The Typographic Hub

The development of the English sans serif printing type

The development of the English sans serif printing type is the subject of DAVID OSBALDESTIN's PhD Research Project, which aims to investigate typography as an index of cultural values

The name Caslon is synonymous with English type founding and printing. William Caslon I [1692‐1766] is accredited as being England’s first type founder. John Baskerville highlighted the importance of Caslon’s contribution to typography and learning when he wrote:

‘Mr Caslon is an artist, to whom the republic of learning has great obligations; his ingenuity has left a fairer copy for my emulation than any other master. In his great variety of characters I intend not to follow him; the roman and italic are all I have hitherto attempted; if in these he has left room for improvement, it is probably more owing to that variety which divided his attention than to any other cause. I honor his merit and only wish to derive some small share of reputation from an art, which proves accidentally to have been the object of our mutual pursuit.’  John Baskerville, ‘Preface’ to Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1758

The Caslon Foundry developed into one of the leading type foundries in the world, but in 1792 the Caslon dynsasty separated into two independent foundries: Mrs William Caslon II [1792‐1795] acquired the Chiswell Street foundry with all the original matrices; and her son William Caslon III [1792‐1803] purchased the Salisbury Square foundry from Joseph Jackson (original partner with Thomas Cottrell, former business associate of William Caslon I). As the foundries developed independently, William III introduced his son William Caslon IV to the trade, forming William Caslon & Son [1803‐1807]. William Caslon IV succeeded his father as sole proprietor of the business [1807‐1819], until the foundry was acquired by purchase and relocated to Sheffield by Blake, Garrett & Co. [1819‐1830].

In 1816 William Caslon IV introduced his ‘Two‐Line English Egyptian’ through publication of his type specimen book: this was the debut of the English sans serif. However, a year later, William Caslon IV sold his type to Blake, Garrett & Co., who did not promote Cason's sans serif type until the release of a specimen sheet in 1839. During the 1830s, several other English foundrys produced their own sans serif types, but none match the visual sophistication of Caslon's original.

1 ‐ investigate the origins of the first English sans serif printing type
2 ‐ to trace the influence of this type on the development of future sans serif letters
in England.
3 ‐ develop new knowledge and understanding into why the English sans serif
superseded Trajan letterforms in popular advertising in the nineteenth‐century
4 ‐ analyse the commercial applications of the English sans serif and to understand
why these grew in popularity.

1 ‐ Why did William Caslon IV choose to develop a sans serif type?
2 ‐ What other typefaces and lettering influenced the design of Caslon's ‘Two‐lines
English Egyptian type’?
3 ‐ What happened in the development of English typography after it was produced?

The research will consider the influence of architectural and commemorative lettering on the development of Caslon’s sans serif; and will chart the application and acceptance of the English sans serif as a visual language tool that flourished through advertising communications during the Industrial days of Empire.

The period covered by this research starts in 1816 with the first documentation of the English sans serif printing type, and concludes in 1939 with the outbreak of World War II. The research deals wholly with typefaces of the hot metal period, and is not concerned with photo‐ or computer typesetting.