In 1760, the American printer, Benjamin Franklin wrote to John Baskerville and paid him a visit.
Baskerville’s reputation, and even his eponymous typeface, had been maligned by “gentlemen” who may have been jealous of Baskerville’s talent, nonconformism, and increasing success. Baskerville used excerpts from one of Franklin’s letters as an “unsolicited testimonial“ in advertisements, but typographers will appreciate how clever Franklin was in his support of Baskerville:
“Dear Sir, Let me give you a pleasant Instance of the Prejudice some have entertained against your Work. Soon after I returned, discoursing with a Gentleman concerning the Artists of Birmingham, he said you would be a Means of blinding all the Readers in the Nation; for the Strokes of your Letters, being too thin and narrow, hurt the Eye, and he could never read a Line of them without Pain. I thought, said I, you were going to complain of the Gloss on the Paper, some object to. No, no, says he, I have heard that mentioned; but it is not that—it is in the Form and Cut of the Letters themselves: They have not that natural and easy Proportion between the Height and Thickness of the Stroke which makes the common Printing so much the more comfortable to the Eye.— You see this Gentleman was a Connoisseur. In vain I endeavoured to support your Character against the Charge: He knew what he felt, and could see the Reason of it, and several other Gentlemen among his Friends had made the same Observation, &c.— Yesterday he called to visit me, when, mischievously bent to try his Judgment, I stept into my Closet, tore off the top of Mr. Caslon’s Specimen, and produced it to him as yours brought with me from Birmingham, saying, I had been examining it since he spoke to me, and could not for my Life perceive the Disproportion he mentioned, desiring him to point it out to me. He readily undertook it, and went over the several Founts, showing me every where what he thought Instances of that Disproportion; and declared, that he could not then read the Specimen without feeling very strongly the Pain he had mentioned to me. I spared him that Time the Confusion of being told, that these were the Types he had been reading all his Life with so much Ease to his Eyes; the Types his adored Newton is printed with, on which he has pored not a little; nay, the very Types his own Book is printed with, for he is himself an Author, and yet never discovered this painful Disproportion in them, till he thought they were yours.
I am, &c.”
From John Baskerville of Birmingham, Letter-Founder & Printer by F. E. Pardoe 1975