The Baskerville Punches: revelations of craftsmanship

Analysing the influential Baskerville Punches to gain a deeper understanding of John Baskerville's techniques and 18th century typography. 

Baskerville printing punches


Research background

Eighteenth-century punch-cutting was not only difficult to execute, it was also difficult to document, therefore, knowledge of early typographic practices is generally limited. Fortunately, the punches of one of the century’s foremost English printers, John Baskerville (170775), still survive as the primary evidence of craftsmanship and the punch-cutters skill and the means of their manufacture.

This pilot-project undertook preliminary investigations into the Baskerville punches. The project was a collaboration between the Centre for Printing History and Culture; the Centre for Digital Design and Manufacturing in the School of Jewellery at Birmingham City University; the Digital Content Unit, at the University of Cambridge; and the Birmingham Assay Office. The partnership brought together experts from different institutions and disciplines each with their own methodological approaches. The participants comprised historians, technicians and makers working in the areas of craft, digital humanities, jewellery, metallurgy, material culture, printing and typography.

Research aims         

The aim of this research was to improve our understanding of Baskerville’s punch-cutting techniques in particular and eighteenth-century typography in general, thereby adding to the wider discourse of printing history.

Research methods

The research was carried out using four inter-connecting methodologies: firstly, Reflectance Transformation Imaging, was used by the Digital Content Unit at Cambridge to produce high-resolution images of the punches. Secondly, specialist laser scanning, computer-aided design and three-dimensional printing facilities in the School of Jewellery created 3D replicas of the punches. Thirdly, X-Ray Florescence technology in the Birmingham Assay Office, was used in order to see whether it was possible to ascertain the material composition of the punches. And fourthly, an enumerative, descriptive and visual conspectus of each punch was created and against which the material data was plotted.

Research outcomes 

This project developed, tested and validated an original methodology which will allow a detailed analysis of the punches and help us understand the practical and material aspects of their manufacture.The next step (funding permitting) is to undertake a more extensive examination of the Baskerville punches in order to produce sufficient data from which meaningful results can be extracted.