A long running serif font first designed by William Caslon in 1722 and used extensively throughout the British Empire in the early eighteen century. It was used widely in the early days of the American Colonies and was the font used for the U.S. Declaration of Independence, but fell out of favor soon after. It has been revived at various times since then, in particular during the British Arts and Crafts movement and again each time it went through a redesign for technological changes. It continues to be a standard in typography to this day.
Considered the first original English typeface, it shares many characteristics of the Dutch Baroque type fonts of the era, and may be a variation on the Dutch Fell type fonts cut by Voskens or Van Dyck at that time. From 1725 through to 1730 three books printed by William Bower used roman and italic fonts cut by Caslon. The fonts were popular throughout the British Empire including the American Colonies, where they acquired their distinctive appearance from the exposure to salt air during the voyage from Britain.
The popularity of the font diminished upon Caslon’s death but revived during the British Arts and Crafts movement of the 1840s to 1880s. Currently the Caslon font is in wide use and considered the standard for typesetters and printers. The rule of thumb continues to be, when in doubt use Caslon.
Because a bold weight was not used commonly to create emphasis in type at the time of the development of the Caslon font, Caslon never designed a bold font weight. This peculiarity of the font style has stayed with it through several revivals.
The close of the 19th Century has seen three major changes in the technology of typesetting that affected the Caslon font. Beginning with the introduction of hot type and then the development of phototypesetting in the 60s and 70s, we then saw the recent change to digital fonts that began in the mid 1980s. All of these technological changes have seen redesigns of the Caslon font, some with very little similarity to the original font outside of serif and the name.
This is such a versatile font that it can be found in a wide variety of places. Benjamin Franklin used it extensively and in fact it was the font used to set both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. George Bernard Shaw required that all his plays be set in Caslon. In more modern times, it was the True Type Caslon Antique font that was used as the title font for the play Les Miserables.