The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Books of the English 1500 to 1800 Part 7

During the first quarter of the eighteenth century and for some time previously most of the best type in use in England came from Holland, the country which at that time held pride of place in the printing world. When Richard Bentley was reorganizing the University Press at Cambridge towards the end of the seventeenth century, it was to Holland that he sent for new type, and a Dutchman, Cornelius Crownfield, was engaged to superintend the work. In 1667 Dr John Fell established a type foundry for the Oxford University Press, and for several years afterwards some of the best printing in this country was done at Oxford.

Good examples may be seen in Anthony Wood's Historia Universitatis Oxoniensis (1674) and George Hickes's Thesaurus (1705), which came from the University press, and the magnificent Bible printed by John Baskett in 1716-7, which, from the numerous misprints it contains, came to be known as 'a Baskett-full of printer's errors.' Other efforts to improve English typography were being made, and in 1722 William Caslon, who had experimented in type cutting, designed for William Bowyer, an excellent printer, a new and handsome fount of roman and italic letter which was used for the folio edition of Selden's works printed in 1726. The beauty of the Caslon letter soon caused it to come into favor, and up to nearly the end of the century his types were almost exclusively used by those who made any pretence to fine printing. Printing had now spread throughout the provinces, and every town of importance could boast its printing press. The greater number of these presses were connected with the publication of newspapers, and very few places produced. books of any note.

An outstanding exception is the work of John Baskerville at Birmingham. Baskerville, who was a skilled penman and cutter of monumental inscriptions, having turned his attention to type founding, issued, in 1757, a quarto edition of Virgil as his first book. He conceived the ambition of printing a Prayer-book and a Bible in a handsome manner, and to enable him to do this he secured the appointment of printer to the University of Cambridge for a period of ten years from 1758. Four editions of the Prayer-book were issued by him in 1760, and three years later came his chefd' Q3uvre, a folio Bible upon which he had lavished much care and which has been described as 'the finest English Bible ever produced.' Lack of support caused him much discouragement.