Making Our Mark (Part 2): Our Typographic Identity
The name of our institution is an integral part of the new DRR logo, and in considering the typographic possibilities for our visual identity, the Office of Fine Arts sought to create a harmonious and meaningful connection to our central logomark. True to our roots and brand ethos, we approached the design question as we would any other – by looking to the 18th century – and found our answer in the typeface Caslon, a perennial favorite of typesetters and printers for almost three centuries.
William Caslon (1692/3 – 1766), also known as William Caslon the Elder, was an English type founder who is known today for the typeface that bears his name.
As a young man in 1706, Caslon began his training as an apprentice engraver of gunlocks and barrels. In 1716, Caslon opened his own engraving shop in London, and began to make tools for bookbinders and silver chasers. It was through his contact with patrons that Caslon’s talent for type was identified and subsequently flourished.
Caslon released his first Specimen of Type in the 1730s, and the preference for Caslon from both printers and readers was instantaneous and long-lasting. Caslon’s typefaces transformed English type design and established an enduring national typographic style in both England and the American colonies, where it became the preferred type for all printed documents and books until the end of the 18th century.
Caslon & The Birth of Our Nation
The appointed drafting committee of the American Declaration of Independence — known as the Committee of Five — consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Benjamin Franklin (himself an authority on type and printing). Upon the July 4th, 1776 ratification of the Declaration by the Second Continental Congress, the Committee of Five assigned the first printing of the document to John Dunlap — one of the most successful printers of his time, whose shop was located near Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Dunlap worked into the night to produce approximately two hundred copies of the document for distribution the following day. This first version of the Declaration — now known as the Dunlap Broadside — was composed of roman type from the Caslon foundry, forever linking the typeface to the words and values enshrined in America’s original founding document.
Although by 1776 there were numerous typeface options (most of them, like Baskerville, directly influenced by Caslon), Caslon was selected because of America’s familiarity with it. It was simply what people in the colonies were accustomed to reading, and so it was deemed the most democratic and practical choice for the first copies of the Declaration that were distributed. Caslon Type announced our intent to become a free nation, and carries with it the legacy of its association with the most important printed text in our country’s history.
Caslon type is considered the first Anglo Saxon expression of roman type, which arose during the Renaissance out of humanist scholars’ veneration and imitation of ancient Roman culture and letters. These embedded ideals mirror the Diplomatic Reception Rooms’ logo mark itself, which shares this origin in Renaissance humanism, and relates to ideas of both literacy and the value of the individual.
The letters of Caslon Type are characterized by an inherent lack of uniformity. This is compensated for through nuanced, harmonious relationships between letterforms, resulting in an overall effect that is cohesive and pleasing in spite of its variety. Described as both comfortable and inviting, it has endured since its creation with several revivals used widely today, and in decidedly contemporary applications. Though it has significant historic associations, Caslon is modern in its legibility and ease. For these many reasons, it was selected for the DRR brand — an institution that celebrates our founding ideals through the art, architecture, and written words of the American founders, and that reminds today’s leaders and global citizens of the history we continue to write here each day.
- William Caslon’s Specimen of Type, which established a national typographic style.
- Type founder William Caslon.
- The drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence as depicted by an unknown artist after John Trumbull (American, 1756-1843).
Reed, Talbot Baines. A History of the Old English Letter Foundries With Notes, Historical and Bibliographical, on the Rise and Process of English Typography. London: Eliot Stock, 1887.