History of Typography 1700-1800's: Colonization and Industrialization

This article is an examination of the history of typography pertaining to the development of Roman letterforms. For this purpose we focus on European practice and specifically innovations in France, Italy, England and the Colonies.

Typefaces of the Era and Origins


As all evolution, Typefaces also take what has been done before and tries to accommodate it to its era. With the birth of ROMAIN DU ROI typefaces and the others to follow in the 18th century with are drag into a complete evolution and revolution as well. The Roman Typefaces take its base in the former Old Style but put aside the handwriting influence. As the creators of typefaces of the Era of Enlightment (see details below) are influenced by movement before them and the situation surrounding them, we assist in a resistance to tradition. With the evolution of Typographic printing and the upcoming industrialization to bring steam power, typography will be radically different. Standard type fonts will be developed.


ROMAIN DU ROI (ROMAN) Designed by the French Academy of Science
Graphic Novelty: Horizontal Serif.

CALSON Designed by William Caslon
Reconized by its short ascenders and descenders. Model for several typefaces today still.

BASKERVILLE designed by John Baskerville (Transitional Typefaces as it is between the Creation of Old Style by Clason and the the Modern typefaces by Bodoni).
Baskerville didn't really invented from scratch his typefaces. He actually took Calson's made it in what he would call the perfect typefaces.
Baskerville concentrated his change mostly on spacing, making a bigger contrast in thick and thin strokes. He also changed the axis of the round letter to a more vertical position. In 1758, he met Benjamin Franklin which brought the typefaces in United States and popularized it. It as been used for all federal government then. (FUN FACT Franklin actually showed an example of the Calson type with a Baskerville title and people will start to tell all the weak points of it. He will tell them after that they were actually looking at Calson's and will introduce the real Baskerville typefaces.)

Tools and Subtrates

The Letterpress Origins
The earliest designs of the letterpress were actually modeled after the fruit press, which was a device used to separate fruit skins, stems, seeds, pulp, leaves, etc. This later lead to the creation of the original platen letterpress, a large horizontal press bed with a frame around it. The mechanism required a great deal of elements in order to result in a written document. The letters themselves were found on lead blocks called type lead. The letterform itself was raised above the surface in order for just the letter to be printed. At that time, printing involved the type face blocks constricted to certain measurements called type high- precisely .918 inch tall type or image intended for printing. Besides this, an accurate bed dimensions, composite type and specific depth were needed for an even distribution of ink and uniform impression. The smallest details would impact the print. For example, if the type blocks or leads were taller than the type height, this could cause the paper or substrate to tear. On the other hand, type blocks or imagery smaller than the type height would not be inked correctly and result in a faulty non-existent impression.
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The Letterpress-Printing
The letterpress is a variation of the original platen press. In the beginning, it was limited to only horizontal and vertical compositional structure or layout. However, Dada artists (Dadaism– a cultural movement that protested against the barbarity of military power and wars. The art described as deliberate irrationality, and broke all standards of art at the time. It would later influence the Surrealism movement) later composed directly on the printing press bed to produce more free-form compounds. This allowed printing works to evolve from highly constructed compositions.

The Letterpress Process
It was a procedure that was intricate and involved practice and patience.
  1. To accurately meet type high dimensions in order to print, it sometimes needed to be packed behind the type
  2. Clean, clear impressions resulted in ink mixed with oil to exact viscosity – the desired thick, sticky and semi-fluid
  3. Since temperature and humidity affected both the ink and the paper, trial and error methods of proofing were used until the ideal impression resulted.
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Setting Letterpress Type
It was meticulous work to set every single character one-by-one by hand. In order to keep the characters organized, they were sorted into different small compartments inside a large, shallow drawer called a California job case. Capital/majuscule letters were kept in the top drawer on the uppercase and the smaller/miniscule letters were kept in the lowercase resulting in the names uppercase and lowercase we use today.

Pressure Presses
The earliest pressure presses were used placing a sheet of paper between the type and a platen.
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Steam Engine
First introduced in a cotton-spinning factory in Nottinghamshire, the steam engine found its first designation in 1785. By the end of the 18th century, the steam engine was a staple element in a number of manufacturing industries.

