You are here: Home > 1999 > Graphion’s Online Type Museum
Graphion's Online Type Museum
Graphion's Online Type Museum
J. Gutenberg
W. Caxton
A. Manutius
W. Caslon
G. Bodoni
F. Goudy
E. Gill
J. Tschichold
B. Warde’s Crystal Goblet
Typographic glossary

William Caxton

William Caxton, the first English printer, was born in the Weald of Kent. In 1438, he became apprenticed to Robert Large, a leading textile merchant who became the mayor of London the following year. After Large’s death in 1441, Caxton moved to Bruges, the formost center for trade between the English and the Flemish, and built up a thriving textile business. He attained such prominence as a merchant that by 1463 he was acting governor of the Merchant Adventurers in the Low Countries. In 1464, he attempted unsuccessfully to renew a wool treaty with Phillip, Duke of Burgundy. Four years later, Caxton successfully completed the trade negotiations with Charles the Bold, Phillip’s successor. Shortly thereafter, Caxton was hired as an advisor to Charles’ new duchess, the former Princess Margaret of York, sister of Edward IV.

It was at the request of the duchess Margaret that he resumed his abandoned translation of a popular French romance, The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye from the French of Raoul le Fèvre. After spending a year in Cologne learning the art of printing, Caxton returned to Bruges and set up a printing press, where he published his translation of The Recuyell, the first printed book in the English language, around 1474. His next publication, The Game and Play of Chess Moralised (1476), was a translation of the first major European work on chess, and was the first printed book in English to make extensive use of woodcuts.

In 1476, he returned to England and set up a printing shop at Westminster at the sign of the Red Pale. Here, Caxton published such major works as Troilus and Creseide, Morte d’Arthur, The History of Reynart the Foxe, and The Canterbury Tales. Over the course of 14 years, he printed more than 70 books, 20 of them his own translations from the Latin, French, and Dutch.

The typefaces used by Caxton were all varieties of “black letter” or “gothic” type. His earlier works were set in an early form of French lettre bâtarde. By 1490, he had acquired a more round and open typeface, a textura originally used by the Parisian printer Antoine Verard and later favored by Caxton’s successor, Wynkyn de Worde.


William Caxton

Caxton Indulgence

Indulgence, Caxton, 1476

Caxton’s early type

A detail of Caxton’s early type