Women in Type

Yesterday on the Bodies in the Library Instagram I shared a picture of the note in the first edition of The Widening Stain (New York: Knopf, 1942) about the Baskerville type used by its printer, H. Wolff. Arne Winter commented, “And not even one mention of Sarah Eaves.”

This made me think that maybe I should say something about her here.

It’s only in recent years that a decent amount of research time has been devoted to women in the print industries. If we do the Arithmetic, it’s 104 years since Virginial Woolf (and her husband Leonard) were turned away from St Bride’s School of Printing, because classes there were only for apprentice printers. And it is always worth remembering that women in all industries had to organise themselves outside the mainstream UK trade union movement until as late as 1921, when the Trades Union Congress (TUC) at last formed its Women’s Workers Group (Encylopedia of British and Irish Political Organisations, London: Black, 2000).

Projects such as Women in Book History, RECIRC and Women’s Invisible Ink recover the forgotten histories of women as writers, printers, binders, and makers of books. Sometimes the role of women is completely ignored, or it is elided or subsumed by the histories of the men in their lives.

Sarah Baskerville is an example of a working life lived hidden in plain sight. Variously referred to as John Baskerville‘s housekeeper, mistress, and wife, there still seems to be a lot of archival work to be done on her. What is clear is that she lived and worked with the type designer for some fifteen years, including the period in which he was most active in his design work. She was already married to Richard Eaves and had five children by the time she and Baskerville met. They married after her estranged husband’s death, and she not only inherited Baskerville’s estate, but continued with the type founding side of the business, having sold the printing side.

While we wait for researchers to uncover a fuller picture of Sarah Baskerville’s type founding, we can at least take pleasure from leading type designer Zuzana Licko’s tribute to her in the naming of her Baskerville-inspired font Mrs Eaves in 1996. There are beautiful prospectuses for Mrs Eaves and Mrs Eaves XL on emigre.com, in which you can see the large number of ligatures Licko has created. It’s easy to see why the font has appealed to newer designers – I particularly like Grace Kruse’s specimen, Form, for a function.

Mrs Eaves is the title font of choice for Penguin Classics (from which The Mysteries of Udolpho pictured above), and, more recently, their Little Black Classics series. It’s also the font on which the WordPress logo is based – so thanks to Zuzana Licko’s tribute, we are indirectly reminded of Sarah Baskerville every time we log in here.

Disclaimer: links to sites outside beginningcataloguing.com do not indicate endorsement or a business relationship with other sites – they are simply pages that seem informative for readers.

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