Designed for Rapha by Paul Barnes, inspired by the work of William Caslon I and in particular his Great Primer (cut in 1734), a face that owes much to the Dutch masters of the 17th century. Coming in four weights, it has separate versions for text and headlines, and is also available as a variable font with axes for weight and optical size. The family has a large x-height and reduced descenders, and its serifs are simple in structure, with minimal tapering and an overall sharpness also reflected in the sharp lines of ball terminals. The italic has both the steepness and regularity of angle that is seen in some of Caslon’s work, making it characterful without being distracting. Paul was assisted by Dan Milne and Thomas Bouillet.
Copies of Copies in the making of Frame
Frame is a contemporary serif face with a large x-height and compact extenders. With relatively low contrast it is well suited for both screen and print applications in all sizes. Created for the cycling clothing brand Rapha, Frame has its origins in the seriffed faces of William Caslon I (it replaces Adobe Caslon) but follows the vertical proportions of Caslon Doric, a sans serif cut roughly a hundred years after Caslon died in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. The path toward Frame is more nuanced and circuitous than it might appear at first blush, winding through history, sport, technology, and back to history again.
Before William Caslon, the story often told was that British typefounding was virtually nonexistent. For discerning printers they turned to importing type from the Low Countries with its rich traditions of fine serif faces. In the early years of the eighteenth century, this typically meant typefaces cut by the masters of the previous century, such as Christoffel Van Dijck. Broadly speaking, these were ‘Dutch’Fournier coined the disparaging term ‘Dutch style’ to describe the development, beginning in the Low Countries in the sixteenth century, of narrower faces with increased x-height and reduced ascenders and descenders. The innovation allowed more words to a page and was financially driven. in style: of increased x-height and narrowness, with reduced ascenders and descenders – although some were formally closer to typefaces from the earlier era of Garamond.An example might be the Fell Types given to the Oxford University Press in the latter part of the seventeenth century, a mix of types including faces by Garamond, Granjon, Hautlin, and Van Dijck. The cost and time involved in obtaining type from abroad led printers to look for resources closer to home, and in William Caslon they found a promising candidate.
Originally from the Midlands,Caslon was born in Cradley (then a parish of Halesowen) in the county of Worcestershire – a mere ten miles from Wolverley, where his great rival Baskerville was born. The Midlands was also one of the centres of cycling manufacturing in the nineteenth century, starting thirty miles east, in Coventry. A few manufacturers, such as Reynolds Technology and Brooks Saddles, are still in business today. as a teenager Caslon moved to London, where he became a skilled engraver. This earned him the attention of a circle of printers who admired his handiwork.In its collections, the Royal Armouries Museum shows a flintlock muzzle-loading musketoon dated 1715, engraved with Caslon’s name. He had been employed as a lock engraver by the Board of Ordinance at the Tower of London. James Mosley, ‘The Early career of William Caslon’, Journal of the Printing Historical Society, No. 3, 1967. In the early 1720s, with the encouragement and financial support of printers like William Bowyer,James Mosley, ‘Caslon, William, the Elder (1692–1766), Typefounder,’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) Caslon started to experiment with typefounding. His first type appeared in 1725,A roman and italic cut in the pica size; the punches for the roman are at St Bride Library, London. See James Mosley’s introduction to the facsimile of the Specimen of Printing Types by William Caslon, 1766, Journal of the Printing Historical Society, No. 16, 1981/2 completely fully formed as what we consider ‘Caslon’ type: well proportioned and spaced, with a friendly roundness. Unlike Baskerville, who trained as a writing master, it appears that Caslon had no specific education in letter making.
His ‘experiment’ proved a success; over his lifetime he built a prosperous business, and his foundry became the most renowned in Britain and in the United States.In Anecdotes of Bowyer (1782), John Nicols wrote ‘he arrived to that perfection, as not only to free us from the necessity of importing types from Holland, but in the beauty and elegance of those madly him so surpassed the best productions of foreign artificers, that his types have not unfrequently been exported to the continent’. Mosley, 1981, suggests that dominance in the UK and export to the USA were the extent of his success.Aside from the first decades of the nineteenth century, his faces remained in constant production for nearly three hundred years, until the beginning of the twenty-first century. Few other type makers can claim such longevity, nor the cultural significance that the Caslon name projected. Yet it would be hard to describe Caslon as an innovator: his faces broadly follow the Aldine tradition that dates back to the late fifteenth century.
