Caslon’s Italian by James Clough

Paul Shaw mentions two commercial, digital versions of Caslon’s Italian: an accurate revival done by Paul Barnes from original smokeproofs in the St. Bride Library and the playful Slab Sheriff by Alex Sheldon. To put the record straight, some months before he died in 2005, Justin Howes kindly passed on to me his own digital revival of Caslon’s Italian. His starting point was the smoke proofs in the St. Bride Library (the same ones later used by Paul Barnes). Last year I sent Justin’s version to Claudio Rocha who put it to good use in my article “The Italian Monstrosity” (TipoItalia no. 1— see my caption on p. 85). Justin never put his version of Caslon’s Italian on the market but I think he would have appreciated it being used in that particular context.

In my article I mentioned a tendency of type historians, from T.C. Hansard to Nicolete Gray, to denigrate Caslon’s Italian. For space reasons I avoided discussing what two other writers had to say about it: Rob Roy Kelly, American Wood Type: 1828-1900 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1977) and Walter Tracy, Letters of Credit (London: Gordon Fraser, 1986). There has long been an inclination towards orthodox thought in typography, lettering and calligraphy among English writers and it is worth quoting Tracy as an example of a more open mind: “[Caslon’s Italian] has been misunderstood. It is not, as some have said, a maltreated Egyptian. I think it was an exercise in ingenuity by a lively-minded person who, knowing that the ‘fat face’ – which was the modern letter which had, as the song says, gone about as far as it could go – had astonished printers, decided that the shock could be repeated if all the characteristics of the fat face were reversed – the thick strokes made thin, the thin strokes and serifs made thick, tapers inverted and so on. The Italian face was a jeu d’esprit, not meant to be judged in conventional aesthetic terms.”