My first apprentice alphabet (Eric Gill-inspired Roman caps) was a big project, especially in scale, for a rookie letter-cutter.
Aside from all of the research and drawing that went into its development, a lot of physical effort went into carving and masoning what ended up being a very substantial stone. I almost bit off more than I could chew, but with some determination, hard work, and plenty of guidance from Eric, I managed to finally finish it - which was immensely rewarding and validating.
With all that in mind, I thought for my second alphabet I might make something much smaller in scale and a bit more reserved.
Eric struck upon the idea of doing a Baskerville-inspired alphabet after looking at a reproduction we have in the workshop of John Baskerville’s “Cut in any of the Hands” slate.
The fact that Baskerville first cut some version of his famous letters in stone before he designed them as type was a very intriguing idea, and we both felt it could potentially motivate a very interesting alphabet.
I thought this was a great idea, especially as I am a big fan of the Baskerville typeface. It also had the unintended benefit of giving my set of apprentice alphabets a loose theme: letters inspired by letter-cutters turned type designers. First Eric Gill, now John Baskerville; I wonder who will inspire the next alphabet...
As with my previous alphabet, I wanted to do as much research as possible to help inform my design. As the only existing example of carved letters by Baskerville is the original “Cut in any of the Hands” slate, Eric thought a visit to the Cambridge University Library to view the original Baskerville type punches might be the next best thing. Luckily, Colin Clarkson, Head of Modern Research Collections, generously agreed to arrange a viewing for us.
It was incredible to be allowed to handle and inspect the original, handmade metal punches. Seeing the detail and precision, especially with the small type, was very impressive. And while these letters are technically printed by machines, these punches were painstakingly made by hand - and they are beautiful things, too!
I inspected the type very closely, and I managed to get some fairly detailed photos of them. (Colin also helpfully sent me some photos of a few of the punches that were missing.) The pictures I took should prove to be a valuable reference for when we get to designing the alphabet. My hope is to make a lowercase alphabet (complete with numbers) inspired by the original punches and the slate reproduction!
In addition to viewing the Baskerville punches, Colin was kind enough to show us around the Historical Printing Room, which is a working print room chock-full of original printing equipment!
It was a privilege to visit the Library and be given access to such priceless artifacts. All in all, I think we’re off to a very interesting start with this project, and I can’t wait to get designing!