So why was Caslon so successful? What makes ‘Caslon’ to this day such an enduring style? And what exactly is the Caslon style?
The last specimen issued by the Caslon foundry during Caslon the Elder’s life in 1766 shows much of what he cut, as well the work of his son William Caslon II and others such as Joseph Moxon. The typefaces’ style varies depending on the size, from the sharpness of the largest size, with its large x-height (the proportions are similar to those of Van den Keere’s largest types), which served as a model for Matthew Carter’s Big Caslon; through to the text sizes, which have a softness (is this one of the key elements of the Caslon style; taking continental sharpness and making it softer and rounder?) and comfortableness revived in Carol Twombly’s Adobe Caslon. None would seem out of place in the specimens published by typefounders in the Low Countries, but in parts they lack a certain artistic quality (the italics in text lack the verve and flair of, say, Granjon). They are not new, but gently modify a style with conviction and confidence. They are ‘Dutch’ faces made in London, and thus they became ‘English’ faces. When we think about what English type might constitute, Caslon often springs to mind. (Other examples might be Baskerville or, more recently, Gill Sans.)
Caslon clearly had an eye for making type and was a confident founder; these are well-made typefaces. The engraving of the Caslon foundry made during this period tells us another important thing: although Caslon cut the letters, he did not cast them. He may have commented on issues of spacing, but it is likely that these decisions were mainly the work of others, and the spacing of Caslon’s faces is almost universally excellent. But Caslon’s qualities were not unique. By the end of the eighteenth century, several foundries producing excellent old-style, transitional, and modern-style faces had sprung up around the British IslesDuring the eighteenth century, Caslon was joined by the following:
Alexander Wilson, Glasgow, 1742
John Baskerville, Birmingham, 1752
Thomas Cottrell, whose foundry was in turn taken over by Robert Thorne and later William Thorowgood, and renamed the Fann Street Foundry, London, 1757
Joseph Jackson, the former foreman of the Caslon foundry, whose foundry was taken over by William Caslon III and then William Caslon IV, London, 1763
Joseph Fry, Bristol, 1764
Vincent Figgins, London, 1792– yet Caslon is the name we all remember, and Caslon the typeface we most closely associate with British typefounding.Caslon’s fame had spread across the Channel to the most celebrated of contemporary writers on type: Pierre-Simon Fournier le Jeune in his Manuel typographique. But despite lavishing praise on Baskerville, who would exert a profound influence on the continent, Fournier appears to have thought less highly of Caslon, writing elsewhere: ‘Only one thing hinders the advance of Printing in England – the bad taste of [Caslon’s] types, especially the italics, which are absolutely absurd’. See Harry Carter, trans., Fournier on Typefounding (London: Soncino Press, 1930). Set in Monotype Caslon.
Towards the middle of the century, the style of letter started changing with Baskerville’s innovations, which were often copied and admired – so much so that the third William Caslon, who by then had set up his own foundry, showed not only the faces of his grandfather, but also the transitional style in his 1796 specimen. By the end of the century, Caslon’s faces had disappeared from sight, replaced by what we have come to call the Modern style. Importantly, though, Caslon’s descendants decided not to (or perhaps simply forgot to) dispose of the punches and matrices, and although they were then considered out of fashion and ‘antique’, these very qualities would later prompt their resurgence.
