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John Baskerville

John Baskerville was born near Kidderminster but spent most of his working life in Birmingham. In 1733 he is recorded as keeping a writing school in the Bull Ring. He also cut grave stones and later took up the manufacture of japanned goods, a trade in which he made a fortune.

In 1750 he began type-founding and printing, spending seven years perfecting every aspect of his technique. His presses had metal parts instead of wood to allow smoother working and his paper was pressed between hot copper plates immediately after printing, giving it a high gloss like vellum. He also devised a method of making a fine black ink.

In 1757 he was ready to print his first book - the magnificent quarto Virgil which, in Lord Macaulay's phrase, "went forth to astonish all the librarians of Europe". He printed fine editions of Latin and English classics in Birmingham and in 1758 became printer to the University of Cambridge, where he produced equally fine Bibles and Prayer books. Contemporary printers were slow to appreciate his genius but by the 19th Century he was acknowledged as the greatest type-designer of the post-incunabula age and a citizen of whom Birmingham would be eternally proud.

This information was compiled by Christine Penney, Head of Special Collections at the University of Birmingham

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