Justin Howes

Written by Shelley Gruendler on February 23, 2005

We are sad to report the untimely death of Justin Howes, who has died at home in London.

Justin was the founder and first Chairman of the Friends and a loyal supporter of the Library. He will be greatly missed by both the Library and the Friends. The St Bride Library will publish a full obituary and information about a memorial service in due course.

Dr. Shelley Gruendler, founder of Type Camp, is a typographer, designer, and educator who teaches, lectures, and publishes internationally on typography and design. She holds a PhD and an MA in the History and Theory of Typography and Graphic Communication from the University of Reading, England.


  1. shelley says:

    Justin is known for his book Johnston’s underground type, published for the London Transport Museum in 2000. Justin was also working on his PhD from Reading on public reactions to typefaces in the early 19th century and was scheduled to speak at this year’s St Bride conference. Over the years that I knew him, he helped me greatly with my own research and I am truly thankful. He will be missed.

  2. Joyce says:

    Before this year, I only know of Justin by reputation. However, I met him at Thessaloniki during the Communication and New Technology conference and we had some interesting conversations. It’s a pity that I have not had the chance to know him better. R.I.P.

  3. Hrant says:

    I also knew Justin only via Thessaloniki (and some emails), but his knowledge and grace were clearly apparent. What a very sad loss for us.


  4. I just talked with Justin Howes via email once, in 2002, about the most common ideas and philosophies found behind type revivals. For this reason, I presume, he saved my email address and so I received the sad communication from his parents.

    I would just like to share a thing Justin wrote me back then on his Founder Caslon design, because I find it important to reflect upon, and surely not just about type design:

    “Founder’s Caslon was in some ways a reaction against all these new types — I got really depressed about having several thousand designs on the computer, none of which I had any time to get familiar with, and had this idea that one could go back to a time when choices were less free and it would be possible to get properly acquainted with a type, using the same designs in a range of publications. (It hasn’t really worked like that — I still have thousands of designs on the computer, and little time to use them properly!)”.

  5. Hrant says:

    Freedom from choice is indeed an ignored right.


  6. Peter Bain says:

    Founder’s Caslon can be tagged as both a revival and as a reproach to the notion of shape. It’s a collage of (historical) letter images. The types are free of the drawn quality that colors other revivals, exactly how Howes intended. Future critics can determine its success.

    I also want to point out that Howes’ name appears after Heather Child’s as editors of Edward Johnston’s “Lessons in Formal Writing”. So he had plenty of contact with writing as well as typography.

    The few examples of his design work I’ve seen are surely at least competent. So: real historian, real practitioner and real advocate.

  7. nick shinn says:

    As is often the case, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, so here is a belated appreciation of Founders Caslon.


    Founders Caslon is a quite remarkable beast. It is not, as has been claimed, a scrupulously accurate copy, but an interpretation.

    This point was first demonstrated in an early Hoefler Type Foundry catalog, with regard to the HTF Fell type.

    The fractal question How long is the coastline of Britain? must be applied to the outline of the printed glyph image to be “duplicated”, and at some point decisions made and the number of Bezier points on the digital path (the map, as it were) reduced to a manageable amount, either by algorithm (itself a discrimination), or by eye. In Founders Caslon, it appears to be by eye.

    Then there is the question, given the variation of casting, wear, and printing, of which particular instance of a printed letter form to use as one’s model for a particular glyph. As a revivalist, Robert Slimbach averages and smooths, Frantisek Storm archly stylizes; Justin Howes, well, for all its micro-distressing, his type too sets with a nice even color, so he probably made a great many aesthetic decisions, carefully selecting his samples, and tweaking as well.

    Using the same methodology as Mr Howes, a different designer would produce a quite different Caslon; for the sake of differentiation, it would much the rougher.

    Founders Caslon is a trompe l’oeil masterpiece, a carefully crafted amalgam of subtle judgements as to what will best mimic the desired patina of 18th century typography. Its true mien is scholarly, somewhat at odds with conventional wisdom about the market for distressed antique fonts, which supposes either a less discrete version of warts-and-all, more sideshow than main event, or a smooth mask of makeup, more Hollywood than Old Vic.

    ITC Bodoni and Adobe Jenson are its only digital peers, in terms of the range of size-specific variants and the suggestion of letterpress quality. The Bodoni is weakest in its overall conception, lacking consistency between the optical sizes (it could do with more). The Jenson is beautifully polished. Of the three, Founders Caslon stands out as the most uncompromising statement.

  8. Hrant says:

    Nice, Nick.

    Just one thing:
    > The Bodoni is weakest in its overall
    > conception, lacking consistency
    > between the optical sizes

    Not that I’m in love with ITC Bodoni, but this is probably just part of the revivalism. And for one thing, inconsistency is the hallmark of Caslon! Sometimes in a good way though: like look at the italic “Q” – it exhibits a topological difference – and one that makes total sense.