The reappearance of Caslon might be seen as the first major revival, not just of a style of type, but of the original type itself. In 1844, Charles Whittingham of the Chiswick Press produced The Diary of Lady Willoughby, a fictional work set during the reign of Charles I in the seventeenth century. The book’s design is a pastiche of that period, and Whittingham chose the faces of Caslon I to replicate it. He could have chosen another face from another foundry, but one unlikely to have the same prestige as Caslon. It would be wrong to imagine that these types replaced the Modern style, but gradually the faces attracted an audience until the Caslon foundry again began to offer them in their specimens (as did Vincent Figgins and James Marr who had purchased the foundry of Alex. Wilson & Sons). Perhaps one reason the faces found renewed popularity was that they had a weight of character and low contrast missing in the increasingly sparkly Moderns. Or perhaps it was the Victorian obsession with the past, the search for a mythical time before the industrial – William Morris, See The Kelmscott Press: A History of William Morris's Typographical Adventure By William S. Peterson, 1991. Several of Morris’ essays such as Printing. An essay by William Morris & Emery Walker. From Arts & crafts essays by members of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, 1893 mention Caslon ‘Caslon's type is clear and neat, and fairly well designed; he seems to have taken the letter of the Elzevirs of the seventeenth century for his model: type cast from his matrices is still in everyday use’ for example, used Caslon before he had his own designs cut. On the papers of the nineteenth century, Caslon’s faces lose some of the quality of the original showings: the spread of ink is lessened so they appear less dense in colour, and their inconsistencies become more apparent.
The Victorians couldn’t resist tidying up the originators’ designs, so we get the Caslon foundry recutting much of Caslon the Elder’s work, and the addition of characters such as italic swash capitals never cut before. And thus a copy of Dutch letters became a copy of a copy of Dutch letters. To most the changes were probably not noticeable, and the foundry clearly felt some pride in this, but something had been lost – compare the spacing, for example. By this point Caslon was, of course, no longer solely a British phenomenon; a French branch of the foundry existedSee, for example, Épreuves des caractères de la Fonderie Caslon (Paris: Fonderie Caslon, 1920). Digitised version from the Bibliothèques spécialisées et patrimoniales de la ville de Paris.and Caslon’s typefaces appeared in American founders’ specimens.James Mosley dates this to 1856 and the Boston Type Foundry; see Mosley, ‘Recasting Caslon Old Face’, 4 January, 2009, The 1860 specimen shows several sizes, as well as many other designs from Britain.The transatlantic trade in type was copious, and as soon as Caslon reissued the original, it seemed almost inevitable that it would eventually make its way to the United States.
Caslon became a byword for what typefaces used to look like. If someone wanted an authentic old face, Caslon was the most readily available; and if someone wanted to copy an old face, Caslon was probably the most visible. And so a legend was born: something that had lasted must be a classic, and therefore must be reliable. ‘If in doubt, set in Caslon’ became de rigueur. This made Caslon an ideal face for advertising where trust and belief were of paramount importance. The Declaration of IndependenceSee for example A Specimen of Isaiah Thomas’s Printing Types (Worcester, MA: 1785). The title page proclaims: ‘Chiefly manufactured by that great artist, William Caslon, Esq; of London’.was set mainly in Caslon’s types,See Nick Sherman, ‘The Dunlap Broadside,’ Fonts In Use, 5 July, 2012, and Allan Haley, Typographic Milestones (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 1992).suggesting that to make the document believable Jefferson and his fellow drafters deliberately chose Caslon – even though the reality is probably that this was simply what was at hand. Caslon, a face from the Old World, became the voice of freedom in the New World. And George Bernard Shaw specifically requested that his books be set in Caslon; before personal computers, how many authors could recognise different typefaces, much less specify one?
And so we see that the definition of what constitutes the Caslon style has repeatedly shifted over time. At first, for readers of English, it was a visual shorthand for continental (specifically Dutch) quality. Then, it became a visual shorthand for being the voice of the English language, both in the mother country and in the wider world. And finally, it became a fuzzy visual shorthand for something that came from another time, but was distinctly English (and everything that connoted) rather than being continental.
Copies, Copies, Copies
Throughout the twentieth century, the copy was copied again and again. And the copies of the copy were copied. And those in turn were copied. In 1915, Monotype issued a hot-metal version of Caslon so accurate that George Bernard Shaw didn’t notice the difference. And in the 1940s, Haas made a version: a Swiss Caslon. In America, the copies proliferated, often differentiated by numbers (471, 540, and so on). With the advent of photolettering, countless Caslons appeared – nearly 100 named Caslon’s appear in Photo-lettering’s specimens. Some had only the barest hint of Caslon I – had the new designers ever even seen his work? This suggests that adding Caslon as a name was an imprimatur of quality and commercial success. But even though these typefaces shared the Caslon name, they didn’t share much of the original’s DNA. In the eye of the typical user of type, ‘Caslon’ represented a broad swath of styles, but had a hint of being made before one’s grandparents’ grandparents. Thus Caslon became reified as a style, much in the same way that people talk of styles of domestic architecture.
