Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Adobe Caslon Apocalypse

I have been using Adobe Caslon Expert constantly since I bought it—at great expense—on the 26 June 1995. I used it first on my "Fat Mac"—the Macintosh 512—then my PowerBook 145 and then my iMacG5.

For fifteen years every time I've needed to transcribe an eighteenth-century text, particularly for the bibliographical descriptions in my Eliza Haywood Bibliography, I needed the Caslon Expert suit because it is/was the only font suit that generates most of the eighteenth-century sorts which were in use, such as the long-s, si, sl, st, ss, ct ligatures etc, as well as swash caps, ornaments and so on.

I first heard about the font suit from a Monash colleague, Brian McMullin, who used it for all of his bibliographical descriptions and I, in turn, mentioned it to and persuaded other book historians and bibliographers to get a copy of the suit for their work. I assume it is quite widely used by eighteenth-century scholars and book historians. And I gather, from the fact that (a) it has no competition and (b) many journals publish accurate transcriptions and bibliographical descriptions of pre-1800 texts using the sorts unique to this font, that journals such as The Library, PBSA, Studies in Bibliography etc all use Caslon Expert, just as Script & Print does—and so must all the book historians and bibliographers, who submit papers to these journals which use these eighteenth-century sorts.

At the start of 2010, when I got my newest Mac at Monash—an intel (Core 2, i5) iMac11.3—I started having problems using Caslon Expert. Serious problems. Some sorts simply started disappearing from files generated on my old computer (in Word 2004) when they are opened on the new computer (in Word 2008). I could not see some of the sorts, or print them, even when I generated a pdf at home on my old computer and tried to print it from my new computer.

I contacted the IT support people at Monash, and they were—frankly—useless. I sent queries, and got no replies; when I followed it up and was asked to re-send the query and supply files I did so, and still got no replies; and when I followed this up and was asked to supply files in person (emailing them wasn't enough) I trundled off and supplied the files, explained the problem at great length, and still got no answer. In the end I discovered that the the staff member working on this problem was on leave, or had left, and I was invited to start again!

By this time I had been doing a bit of searching on my own and discovered that Adobe were now selling "Adobe Caslon Pro"—an expanded Caslon suit in an OpenType font. But I wasn't sure I wanted to buy the font and upgrade the version of Word I was using (which I suspected was the root of the problem) unless I was sure it was going to work and that these changes would solve my problem. So, at this point, I decided to try the collective experience of the C18-List.

In December 2010 I asked whether anyone on the list had any experience using Adobe Caslon Pro and Caslon Expert. I also asked, because I was particularly concerned about it, whether a user has to manually change each sort (in Word files using Caslon Expert) to the equivalent sort in Caslon Pro, or whether the hidden IDs of each sort allowed Word (any version!) to automatically identify the correct sort in the new font. That is, whether you can simply open your old files and "hey presto" all the sorts have been updated from Expert to Pro.

Sadly, nobody had the experience of ether font to answer. And, I gather, few really understood the problem or question. I got answers relating to Caslon (i.e., the bog standard version with no ligatures) and how to instal it, other suggesting I try Caslon Pro, since it seemed to have the ligatures I needed, or asking whether Caslon Pro had the Welsh sorts they wanted—that is, they either misunderstand or ignored the question.

Having failed so spectacularly on the C18-List I gave up on the idea of trying the EXLIBRIS or SHARP lists too and decided to call in the support of my techie friends. I had been reluctant to do this at first, because I hate asking people to do their day-job for me when they are at home, and to do this for free! But, having asked those paid to help me (and failed) and those most likely to be in a very similar situation to me (and failed), I really had no choice. And I had limited success. Actually no success, but we did determine that the only way to get an answer to the question was to try it and to do that I need to get the font and the latest version of Word and see what happens.

I also tried Monash Arts IT again, and this time managed to find someone prepared to try to get an answer. He went away and scoured the net, I ordered both Word 2011 and Caslon Pro, and had them installed. And, having experimented with the new software and fonts and having heard back from Arts IT I now have my answer. And the answer is a lot worse than I imagined possible—and I am sometimes considered to be an apocalyptic pessimist!

It is not possible to open a Word 2004 file containing Caslon Expert sorts and have it open and work using that font in Word 2011, or to open, automatically identify identical Caslon Expert/Pro sorts and effect a substitution of the same. Moreover, you cannot manually effect a Expert/Pro sort-for-sort substitution and you cannot do this with a find>replace command.

Worse still, you cannot create a document in Word 2011 which uses the extended "Glyph Complement" at all—i.e., the many eighteenth-century ligatures such as si, sl, st, ss, ct etc which you expect to have access to because they are listed by Adobe in great detail in twelve pages of sorts here—on the basis of which you spent a small fortune to buy the font.

I should mention that Word 2011 is a very annoying program anyway, a lot worse than Word 2008, which was worse than Word 2004—which was such a poorly-designed piece of software itself that the designers of it ought to have been executed for crimes against humanity. So it takes a long time to go through the tortuous procedure necessary to turn "on" access to extended ligature sets in Word 2011, only to discover that this does not, in fact, give you access to the extended ligature set in Caslon Pro.

(And this only after you have discovered that the reason you cannot find any of the ligatures in any of the fonts you have installed is—after much hunting through the Word Help files and online forums—because the software designers have now added this multi-step process before you can use ligatures. I am not sure why I am surprised by this. In WriteNow only a single keystroke was needed to insert small caps. Word requires you to do a lot of mouse-activated busy-work do do the same. Which is part of the reason why I resisted for so long moving all my word processing files from WriteNow 3.0 to Word 2004 once the former was discontinued.)

It appears that the Microsoft-led transition from TrueType to OpenType fonts is part of the problem (i.e., the reason why you can't use Caslon Expert well in Word 2008 and cannot use it at all in Word 2011), but it is Word 2011 that precludes access to the full OpenType font set. What this means is that, with no access to the old font and no access to the new, Word has effectively blocked all access to both extended Caslon fonts.

The only solution seems to be to indefinitely maintain a ca.2008 computer running Word 2004 with Caslon Expert, with an attached printer, for all scholarly writing that requires transcriptions and bibliographical descriptions of eighteenth-century texts.

Unfortunately, said computers will be increasingly difficult to maintain, and increasingly useless for any other activity. (I have already had to block Flash on my home computer because my Internet browsers were crashing continuously.) And it is difficult to see what use any file will be that includes bibliographical descriptions using Caslon ligatures because—presumably—the dead-end that I am referring to will stop editors from reading, viewing or editing articles that contain these sorts and journals from publishing them.

The only possible escape from this dead-end that has been suggested to me by techie friends and by ArtsIT is via InDesign—a publishing program. However, so far I have had no success getting InDesign to open long files (and one of my files is five hundred pages long), and even short files open only as single pages. So I do not know whether font-substitution is possible, but I have established that no automatic substitution will occur. So any substitution will have to be set up manually, and may have to be undertaken via mouse-activated busy-work.

If that is the case it would not be worth doing in 90% of cases and, for me, certainly not possible on the file I am most concerned about: my Bibliography, which presently contains 372,326 words or 1,852,119 characters (excluding spaces). Since I use the full range of ligatures and other sorts the "updating" of my Bibliography in this way could require over half a million separate, manual font substitutions. That is, use the mouse to highlight a sort, use the mouse to go to the font menu, to follow the drop-down menu from Caslon Expert to Caslon Pro, and to identify the font (CaslonPro Regular, CaslonPro Bold etc). And then, if the character mapping isn't identical between Expert and Pro, go looking for the new key-stroke combination that generates the required sort. Repeated hundreds of thousands of times!!

As for creating new files in InDesign instead of Word, I have also not been able to generate or edit in InDesign with the Caslon Pro font set, but perhaps it is possible. The bottom line is, however, that bad as Word is, it is at least a word-processing program and so it is moderately-well adapted to writing and laying out an essay. InDesign is not. It is a publishing program and the only reason why it has access to the extended ligature sets in Caslon Pro is because it is the sort of program you might use to design a poster, or lay out a magazine. Using it to write an article would be like using your Mercedes Sports Coupe to transport a cubic meter of dirt—on the back seat.

And so it appears that this technological change will soon render unreadable all the files I have created in fifteen years of scholarship and will seriously impede any scholarship I might want to undertake in the future. How will anyone in future do a bibliographical description of an eighteenth-century text, or do a quasi-facsimile transcription of an eighteenth-century text? (Or a seventeenth- or sixteenth-century text?)

Bibliographers will be in a worse situation than we were prior to the advent of the personal computer and word processors, since we can no longer use typewriters (with the equivalent sort-set of Caslon Expert on a specialist golf-ball typewriter head) or even pen and ink—like some barbarian refugee from the days before the typewriter! And what will the editors of The Library, PBSA, Studies in Bibliography and Script & Print do, even if they were to accept submissions in pen and ink?

So, as you can see, O readers, the Adobe Caslon apocalypse approaches! The end is nigh! Woe to you, O scholars, for Microsoft has come down to you in great wrath …


Susan Smith said...

As I read through your post, thoughts of different solutions came to mind. I don't have knowledge of 18th Century sorts.

Virtualization seems as though it would be a great solution, because you could run your legacy apps on your new machine/hardware.

It's very difficult to create a virtual machine with the Mac OS and not condoned. My partner uses VMware Fusion on his Mac to run windows in a virtual machine and it works well. There is a free virtualization software available through oracle, but the installation on a Mac OS is not easy. Oracle/Sun's software is called VirtualBox

Because all of your software (both for word processing and operating systems) is likely the Mac version, this route doesn't appear to be an option. I feel your pain.

My only other thoughts on this would be to check to see if Libre Office or Open Office may display your special characters properly. It's worth a mention!

Patrick Spedding said...

Many thanks Susan: I hadn't considered virtualisation and it is an intriguing possibility.

As you say, there are difficulties in virtualising the Mac OS and font system, but if there isn't anything around now, there might be in future.

Whereas, at present, I am looking at indefinitely maintaining a ca.2006 machine!

I'll look into it and will be sure to post anything I find.


Stuart said...

Sorry if this is very obvious but have you tried Textedit and derivatives such as Bean?

The cocoa text system in 10.7 is pretty great with advanced font features and glyphs (though the features are a bit hidden). You can also customise it to an amazing degree, have a look at

Trying to understand the problem you describe I experimented with my Adobe Caslon pro and the typographic feature in Textedit and could make s, si, sl, st, ss, ct and so on appear.

A good font management app is the old free version of Linotype's FontExplorer X. The free version is at softpedia.

bennyfactor said...


I came across your blog because I am in a similar situation, but on the other end: I received a document that was composed with sorts from an old postscript font, but I have the new opentype version.

Perhaps I can give you some direction. Imagine the way font files are ordered as something like a digital type job case. Technically, these are called code pages. The old standard for these "job cases" ('ASCII' or 'ISO 8859') only had a limited number of compartments for sorts, and so when Adobe needed to make a font with more ligatures than just fi and fl, they just put the extra sorts into another font file, but in the wrong "sort compartment", if you will. So if you don't have the font, and you try to fix the text by setting it in a modern font like Caslon Pro, it won't know what to do, as you've seen.

The good news, though, is that the new standard for these "job cases", Unicode, has a lot more sort compartments, not just for all the old ligatures and sorts you need, but for mathematical symbols and dingbats and Asian characters and even cuneiform. So Caslon Pro keeps all those ligature sorts in their own correctly-designated sort compartment ('code point') instead of in a secondary font file in the wrong compartment.

Also, with OpenType a lot of the new unicode fonts have programming logic built-in to automatically select old-style ligatures or swashes while you type, and this can be enabled by using the Advanced Typography ribbon in the new Mac Word programs. It will get you the swashes and ligatures and old style figures and everything.

The bad news is that yes, you're probably going to have to fix everything by hand. Maybe you can get some students to do it for you as a side job! But, with these advanced features you'll be able to share your bibliography with all and sundry's computers in the far into future: Unicode has code points for nearly every conceivable character and the ability to add future characters without this issue happening again.

I hope this is helpful to you. It was incredibly frustrating to figure out why the document I had occasionally had strange typos instead of ligatures until the above information finally came together in my head.