  9. Nice commentary, Nick. Did Howes himself ever do an essay on his principles and method for developing Founders Caslon?

  10. nick shinn says:

    Hrant, I had used ITC Bodoni for a brochure a few years ago, and the layout suggested 14pt. However, I found that the choice of optical sizes was either too heavy and open, or too fine and tight for the setting I had in mind. Another optical size would have been useful. It was interesting that ITC had different designers work on the different sizes. The different optical sizes are fine in themselves, but as a system it has gaps. Multiple master has the opposite kind of scalability quality, where the individual optical sizes lack personality. I think Slimbach & Twombly have recognized this, by introducing extra “masters” into some of their MM axes, rather than just having one for either end of the scale. So Justin Howes solution with Founders Caslon — many masters, is more cumbersome, but may be more useful in the end, although I have not used the face.

    William, I don’t know of any Howes essay. If you don’t have a copy, try to get one of the final issues of U&lc, the one which premieres Founders Caslon — it’s a beautiful specimen.

  11. Gerald Lange says:

    Justin had written about the proposed Founders Caslon (then call Ligature Caslon). Reference is The Compleat Caslon. _Matrix: A Review for Printers & Bibliophiles_, Herefordshire, UK. 17, 1997. Justin had once mentioned the notion of optimizing Founders Caslon for letterpress: Theres the sheer pleasure of getting it right… We all know that Caslon looks best printed on hand-made paper… it should be possible for Caslon to look as good as its ever done. (this from an article I wrote, An Affinity By Design: Digital Type Foundries Respond to Letterpress, in Parenthesis: The Journal of the Fine Press Book Association, Number 7, November 2002). I mentioned I would try Founders Caslon letterpress via the photopolymer process. Most faux letterpress digital faces are quite difficult to print letterpress as it is hard to discern if, because of the incorporation of captured distress, the letterforms are correctly inked. I’ve tried most of them. I never did do the Caslon. I was afraid of the results. Someone else did though and it was one of the worse looking pieces I could have imagined (albeit the presswork was horrid and no prepress attempt had been made to properly configure the face).

  12. David Lawrence says:

    I had some very pleasurable conversations with Justin when we were both putting together books on London Transport graphic design. He was charming and generous, and always ready to share his exhaustive researches with those interested in the subject. I do, and will continue to think of Justin every time I pass a tube station with Johnston lettering.

  13. I was to meet Justin last Thursday in Antwerp as the message of his sudden death appaered on the screen Wednesday. We should have worked together for half a year starting the first of March. Justin was trilled about coming to Antwerp and cast the remaining uncast collection of matrices of the typographical collection of the Plantin-Moretus Museum. We had this project planned and Justin was a perfect match for it. I had the pleasure of meeting Justin on several occasions and I was looking forward to working together with him. His enthusiasm, expertise, potential and friendship will be missed by all of us who knew him.

  14. Nick wrote:
    “ITC Bodoni and Adobe Jenson are its only digital peers, in terms of the range of size-specific variants and the suggestion of letterpress quality. The Bodoni is weakest in its overall conception, lacking consistency between the optical sizes (it could do with more). The Jenson is beautifully polished. Of the three, Founders Caslon stands out as the most uncompromising statement.”

    As you say the ITC Bodoni appears weakest. I mean in terms of internal coherence. From what I have seen at the Bodoni museum in Parma, I wonder which kind of choices were made in choosing and re-rendering, say, the 6pt master and the 72pt master. But I don’t know anything to actually comment on it.
    And yes, I think Justin did an actual typeface from its source period, not a “revival”, not a “fake antique”. He just transposed the soul of Caslon, and to do this he made choices. Within his own choices, Caslon actually lives again, in the often falsely rich digital world.

  15. Seb Lester says:

    I’ve just learned from the ATypI mailing list that
    Justin Howes obituary has been posted here:


  16. Many thanks, Sebastian!

  17. Jim Jackson says:

    I very much appreciate these postings reading Justins quoted comments (offered by Claudio Piccinini) resonate with some brief conversations that I was fortunate enough to have with him. I also didnt know him well, but was impressed by his thoughtful observations and generosity.

    After recently completed an intense course of study, one of my first impulses was to get in contact with the Type Museum to find out what Justin was doing not having heard, at that time, about his plans in Antwerp. Ive since been voluteering some time at the museum, partly hoping to speak with Justin before he left for Belgium. I dont think he realised quite how easily and quietly he encouraged enthusiastic responses in these casually-offered bits of discussion.

    Its a sad loss, as others have already expressed. I dont have any insight or comfort to add, other than I, too, found him to be both unusually inspired and inspiring, and like many, will miss him. Id hope to be able to attempt to emulate (and if thats not possible, continue to appreciate) his level of knowledge, skill and craft.

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