When the original foundry disappeared in 1937, the material from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was rescued by one of Caslon’s rivals, Stephenson Blake,What Stephenson Blake couldn’t commercially use was sold as scrap, or acquired by Monotype. A plan was hatched that the material could be used to make new Monotype faces, but as the war intervened, little came of this idea. In turn this was given to the Oxford University Press, and then to St Bride Library. And so forty boxes of punches cut by Caslon I and II survive, not just of roman and italic, but also of Greek, Hebrew, Gothick, Coptick, Aethiopick, Etruscan, Armenian, blackletter, and musical symbols, amongst others.and so until the end of the metal type era, Caslon Old Face was still available. If a printer wanted to produce something intimating genuine heritage, they simply had to use Caslon, the great survivor.
Caslon Reset in the Digital Age
With every new technology – Monotype, Linotype, phototypesetting, digital setting – Caslon made the leap into the next era. As fashions changed, so Caslon changed in style. What would Caslon the Elder make of the Caslon incarnations from the seventies and eighties? With the dawn of desktop publishing, Adobe (like Monotype and Linotype before it) sought the credibility of making ‘serious’ type, both new designs and revivals that would draw on the scholarship and knowledge gained in the twentieth century. Adobe Caslon, designed by Carol Twombly in the late eighties, drew upon three primary sources: the 1738, 1786, and 1924 specimens, so both the original and the later modified types. Modelled on the smaller text sizes, Adobe Caslon’s robustness made it ideal for text setting, a trait that held it in good stead in the age of 300 dpi laser printers. In style, the Adobe version has the warmth and gentle elegance of its precursors while retaining many of the slight eccentricities of the originals. Cleverly marketed by Adobe with well-considered specimens like Adobe Garamond and Trajan, the new Caslon quickly became a hit. This is a copy of a copy of Dutch type (and, if you include the nineteenth century recut, a copy of a copy of a copy), transported into the digital age in the glowing sunshine of California.
On the other side of the United States, Matthew Carter worked on a face called Chiswell (after the street where the Caslon foundry stood until the beginning of the twentieth century), which eventually became Big Caslon. Inspired by Derek Birdsall’s and Alan Kitching’s use of Caslon’s largest sizes, Big Caslon has a sharpness and dynamism that make it a perfect companion to the softness of Adobe Caslon. Like much of Carter’s work, it displays the genius of appearing to be an authentic recreation of the original while being completely appropriate for contemporary use. And like Adobe Caslon, Big Caslon became a near-instant success, appearing in unexpected places like Stockholm New and Wallpaper*. Later on, it was bundled with Apple’s MacOS operating system. Here we have an Englishman making a copy of a copy of Dutch type in Boston. Big Caslon and Adobe Caslon offer the designer an excellent snapshot of William Caslon I’s work. If no one got fired for using Caslon, probably no one got fired for using these two faces.
Despite the existence of these two excellent faces, new designs linked to Caslon continued to appear with great regularity across the globe. Each in turn remakes the copy in different places, each with different priorities. Some return to the original sources, some rely on copies of these, and some emerge from just a memory of Caslon. Some examples:
Founders Caslon by Justin Howes in England
Williams Caslon by William Berkson in the United States
King’s Caslon by Dalton Maag in England
William by Maria Doreuli
and Typotheque in Russia and the Netherlands
Dover by Tiny Type Co. in Norway
English 1766 by A2 in England
With each design, the idea and definition of Caslon become wider and more diverse. None of these typefaces diminish the original; all broaden its possibilities.
Perhaps the most interesting journey is that of Canela, one of our own releases by Miguel Reyes: a twenty-first-century interpretation of an eighteenth-century British interpretation of Dutch types, made by a Mexican designer educated in the Netherlands and working in the United States. Its similarity with the Caslon model is only revealed when the two typefaces are placed side by side; otherwise, Canela appears to be nothing other than an elegant contrasted sans serif typeface with flaring.
