Posted by Harry on 16th Jun 2018

How William Caslon created a typeface and company still going 298 years later

William Caslon was an engraver of firearms from the West Midlands 

There is a print industry supplier in St Albans whose history spans and in part defines the printing industry in the last three centuries.

In 1720 William Caslon cut a typeface which bears his name and since then the name of Caslon has been associated with fonts, typefaces and printing. Based in Hertfordshire Caslon Limited is a family firm that makes products for the industry as well as lending its name to various Caslon typefaces and is managed today by Richard Caslon.

William Caslon was an engraver of firearms from the West Midlands when he began creating typefaces and his first break was when he created Arabic typefaces. In 1776 he created Caslon Old Face and following this a series of series of Caslon fonts joined the growing collection of typefaces to carry the name. Caslon Old Face was used to print the American Declaration of Independence while Caslon Egyptian Type, was the first sans-serif printing type to be sold commercially in 1816.

The British Arts and Crafts Movement of the mid 19th century saw Caslon become highly popular with a common phrase for printers being: ’When in doubt, use Caslon.’ In the 20th century Caslon’s factory cast bullets in the Great War for the British Army and in 1949 had a ship named after the typeface and bought the Adana Company in 1987 with its letterpress machinery. Roy Caslon joined the company in 1957 and is the current Chairman. He has also chaired Picon, the British trade association representing suppliers to the printing industry, from 2005 until 2007.

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This article first appeared in Print Monthly Magazine and website.