The designing of a new printing type usually takes many months because the designer needs time for reflection and revision. That was not Frederic Goudy’s way. In 1927 alone he had six different typefaces in hand, and a few years later he produced the letter draw ings, patterns, and matrices for an urgent commission in just one week.
That extraordinary rate of production, with its predictable effect on the quality of his designs, was one reason for the criticisms that were expressed about him in his lifetime. But the criticism did not prevail against his great popularity and reputation. Joseph Blumenthal wrote in The Printed Book in America that Goudy “was the only typo graphic designer whose fame reached be yond professional circles, sparked no doubt by his reputation as the ‘mostest.’” Goudy lectured widely and frequently, and he clearly enjoyed the lionizing and the honors that ac cumulated. A New Yorker profile in 1933 was titled “Goudy: Giorifier of the Alphabet.” In speeches and articles on letter design and printing he expounded the virtues of tradi tional style and reticence in the designer—though his need to make his hundred or so typefaces distinguishable from one another meant that as to reticence Goudy the de signer took little notice of Goudy the writer.
D.J.R. Bruckner, a writer and editor for The New York Times Book Review, provides an interesting account of Goudy’s life, which began in 1865 in Bloomington, Illinois. He describes Goudy’s various jobs in and around Chicago, until he found a growing interest and ability in lettering; his setting up as a printer and his awareness of typefaces as designed objects; and the creation, in 1896, of his first type, for which he received ten dol lars. It was a long life (he died in 1947) and an energetic one, with a move to the east in 1903, the book designing for The Village Press, in which his wife was an active force, and the designing and making of type. Goudy was unusual in acquiring engraving and foundry machinery to make type to sell to printers. This is the story of a hero figure, the faults and attributes duly noted, a bio graphical study that will interest the layman as well as the professional.
The student of typography will hope for something more: a thorough analysis of Goudy’s numerous type designs. Mr. Bruck ner does provide a long review of the Deep-dene type and briefer accounts of nine others. But he is reluctant to offer firm criti cal opinions about them. “The typefaces in this section are not necessarily those I think are among Goudy’s best,” he writes. “In fact, that is an argument I would like to avoid.” For the rest of the corpus, Mr. Bruckner simply supplies short summaries of what Goudy himself said about the types in his autobiographical Half-Century of Type Design, published in the year before his death and reprinted in 1978. Goudy was not a single star; other American designers in his time created typefaces of significance. His attitude, though, and the style of his work were so different from theirs that an evalua tion of his work in comparative terms would have helped the reader to decide just how high Goudy’s pedestal should be.
Mr. Bruckner has not been well served by the designer of the book. His text is pre sented in narrow newspaperlike columns, so that it is upstaged by the illustrations, which are generously treated.
Among a number of errors are these: May Morris was William Morris’s daughter, not his wife; Charles Ricketts was not “Sir,” nor was Bernard Newdigate; I belonged to Lino type, not Monotype; and in my study of Goudy’s types I commented on thirty of them, not seventeen. It is grievous to see the admirable St. Bride Printing Library given a misleading name.
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