Frame is a copy of a copy of Dutch types, made in London by a Midlander (just like Caslon). As a designer, I have always had an ambivalent relationship with Caslon. His types, which still resided in drawers when I was at university, were worn, with all the sparkle gone – fit if you wanted an antique feel, but seemingly from a time and place far away. In part, this was a prejudice against the way I often saw Caslon and its favoured status in private presses, which I then associated with a design conservatism. Gradually, over the course of my career, I have used digital revivalsAs typographic adviser to Wallpaper*, I encouraged Tony Chambers (then the creative director) to use Big Caslon and its as yet unreleased italic companion. And later Big Caslon became the prime identity of Schirmer Mosel, a literary publisher in Munich.and have grown to appreciate Caslon, but have never felt the need to revisit it: Big Caslon and Adobe Caslon seemed to say almost everything that needed to be said about Caslon’s style.
Much of Commercial Classics draws upon the work of later Caslons and the output of the foundry in the nineteenth century, in part because so much remains at St Bride Library, including the punches. Amongst them, some (often unaltered) are by the master himself, including his first roman from 1725 – but I must confess to a distinct lack of curiosity to see his work in the flesh. When I made Marian in 2010, Caslon did not appear; the face of Nikolas Kis represented the ‘Dutch’ style in Marian 1680, and I also turned to Caslon’s contemporaries Fleischmann (Marian 1740), Fournier (Marian 1742), and of course Baskerville (Marian 1757).
Cycling and Type
Cycling and type are natural allies. Both cycling and type design are highly repetitive activities, whether we’re talking about pedalling or spacing and kerning the same forms again and again. At the professional level, both require dedication and long hours to achieve good results. Often this excellence is pursued on an individual basis. The traditional heartlands of cycling – the Low Countries, France, and Italy – were also centres of printing and typography. Both have a close relationship to their history and legend; just as a type aficionado might know that Claude Garamond created the definitive form of the Renaissance roman, a hardcore cycling fan will recall Eddy Merckx’s seventeenth-stage victory at the Tour de France in 1969. These historical moments become the cornerstones against which we measure other achievements.
Professional cycling has always had a close relationship with journalism, newspapers, and the wider media. The three major national stage races – the Tour de France (L’Auto, 1903), the Giro d’Italia (La Gazzetta dello Sport, 1909); and the Vuelta Espana (Informaciones, 1935) – were all initially set up by newspapers to boost circulation, and the press in turn promoted and documented these events. Many races like the classic Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (originally Omloop Het Volk) were started by newspapers, and others such as Paris-Roubaix relied on the support of newspapers. From the earliest days of the professional sport, letters and typography were everywhere – on the bikes themselves, on the riders’ jerseys, on the numbers on the backs, on the banners at the start and finish. And just as the clothes, hairstyles, and cars all date the scene, so does the typography.
As a design-led company, Rapha has always been conscious of the relationship between typography and cycling. In style, the company’s original logo and tracked-out Trade Gothic deliberately evoke a golden moment: 1950s France.Trade Gothic was matched with several serif fonts: Sabon, Clarendon, and eventually Adobe Caslon. The choice of Adobe Caslon perhaps had to do with its ready availability: Adobe started bundling it with its Creative Suite in 2003.The name itself recalls both Saint Raphaël, a French aperitif, and the cyclist Raphaël Géminiani.‘The Original Rapha’ The Inner Ring, 16 May, 2012But rather than a slavish copy, it’s just enough to give a warm recollection of a glorious past, whether real or fiction.