John Baskerville
An accomplished stone cutter, he began his professional writing master career in the 1700s. At the age of 41, he returned to letters and printing after working as a manufacturer. He had discovered new efficient tools and techniques to overall perfect many elements of the printing process at the time:
  1. Designed his own style of type – Baskerville Old Face
    1. Created his letterform on paper rather than directly cutting on the punches on the metal
    2. Refined the technique of “packing” the press
    3. Introduced new papers/substrates with smoother surfaces
      1. Developed the first woven paper – by hot-pressing the surface of the damp paper to ensure added smoothness instead of the traditional laid texture
      2. Improved press designs
      3. Refined ink formulas to achieve a rich purple-black and extreme black printing inks
        1. In order not to leave heavy impressions of the letters pushed into the paper

The Modern Style faces of Giambattista Badoni and Firmin Didot may have been influenced by changes in the engraver’s tool – a thin, pointed stylus used to mark on metal plates – which was refined overtime to produce more precise letterforms.

Industrial Age
The Middle class had emerged from the political and economic revolutions of the time; and the standard of living for the middle-class had improved. So, in turn, surfaced the middle-class consumer. As industrialization gave birth to a market economy, advertisement of these products resulted in an explosion of printed materials.

The Continuous-roll Papermaking Machine
Engineered by Englishman Henry Fourdrinier in 1803, he revolutionized paper manufacturing. By 1804, paper made out of wood in one continuous sheet was possible. The resulting product was: consistent, plentiful, and inexpensive. Consistency in the (make of the) paper weight and surface texture allowed further innovations in printing presses to increase speed and accuracy.

Steam Powered Presses
In 1814, Fredrich Koenig originally the two steam-powered presses for the Times of London. His mechanized presses were capable of printing up to 1,100 sheets/per hr, which was a 440% increase in production from previous presses of 250 sheets/per hr.

Curved printing plates and inking rollers added to the speed of production process

By 1851, printing presses printing 200,000 sheets/ per hr was common.

Advertising Typography – Large-type fonts
The Industrial Revolution called for more eye-catching fonts in order to entice and attract consumers. Manufacturers developed large 2-inch and 3-inch, three-dimensional, large-type fonts (Ex. Bills) that seem to demand attention. Instead of cut-out lead blocks to create the design, these were made from wood - allowed a less expensive alternative, not limited to the size and variations (condensed and extended versions) of the type, and would ultimately become the latest craze of the 1820s.
external image Playbill1000.jpg

The Vertical Revolving Cutter
A mechanical router developed by Darius Wells, the founder of large hand-cut wood-type. The tool allowed him to produce wood-type quickly and accurately.

The Typewriter
Not until the 1829 version patented in the United States by William Austin Burt, did the first “practical” typewriter find its name in history (the primal version of the typewriter was patented in 1714). Its first models were considered to be used for the blind due to its all capitalized font but would later evolve into typing machines utilized in the office. The mechanics of the typewriter resulted in monospacing – the equal spacing of letters in a word - when printed. This, however, cause a displeasure for readers who found the monospaced type difficult to read. To solve this problem, a new typewriting lettering called pica – thin serif letters stretched to fill a larger horizontal space – was developed.
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The Electric Typewriter was invented in 1935 allowed various spacing options which would later encourage the design of type styles.

Stone Chromolithography Printing
Aloys Senefelder invented the lithographic printing process around 1976. The process involved drawing your image on a stone with a grease marker. Then a mixture of water and gum arabic coats the stone. An oil-based ink is applied to the stone surface, which according to the principle of oil and water do not mix produces only the imaged area.

Cultural and Political Climate and it's Influence

Culture and Politics have had a deep influence over the development of type. For instance in certain circumstances, rulers have outlawedcertain type, or letters and of course certain kinds of print materials. This is curious perhaps, but when we think of type in terms of messaging, we can see that rulers may control this in order to control the messages being received by the population. It is also interesting to consider the typefaces employed by institutions to deliver certain messages and perhaps to influence culture and politics themselves.


The Enlightenment Era was a European phenomena that emerged between mid-1600's and early 1700's. Although it is expressed differently across the geographic expanse of the continent, generally it's trend argued for rationality, empiricism, democracy and freedom. Enlightenment argued for the education of the masses and for reason to preclude religion. Suggested by scholar Bertrand Russell, Enlightenment developed out of the Protestant reformation which stated that Man does not need an interpreter between himself and God (i.e.: the Pope). As a result of this schism bibles began to be translated out of traditional Latin and printed in the languages of the region.

German philosopher of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant considered written communication essential to his conception of the public sphere; once everyone was a part of the "reading public", then society could be said to be enlightened. (Chartier, 26, 26. Kant, "What is Enlightenment?")

An increase in the use of movable type and the decrease in the price of paper allowed for more distributed print materials, in more languages and variety of subject matter. This allowed for ideas to be spread.

The age of Enlightenment culminated near the end of the 18th century with the beginning of the Napoleanic Wars.


