differences from Caslon, and the history of his punches after his death. Unfortunately, it has them acquired by "Beberny" & Peignot. Where are the copyeditors and proofreaders? Strangely, there are no dates to give average readers a clue why Baskerville is appropriate for this book, or why they should care about it.

I have around 650 pages to go, and it wouldn't particularly surprise me to find typefaces playing a part in the story!

--Eric

Michael Rowley
06-28-2005, 11:27 AM
Eric:

Wasn't it Baskerville's designs that were thought difficult to read when they were introduced?

There's a story about Franklin and Baskerville v. Caslon: someone was complaining about the new-fangled type (which Franklin thought highly of), and Franklin showed him a proof set in Caslon, which the complainer then pulled to pieces, metaphorically.

I've read this in the past few weeks, but like you, I don't know where!

ktinkel
06-28-2005, 11:44 AM
Wasn't it Baskerville's designs that were thought difficult to read when they were introduced? I can't find the source right now, but that seems familiar. (Or was it his smooth paper that critics disliked?)Baskerville was a fussbudget about everything — the type, the paper, the ink, the press, the process. People claimed his printing was too dazzling for the eye.

It did look different: strong weight contrast in the type; wove (not laid) paper, made even smoother by hot pressing; his own ink, famous for its density and luster; and a more precise press, required for the accurate printing of his somewhat (relatively) fragile type.

… I thought of the old criticism of Baskerville when I realized that the pages seem rather gray to me, and actually slightly tiring to read.I wonder if you are not seeing a different problem — the weakness of most modern digital types when printed compared to their metal forebears. Most seem kind of wimpy or attenuated.

Does it say which Baskerville is used? In A Tally of Types, I have a good example of machine-set metal Baskerville, and I compared it to samples in a couple of modern specimen books (not the same, I realize — especially as the latter are printed on coated stock, the former on textured book paper), and found the difference to be striking.

Not just a matter of apparent boldness, though that was part of it. But the strokes, curves, and serifs were just more definite somehow, perhaps mainly because of the three-dimensionality of letterpress printing.

This is a common defect in our digital fonts — it isn’t unique to Baskerville.

ktinkel
06-28-2005, 11:57 AM
There's a story about Franklin and Baskerville v. Caslon: someone was complaining about the new-fangled type (which Franklin thought highly of), and Franklin showed him a proof set in Caslon, which the complainer then pulled to pieces, metaphorically.

I've read this in the past few weeks, but like you, I don't know where!It seems to be in most of the reports on Baskerville and his type — irresistible bit of history or 18th-century equivalent of an urban legend. It is certainly in Allan Haley’s Typographic Milestones and in Updike’s Printing Types.

Speaking of Baskerville’s 1762 specimen sheet, Updike referred to the italic as “a very thin, starved sort of character.” I guess he was not a fan.

annc
06-28-2005, 02:52 PM
playing a part in the story!
It was a discussion of Baskerville and some printed samples of it in my librarianship course that first got me interested in type and typography.

Happy birthday, btw.

Michael Rowley
06-28-2005, 03:23 PM
KT:

It seems to be in most of the reports on Baskerville and his type

The story was new to me. There was quite a bit about Baskerville a long time ago in the Observer, which used it then (I'm talking about 40 years ago); I don't know whether it uses it now, but it was fairly unusual as a modern newspaper typeface for text. Die Zeit has a face with pretty much contrast between the stroke thicknesses for its headlines (but I've forgotten what it is!—not Baskerville).

Eric Ladner
06-28-2005, 03:50 PM
Happy birthday, btw.

Why, thank you!

--E

Eric Ladner
06-28-2005, 03:56 PM
"Does it say which Baskerville is used?"

Alas, no. Using my 1983 Rookledge, and going by the general lightness and minimal filets, all I can say is that it looks more like Baskerville No. 2 than like the Berthold, Monotype, or Linotype. But that could be due to the digital effect you described, and there have been so many new faces since '83 that it's hardly conclusive anyway.

Actually, I don't know whether there have been new Baskervilles.

--Eric

ktinkel
06-28-2005, 04:04 PM
"Does it say which Baskerville is used?"

Alas, no. Using my 1983 Rookledge, and going by the general lightness and minimal filets, all I can say is that it looks more like Baskerville No. 2 than like the Berthold, Monotype, or Linotype. But that could be due to the digital effect you described, and there have been so many new faces since '83 that it's hardly conclusive anyway.

Actually, I don't know whether there have been new Baskervilles.The only Baskervilles you didn’t mention are the ITC Baskerville (http://www.fontpool.com/fonts/linotype/itc_new_baskerville.html) (with the predicatably — though not entirely objectionable — high-ish x-height) and, of course, Mrs Eaves (http://www.emigre.com/dp/getfontpage.php?PMrsFa.html) (from Emigre).

Otherwise, I guess it has not been a stormy arena for updates and revivals!

Eric Ladner
06-28-2005, 04:59 PM
I forgot to add that the publisher is Bloomsbury Publishing, of New York and London, and the typesetter is Hewer Text Ltd, of Edinburgh.

--Eric

ktinkel
06-28-2005, 05:10 PM
Happy birthday, btw.

Why, thank you!Oh, yes — happy birthday!