Updating the Palette
For many years, Rapha had a simple typographic approach: a condensed sans, Trade Gothic, matched with a serif, which in recent years was Adobe Caslon. The company planned to relaunch its website in 2019, with a development of the existing palette rather than a wholesale change. Some elements worked; others less so. In the case of Adobe Caslon, though the face had a serious but warm aesthethic, in headlines it was uneconomical (Of course, additional economy comes from having full control over your own custom font, as opposed to having to wrangle licensing issues). A propensity to use italic was not based on an aesthetic choice, nor on its effectiveness as a tool for emphasis, but rather on the italic’s narrowness compared to the roman. The lack of economy derives from Adobe Caslon’s relatively small x-height and its generous ascenders and descenders. This led me to wonder if you could make a new Caslon that would work for text and headlines, but be more economical in setting. Are the relatively long ascenders and descenders in Adobe Caslon an intrinsic part of what a Caslon might be? Could a new design appear close enough to Caslon to most who would see it, but still differ significantly enough to make the process worthwhile?
Several design decisions allowed me to find the freedom to make Frame. The first was where the typeface would appear – it would primarily be a digital face living online, and the softness inherent in Adobe Caslon, which suggests the effect of letterpress squash, would be unnecessary. In text, that softness would be virtually unnoticeable. Any sharpness I added would be subliminal, yet would give the type a more modern appearance in larger sizes. But the decisive moment came when Jack Saunders, the design director at Rapha, chose Caslon Doric to replace Trade Gothic. He then asked if the serif face could match the proportions of the Doric, in particular the cap and x-height. This made me think of Publico, a serif face Christian and I made to match the proportions of the original Helvetica. In a sense I was making a truer ‘Dutch’ version of Caslon.‘Dutch type’ still refers to types made in the Netherlands. Some of the most celebrated are the serif typefaces of Gerard Unger, in particular Hollander, Swift, and Gulliver. These are contemporary Dutch variants of the Dutch style, but in the twentieth century the increased x-height and shortened extenders became more pronounced; to English speakers today, the phrase ‘Dutch style’ refers to a style of even greater economy that reflects the development of specific newspaper faces in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One can only imagine what Fournier would have thought.
Returning to the specimen of 1766, I looked through the many sizes of Caslon, noting those that inspired Big Caslon, and those that inspired Adobe Caslon, principally the largest text sizes and the smaller display sizes. Several were the work of others – Moxon and William Caslon II, though over time historians have come to view them as part of the Caslon canon. One in particular caught my attention: the Great Primer, which was later cast at both 16 and 18 point. As one of the earliest William Caslon I faces cut in 1734, Great Primer seems to be the most Dutch of all the text faces, retaining the sharpness and grittiness that attracted me to the masters of the seventeenth century. Grittiness is a quality that is hardly regarded in professional cycling – the tradition of the strong, able to ride at the front into the headwind whatever the conditions. These attributes are especially valued in the low countries and in the classic races like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders.
If Frame diverges most noticeably from the original is in its proportions, in its details it aims for simplification. This is not only because at text sizes many details become lost, but also because I wanted to return a sharpness to the design. (A similar approach is followed in Darby Serif, a reductionist transitional.) In several of Caslon’s faces, the serif structure in the lowercase is almost a simple flat line with little or no tapering. So the serifs in Frame’s lowercase have a gentle straight flaring of the stroke, and the serif itself is a shallow, almost flat angle stroke, ending in an angled terminal. In the capitals, the stroke flares before meeting an angled corner and then a tapering stroke. The balls are rounded on the outside, but flat on the inside, subtly shifting between sweetness (roundness) and sharpness (angularity) – without the other, neither is fully appreciated. In the text design, the contrast is deliberately low (almost matching Adobe Caslon). Certain characters are drawn not from Caslon, but directly from the Dutch style: see the lack of top and bottom serifs on the C, G, and S, for example. By rescaling the proportions, the capitals that are quite prominent in Caslon and Adobe Caslon leave less of an impact on the overall colour of the page in Frame.
Angles and Widths
Caslon’s italics show a variety of styles; the largest sizes are narrow in width and have a shallow angle with tight spacing. The text sizes vary often in angle from steep (Great Primer) to something gentler (Pica), and in width they go from wide (Great Primer) to narrow (Pica, echoing Adobe Caslon). Caslon’s italics maintain a steadier rhythm than earlier models such as Granjon. They are less dramatic, with fewer changes in angle and width throughout the face; where Granjon’s italics seem to steal the show from the roman, Caslon’s assume a much more subservient role. Frame has the regularity of Caslon’s faces, with an angle and width between his smaller sizes and Great Primer.