In 1692, King Louis XIV ordered the creation of a new typeface from his "Imprimierie Royale." This new typeface, entitled Roman de Roi (Roman of the King), spurred a new form called transitional roman. While only the state could legally use this typeface, many typographers began to utilize this form as a basis for new designs. The indicators of this form are a greater contrast between thick and thin strokes, the stress rotated to a vertical angle and serifs became more refined.

The beginning century in France was a time of economic deficit and extreme weather conditions, world wide known as the Little Ice Age. This was a time of hardship for farmers and the lower classes. In the 1730's under Louis XV the French economy made a return. Louis the XV was know for his lavish taste which lent to the development of lavish Rococo design.

HIgh state taxes, poor climactic and agricultural conditions, war and enlightenment ideals may have contributed to the 1789 revolution. According to Phillip Meggs, in The History of Graphic Design, revolutionary tracts were ironically printed with the Roman de Roi typeface! The revolution of 1789, saw the end of monarchy and avowed the ideals "Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood." Great changes took place in the sphere of education as literacy and education for the lower classes became a priority.

After the revolution, Pierre l'aine Didot was instituted as the main typographer of the state Imprimerie (formerly Royale). Like his Italian counter-part in the development of Modern typeface, Didot was influenced by neo-classical reaction to aristocratic culture. Neo-classicism harkened back to Greek and Roman architectural symmetry and eschewed the excesses of rococo. This reflected the cultural and political shift as well from monarchic rule to the ideals of democracy and republicanism.


England had faced a time of suppression in typographic growth. In 1660, King Charles II demanded that the number of printers be reduced to 20 "by death or otherwise" (Meggs, The History of Graphic Design). In 1688, parliamentary sovereignty was established in England, over the rule of the Crown. In 1694, the system of licensing which disallowed printers to operate without a government-granted license lapsed and brought forth greater freedom of the press. This meant more printing and impetus for the development of new type. England had been using mainly Dutch movable typeface during this time. (See Caslon and Baskerville for expamples)

1883, Cicus Poster, England (click to navigate to "Leeds Play Bills" featuring many poster examples.

Information Graphics:

In 1786, William Playfair, published the first area charts and pie charts in The Commercial and Political Atlas. He used Cartesian mathematics (rooted in the Enlightenment) to combine, economic and geographical statistics and
symbols to demonstrate British trade and colonial occupation. This innovation was influenced by an economy growing in complexity and geographic expanse.

Industrial Revolution:

England (1760-1840)
In 1780 the steam engine was invented this revolutionized the rate of manufacturing. The industrial revolution in England brought a major shift in power the aristocracy to the capitalist manufacturer and merchant classes (and the working class in the form of consumer power.)

The ideas of dominance over nature and harnessing the resources of the earth for the ideal of progress flourished. Investment and production became the basis of change for the printing industry and for the trajectory of human culture. Technological shifts, like steam power, increased production rates which in turn reduced the price of goods and increased demand from the consumer. Capitalist competition, branding and advertising led to a rapid increase in demand for graphics, new and larger type than ever before.

An increase in demand for posters, as forms of advertising for everything from stores to circuses, branding and transportation feasibility of type led to the proliferation of wooden type in the 1800's.

Colonial Typography:

Caslon Old Style and Baskerville were main exports around the world to the British Colonies. As metal type was transported internationally from England, it had to cross the ocean and be exposed to salt which corroded certain aspects of the type, like thin serifs for example. This gave colonial printing its characteristic rough aesthetic. In America, printer and man of politics, Benjamin Franklin used Caslon. The Declaration of Independence was officially printed by a Baltimore printer using Caslon. (Meggs, 113).

Key Players and Movements

Rococo Movement (1720-1770)


  • In French, the movement’s name literally means rocks (rocaille) and shells (coquilles).

  • The Rococo was very important because it encompassed art, design, textiles, music and architecture therefore it changed the entire artistic face and fabric of Europe. Its style was to reflect the values of the new monarch Louis XV: the embodiment of beauty filled with nature, enjoyment of life, and joyous people.

  • Rococo art and architecture consisted of curved “pretty” lines, pastel colours, and asymmetrical design.

Pierre Simon Fournier (1712 – 1768 France)

St.Augustine Ordinaire- 1742

  • Son of type founder Jean Claude Fournier
  • Designed a wide range of decorative ornaments and florid fonts, enabling French printers to create books with a decorative design complexity that paralleled the rococo architecture and interiors of his period.
In 1742, Fournier's "St. Augustine Ordinaire" was on of his many types that were considered to be the most influential designs of the 18th century. It was amongst the earliest of transitional style typeface and stepping stone to modern style. They had more vertical stress, contrast between thick and thin strokes and little or no bracketing on the serifs.
  • Published Manuel Typographique (1764): a type specimen/ typographical manual. Fournier's masterpiece, introduced punch cutting, type founding, and displays of his font and ornamental designs.
  • Fournier introduced a Standardized Type Measurement (1737): Typography table of proportions based on the French "pouce"(inch), a now-obsolete unit of measure slightly longer than an inch.

