Baskerville was born in the village of Wolverley, near Kidderminster in Worcestershire and was a printer in Birmingham, England. He was a member of the Royal Society of Arts, and an associate of some of the members of the Lunar Society. He directed his punchcutter, John Handy, in the design of many typefaces of broadly similar appearance. In 1757, Baskerville published a remarkable quarto edition of Virgil on wove paper, using his own type. It took three years to complete, but it made such an impact that he was appointed printer to the University of Cambridge the following year.
John Baskerville printed works for the University of Cambridge in 1758 and, although an atheist, printed a splendid folio Bible in 1763. His typefaces were greatly admired by Benjamin Franklin, a printer and fellow member of the Royal Society of Arts, who took the designs back to the newly created United States, where they were adopted for most federal government publishing.
Baskerville's work was criticized by jealous competitors and soon fell out of favour, but since the 1920s many new fonts have been released by Linotype, Monotype, and other type foundries – revivals of his work and mostly called 'Baskerville'. Emigre released a popular revival of this typeface in 1996 called Mrs Eaves, named for Baskerville's wife, Sarah Eaves. Baskerville’s most notable typeface Baskerville represents the peak of transitional type face and bridges the gap between Old Style and Modern type design.
Baskerville also was responsible for significant innovations in printing, paper and ink production. He developed a technique which produced a smoother whiter paper which showcased his strong black type. Baskerville also pioneered a completely new style of typography adding wide margins and leading between each line.
Baskerville, an atheist, was buried at his own request, in unconsecrated ground in the garden of his house, Easy Hill. When a canal was built through the land his body was placed in storage in a warehouse for several years before being secretly deposited in the crypt of Christ Church (demolished 1899), Birmingham. Later his remains were moved, with other bodies from the crypt, to consecrated catacombs at Warstone Lane Cemetery. Baskerville House was built on the grounds of Easy Hill.