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John Baskerville and Benjamin Franklin: A Trans-Atlantic Friendship

John Baskerville and Benjamin Franklin: A Trans-Atlantic Friendship


1750 - 1900 (c.)

Image: Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). The Hundred Greatest Men: Portraits of the One Hundred Greatest Men, Vol VII Politics, (Sampson Low, London, 1880).

Image from: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library

Text: Olga Baird


Benjamin Franklin and John Baskerville were two important figures of the 18th century Enlightenment. Franklin was a thinker, scientist and politician and one of the central individuals in American history, but his favourite self-description was “Benjamin Franklin, Printer”. Baskerville was an artist, industrial innovator, printer and creator of the famous Baskerville type. They shared the same year of birth and a professional interest in type founding and book production. Franklin visited Birmingham frequently, staying with Baskerville and commenting on his printing, supporting his activities and advocating his work. In this article, Olga Baird explores the relationship between the two men.

Related exhibitions on the Revolutionary Players website include:

Papermaking, Printing and Associated Trades in the West Midlands during the 18th and Early 19th Centuries
(Theme: Industry and Innovation)

“Practical Utopias”: the Writings of Robert Bage
(Theme: Culture and Society)

Samuel Johnson, Practical Science and Industry in the Midlands
(Theme: Culture and Society)

Sections: [click on the images on the right to access each section]

1. Benjamin Franklin, Printer
2. Franklin and Typefounding
3. Baskerville and Franklin: Status and Success
4. Baskerville Type
5. Franklin and Baskerville: Printing Activities
6. Franklin and Baskerville: Literary Tastes
7. Franklin and Baskerville: Religion
8. Franklin and Baskerville: Friendship and Co-operation
9. Baskerville and the Sale of Type from his Type Foundry
10. Franklin and Baskerville: Epitaphs

Sources and Further Reading

Benton, J H, J.Baskerville, Type-founder and Printer 1706-1775 (New York, 1944). Jay, Leonard, Letters of the famous 18th Century Printer John Baskerville of Birmingham (Birmingham, 1932).
Leo Lemay, J A, Reappraising Benjamin Franklin: A bicentennial perspective (1993).
Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin (London, 1916).
Pardoe, F E, John Baskerville of Birmingham: Letter-Founder and Printer (London, 1975).
Wright, Esmond, Benjamin Franklin: His Life as He Wrote It (1989).
Updike, D B, Printing Types: Their History, Forms and Use (1922).

Examples of all of Baskerville’s publications are held at Birmingham Central Library. Copies of Baskerville’s Bible are held by Birmingham Assay Office and the Cathedral Church of St Philip, Birmingham.

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Related Themes:
1830 and after
Baskerville, John 1705-1775
Design and Crafts
Lunar Society
Printing and Publishing
The Enlightenment

Image Credits:

Donor Ref: ' F920.01  (99/4626)'
Copyright information: Copyrights to all resources are retained by the individual rights holders. They have kindly made their collections available for non-commercial private study & educational use. Re-distribution of resources in any form is only permitted subject to strict adherence to the guidelines in the Full Terms and Conditions statement.
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A Letter Press Printer


1. Benjamin Franklin, Printer

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Type Founder


2. Franklin and Typefounding

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A Portrait of John Baskerville


3. Baskerville and Franklin: Status and Success

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Slate tablet advertising Baskerville's skill as a designer of letters.  Inscription reads: 'Grave Stones Cut in any of the Hands by John Baskervill, Writing-Master'.


4. Baskerville Type

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