John Baskerville: art, industry and technology in the Enlightenment

Category: Research Projects


This research is concerned with the eighteenth-century typographer, printer, industrialist and Enlightenment figure, John Baskerville (1707-75).

Baskerville was a Birmingham inventor, entrepreneur and artist with a worldwide reputation who made eighteenth-century Birmingham a city without typographic equal, by changing the course of type design. Baskerville not only designed one of the world’s most historically important typefaces, he also experimented with casting and setting type, improved the construction of the printing-press, developed a new kind of paper and refined the quality of printing inks. His experiments put him ahead of his time, had an international impact and did much to enhance the printing industry of his day.

Yet despite his importance, many aspects of Baskerville’s work and life remain unexplored and his contribution to the arts, industry and technology of the Enlightenment are largely unrecognised. This research project, which draws on archaeology, art and design, history, literary studies and typography, is leading a fundamental reassessment of Baskerville’s life and impact, including his birthplace, his work as an industrialist, the networks which sustained him and the reception of his printing in Britain and overseas. This interdisciplinary approach provides an original contribution to printing history, eighteenth-century studies and the dissemination of ideas.