Neoclassicism in The Age Of Enlightenment (1760-1850)


Age of Enlightenment was a cultural movement based on innovation and evolution. The movement of Neoclassicism was most significant as its art and architecture inspired the beginnings of The Enlightenment. Neoclassicism’s classical style valued ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan ideals.
It consisted of order, symmetry, and balance.

  • Typographers refined and modernized typography as they stepped further from their calligraphic origins.

John Baskerville (1706- 1755 England)

John Baskerville

  • Perfectionist, Stone cutter, writing master, responsible for significant innovations in printing, paper and ink production, and pioneer of the neo-classical style letterform.
  • In 1757, “Baskerville” typeface was born. A transitional serif culminated though a series of experiments (paper making/ ink manufacturing) to improve legibility. The “Baskerville” typeface was intended to improve the type of William Caslon and reflect his own ideals of perfection. Baskerville refined Caslon’s type by using more extreme contrast of thick and thin strokes, more tapered/sharper serifs, curved strokes more circular in shape, and shifted the axis of rounded letters.

Firmin Didot (1764-1836 France)

Firmin Didot

Didot- 1783

  • Son of Françoise-Ambrose's son
  • Printer, Engraver, and Type Founder
  • Inventor of the word “stereotype”: the metal printing plate created for the actual printing of page
  • In 1783, inspired by John Baskerville’s experimentation, Didot designed the “Didot” typeface. Didot was credited for designing “Modern” typefaces that utilized an extreme contrast between stroke weights, flat serifs, and a more condensed armature.

Giambattista Bodoni 
(1740-1830 Italy)

Giambattista Bodoni


  • “The letters don’t get their true delight, when done in haste & discomfort, nor merely done with diligence & pain, but first when they are created with love and passion" -Giambattista Bodoni
  • Engraver, publisher,printer, and typographer
  • Apprentice in The Vatican’s printing house

  • Inspired by Baskerville, Fournier, and Didot, Bodoni designed modern typeface “Bodoni” in 1767. The Bodoni typeface distinguishes itself through the strength of its characters and embodies the rational thinking of the Enlightenment.

Typefaces in Popular Media

British William Caslon’s Dutch inspired, baroque transitional serif typeface, was quickly recognized in the 1700’s.His diligent exploration of metal craft lead to his own business in London and his own type foundry.In 1730, Caslon became a fad, as his font was a British newsprint standard. "His delicate yet uniform serifs"set him apart from Claude Garamond.

William Caslon – A specimen of printing types (1785)

A Specimen of Printing Types FULL BOOK PDF Version

Additional Examples of William Calson's work

English John Baskerville, a "perfectionist" visionary, contributed a new perspective to the print society.He noted the keen details of the printing process and adapted to make him his own signature.The rich jet black inks improved the quality of text and "Hot pressed paper" was invented to provide a smooth refined finish for books providing a crisp bright white canvas. John discovered that type had an unestablished definition. He manipulated fine stroke for easier to reading when printed in a smaller size, It is evident in his legacy.

"The Works of WIlliam Congreve" published by John Baskerville
John Baskerville's A Specimen typography Document

Additional Examples of John Baskerville's work

Parisian.Pierre Simon Fournier aka Fournier le Jeune, beings his career when the french government threaten to enforce a type standard.
In 1737, he developes the first type system of measurement using points then publishes a book on his type specimens.These specifications
were used to develop own type foundry. Piere began "cutting out 60,000 punches for 150 of his own alphabet" which included the his modified "old style ornaments" in the 16th century. "Louis XIV commissioned new types for use during his reign", it was considered the "kings font" and violators would be penalized for miss use.Reproduction was prohibited for a period of time. Fournier continued establishing his typeface in 1750,with neighboring royals in Sweden and Sardinia. "Copycats" and rivals emerged but Piere was persistent in re design, his final addition included musical notations to his typeface.

Folio 140 from Pierre-Simon Fournier’s, Manuel Typographique, (tome II, Article III : caractères particuliers), 1766.
From the book edited by Gerard Joseph Bardou in 1765 with Fournier Fonts.

The first cartoon appeared in Ben Franklin's newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754.

More Newspaper articles in The Pennsylvania Gazette

References Are located in Body text as well as in Images
References not included in Body text or Images: