See biographies by W. Bennett (1939) and H. Evans (1953); bibliography by Philip Gaskell (1959).
Baskerville, detail of a portrait after James Millar, 1774; in the National Portrait Gallery, London
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John Baskerville (January 28, 1706 - January 8, 1775) was born in the village of Wolverley, near Kidderminster in Worcestershire and was a printer in Birmingham, England. He was a member of the Royal Society of Arts, and an associate of some of the members of the Lunar Society. He directed his punchcutter John Handy in the design of many typefaces of broadly similar appearance.
His businesses included japanning and papier-mâché, but he is best remembered as a printer and typographer. He printed works for Cambridge University in 1758 and although an atheist, printed a splendid folio Bible in 1763. His fonts were greatly admired by fellow member of the Royal Society of Arts, Benjamin Franklin, who took the designs back to the newly-created United States, where they were adopted for most federal government publishing. His work was criticized by jealous competitors and soon fell out of favor, but since the 1920s many new fonts have been released by Linotype, Monotype, and other type foundries – revivals of his work and mostly called 'Baskerville'.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who once lived in Birmingham, may have borrowed Baskerville's surname for one of his Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles - which, in turn, was borrowed by Umberto Eco for the character William of Baskerville in his best-selling novel, The Name of the Rose (Sean Connery played the character in the movie based on the book).
As an atheist, Baskerville was buried, at his own request, in unconsecrated ground in the garden of his own house, Easy Hill. When a canal was built through the land his body was placed in storage in a warehouse for several years before being secretly deposited in the crypt of Christ Church (demolished 1899), Birmingham. Later his remains were moved, with other bodies from the crypt, to consecrated catacombs at Warstone Lane Cemetery. Baskerville House was built on the grounds of Easy Hill.
He is the subject of an animated film, due for completion in October 2008.