Foundry Wilson

Foundry Wilson is an expertly crafted revival of a typeface originally cast in 1760 by renowned Scottish type founder Alexander Wilson. This lively and robust face has a taste of the incised letterforms of the time and provides a fresh alternative to its contemporary Baskerville types. This new family comprises three weights: book, book italic, medium and bold and is complemented by a set of printers flowers from the same source. The original roman and italic have been faithfully redrawn and new weights added to complete the family.


Foundry Wilson 1993 came from a commission from ITC, International Typeface Corporation, to design a ‘quintessentially’ English typeface that complimented their other English typeface, a rather weak interpretation of Baskerville. While I was a student I was given a copy of the magazine, ‘Motif’, a winter issue published in 1963–64. An article written by James Mosely showed a reference of a typeface by the Scottish type founder, Alexander Wilson. I realised at the time how beautiful the letterforms where but I did not at that stage in my education knew why. I showed the reference to Freda who immediately agreed that this was the typeface that we should present as an idea to ITC.

We researched over the next few months and eventually found original references at the St Bride’s Printing Library. We had the references enlarged photographically and carefully overdrew the originals, which was hard work for me because I kept adding my own interpretation and had to be kept ‘in line’ by Freda who had far more expertise in analysing typefaces. We eventually presented the test word, ‘Hamburgefonts’ to ITC. ITC accepted the proposed design and we were given the go-ahead prepare the regular weight for testing in text.

In the end ITC review board rejected the design, we were very disappointed at first but ITC had given us a largish fee for our work so we did not financially loose out. We carried on developing the whole family, which we released as Foundry Wilson. The design has been moderately successful over the years but not as successful as we first hoped and it is a beautiful typeface perfectly recreated. Foundry Wilson has beautiful lowercase ligatures, the st and ct ligatures being particularly beautiful, its one of those projects that in the future we would like to add more ligatures and sit for several days doing so using old fashioned pencil and tracing paper! Drawing direct on screen would not have the same feeling.

Alexander Wilson was an extraordinary character, a truly renaissance figure: learned and cultured, a surgeon and professor of astronomy. Many of his typefaces were produced for and used exclusively in the classics from the Foulis brothers A and R Foulis, printers to the University of Glasgow. His first types were (like Caslon’s) evidently derived from a Dutch model, but the Double Pica which was first used in 1768 for the Foulis quarto edition of Gray’s Poems cleary shows Baskerville’s influence, although it retains the Dutch-style apex to the A. It is clear from the foundry’s first specimen, issued in 1772, that there was an influence from the Moore-Fry foundry, manifested in the same flattened curves and a similar italic. Wilson’s capitals vary, between a close copy of Baskerville’s and the Fry modifications, differing from both chiefly in long heavy serifs, squared at the ends. In the smaller sixes, the Wilson types were notable for their excellent fitting and even colour. Two sizes are particularly interesting. The English No. 1 shown in the 1786 specimen book has proportions similar to those of a mysterious type cut in Wilson’s first style and seems to have been used chiefly, but not exclusively, in New England. The broadness and boldness where unprecedented in type design and have more in common with certain incised letters of the same date.*

The original roman and italic have been faithfully redrawn and new weights added to complete the family. Interestingly it was found that the first bold face types can be linked back to the Wilson foundry.

*This paragraph extensively quotes James Mosely’s article published in ‘Motif’, winter issue, 1963–64.