As with the roman, the details of the italic are reductionist in style; the capitals follow exactly the same simple serif structure. In the lowercase, the upper and lower tails reach the main strokes in a sharp and obvious point, whilst on the exterior they have a subtle, barely noticeable point. The balls of the c, f, g, and r are round on the exterior, but have flat interiors that join the main stroke with a sharp point.
Some of the characters have been simplified: see the h with its lack of inward ball terminal, which maintains the rhythm of the n and m; and the v and w that are gently curved, rather than having rounded bowls with head stroke and ball.
The swash letters that appear in Caslon specimens from the latter nineteenth century, as well as in many modern Caslon revivals, are not original (bar the J and Q); they were added only in the nineteenth century. They have a different flavour from the corresponding eighteenth-century letters and lack the confidence and majesty of those made by Granjon in the sixteenth century. In Frame, the swashes are reserved to just a few letters – A, B, D, E, G, J, K, M, N, P, Q, and R – rather than to every capital letter and multiple lowercase forms, including terminal letters. In style they are informed by the drama of Granjon, but tempered by the calmer qualities of the lowercase.
Overall, the italic attempts to capture the spirit and energy of Caslon’s original, but with a measured quality and regularity needed for legibility. And although the roman addressed many of Rapha’s concerns about economy, the italic remains a popular choice for headlines, where its simple understated elegance draws readers’ attention without dazzling them.
Larger and Bolder
In the age of Caslon, every size of type was cut individually. Most readers would hardly notice how the design changed between sizes. Adobe Caslon and Big Caslon are based on one punch cutter’s vision, but a side-by-side comparison shows that they are different in style. They diverge not only in their degree of contrast, but also in the width and proportion of the lettershapes and in spacing – yet both are accepted as one and the same: Caslon. Only when type stopped being cut by hand did it gain the greater consistency of design we expect today; even though manufacturers usually had separate designs for a range of sizes (Monotype typically had three designs, one for text, one for smaller headline use, and one for large headlines), they would to most eyes be homogenous. In the case of Frame, the headline variants are closer to the modern approach. The design is effectively the same as the text, with increased contrast and tighter spacing designed for use at a specific range of sizes. Though the headline version has greater sharpness, it is not of a dazzling style like a hairline Modern.
Today we understand that one typeface design can have many multiples – not just in size, but also in weight. For Caslon, this possibility had yet to be fully grasped and understood. Heavier serif letters existed, but they had yet to become what we would identify as truly bold. For a denser (and therefore heavier) form, the blackletter would offer weight, but the concept of bold variants of a regular weighted roman was yet to be discovered. Only in the nineteenth century did this come to fruition, not only within the dramatic bold and fat-face display faces of the early part of the century, but also with heavier text faces, such as the Ionic and Clarendon styles of the middle of the century. This in turn became truly codified once the concept of the family of type such as Cheltenham and Century Schoolbook became the standard, and printers became accustomed to bold variants of a style. So Frame had no eighteenth-century model to follow; rather it needed to imagine one. In this it had to retain the intentions of the regular weight whilst dealing with the challenges of gaining boldness. So as weight increases, the thicks and thins also gain, but not at the same rate, which would simply be like adding stroke uniformly (the so-called ‘dipping in chocolate’ effect). And as weight is gained, the x-height increases to avoid the letters becoming wider and wider. Thus the small number of weights: four reflects both the needs of the client and the suitability of the style to accommodate more, whilst remaining true to the original design. Any need for greater weight for Rapha could be accommodated by using Caslon Doric.
Frame continues the rich tradition in type of copying, or covering another designer’s work, which was more than likely already a copy of something else in the beginning. So we have multiple copies of copies made in different places, in different times, by different designers. With each copy hopefully something new appears, whilst retaining some quality of the original. What that quality is depends on the person making the copy. In the case of Frame, part of what makes it what it is is the proportions taken from Caslon Doric, which in turn makes it more ‘Dutch’. It appreciates its history, just as cycling as a sport respects past glories without being held ransom to what came before as technology continues to evolve. Frame simplifies the Caslon model, whilst retaining enough of it to still be part of the Caslon tradition.