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Frank Visits the Site of John Caslon's Foundry in London

Published on October 17, 2012

This week, Frank Romano visits the site of the former foundry started by John Caslon in London and talks about the history of type and Caslon's contribution to it.

Frank Romano: Hi, this is Frank Romano for whattheythink.com. I’m here on Chiswell Street in the city of London. It is a very busy street even on a Sunday morning. The reason I’m here is because of this building. Well, not this building but there was a building on this site in the 1600s that was the home of John Caslon. John Caslon created the first type foundry in the United Kingdom. He had worked in metal before that and then started making special characters for typesetters and printers and then got into the typesetting trade itself.

At one time there was a blue plaque on this building that indicated that it was a historic site. It was there as late as the 2006 Google maps where I saw it and took a picture of it. It was right about there. When they put a new façade on the building when Tesco Express moved in the plaque disappeared. I went inside and no one seemed to have any recollection of it. They put granite on the building rather than the stone that was there before. It’s very pretty but nowhere do you find that it was historic in any way, shape or form.

The first time anyone ever saw the Declaration of Independence was when it was typeset in Caslon. Ben Franklin used Caslon. All the printers in America use Caslon. They brought the font with them when they went to America. Actually, the punches and the molds for Caslon still exist to this day and they are in the Type Museum which is outside of London and I was actually standing in front of the cabinet that had all of those molds and punches that created the Caslon typeface.

Caslon is, of course, a traditional serif typeface where the weights of the stems and the weights of the serifs are pretty much the same and not differentiated as they are in some of the sans serif that we see today such as Garamond, Palatino and others.

The street ends over there at Finsbury Square and continues some distance up here. The big historic site being the brewery and they preserved that and saved that and all the signage is there and the blue signs are there. For the first type foundry in the United Kingdom it is not there which is kind of a shame. By the way, it’s at the corner of Moor Lane and you can see the sign over there. Moor Lane and Chiswell Street. The address is 24 and the plaque was on that building at one time and now it is gone.

By the way, if you search for Caslon Chiswell plaque in Google you will find a picture of it with the indication of the lifespan of John Caslon and the time that the foundry was there which, by the way, was from the late 1600s until 19 something. Then, of course, the company was taken over by Stephenson Blake and they ran it for a number of years. The continuity was unbelievable.

John Caslon is buried with the rest of his family at a small church called St. Luke’s which is north of London and I found it a few years ago. There is nothing historic there, even the type on his grave is not his own typeface. In any case, this is Frank Romano for whattheythink.com.

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By Graham Judd on Oct 22, 2012

Thanks for this Frank. I have become interested in things letterpress over the last few years, and so find little snippets of news of the past enjoyable to see and hear. I was recently given an 1833 Albion press, which still prints well, and created quite a bit of interest when I placed it in my local library for a few weeks. The library used it in their school holiday programme, but adults and library staff were more excited about it than the kids.
It would be a shame if the plaque is lost, I hope somebody does search it out.
Graham Judd


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