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Frederic Goudy: 1 in 9 million

One of my world wide web pleasures is Randombrowsing™ the American Memory section from the Library of Congress web site in “Gallery View” mode. Where else can you do a search for “bear” and in the first page of results get a typographic treat like this? Or “nails”? Or “speed”? Et cetera. Over the weekend, as I was looking for visual nuggets to illustrate the Copperplate Gothic post, I typed in “Frederic Goudy” and crossed my fingers. Only two results: one a dud, the other a gem. As my eyes focused on the grainy, low contrast image I began taking in the contents: The blackletter at the top, the gently letterspaced date set in small caps, the majestic initial caps, and, ultimately, the beautiful text set in a deliciously swashy, briefly-serifed italic typeface. All of these, of course, of Goudy’s own making — a true testament to the diversity of design that this typographer possessed. A memorial tribute to Frederick Goudy by Albert Schiller, this lucky image contains a prose as jovial as Goudy’s own designs. As a counterpoint to coldly-written obits, I thought it would be worth sharing this passage, hidden among 9 million other documents.

Goudy Memorial

Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
Image cleaned-up in Photoshop; bigger view in pop-up.

IT IS with the tender and sorrowful homage one accords a father that I begin this task. For a well-beloved, gentle giant of our culture has passed from the living scene, a Gibraltar-rock of the world’s graphic art been shattered beneath the relentless hammer of time. But metaphor is weak before the simple yet astounding truths of his life, before his humanity and genius. Did he accomplish so much? In brief, he gave to the printed word—to the forms of letters—an inimitable stamp of personality so unique that posterity will one day evaluate it as the “American face” of typography. He gave to all his types a new look, a new aspect that in turn brought America at a bound to a fruitful printing maturity. Like the thinking of all prophets, his types were generally ignored (except by a small though world-spread coterie of his good friends) in preference to clever modernizations of letters from the Old World, so that “the German face” (among type faces) swept across our hemisphere and elbowed his designs rudely and brashly aside. This must have puzzled him, but it did not shake the spirit that knew only its own true destiny, and could work only in its own perfect way. For he knew his fame was secure. And one of the happiest things about his life was that his devotees saw to it that the laurel was delivered to him, even though his commercial career was rough with the hills and hollows of chance. Surely it is a sign, concrete and large, of his special merit and distinction, that his passing at eighty-two was signalized by the press of the world in tribute after tribute, both in editorial and news columns. And small wonder, for as artist and human being he was of the mold and stature of a Walt Whitman, a Mark Twain, a John Audubon. For like them, he was an authentic American phenomenon without a peer in his particular art. Like them, by his achievements, he held high our standard before the world. He gave of himself and his art with unbounded generosity, asking little in return. He was a shade tree beside a marvelous spring, standing easy and friendly on the bleak, arid plain of the dull work-a-day world; and we came and drank at his feet and were refreshed with a great refreshment. Ah, truly, we have known and loved an immortal! A.S.

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ARCHIVE ID 3828 FILED UNDER Designer/Design Firm Profile
PUBLISHED ON Sep.06.2007 BY Armin
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Type for breakfast! Deliciously aged, too. Great find, Armin.

On Sep.06.2007 at 08:29 AM
Nicole’s comment is:

Forgive me, Armin, this is a bit nit-picky...

Goudy was a type designer, not a typographer. One designs typefaces, the other designs texts. We shouldn't continually mix the two up since it causes some confusion (you were specifically talking about his typeface designs when you referred to him as a typographer... not the typography, right?).

On Sep.06.2007 at 10:18 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Hey, nitpicking is what design is all about. I have mixed feelings about the definition of "typographer". I do think it reflects those that use typography (but wouldn't that just be graphic designers?), as well as those that make the typefaces. It's either a tomato/tomahto discussion or it's a pretty segregated assumption…

Anyone else?

On Sep.06.2007 at 02:12 PM
Paul Riehle’s comment is:

Its a thin line, but I think im on the same boat as Nicole. A type designer is one who designs typefaces. A typographer is one who uses those designed typefaces as their design medium.

But I think anyone would understand them being used interchangably.

On Sep.06.2007 at 04:28 PM
Doug B’s comment is:

A type designer is one who designs typefaces. A typographer is one who uses those designed typefaces as their design medium.

I think that's too narrow a definition, when it needn't be...

How would you categorize the work of Ed Fella, given the strict parameters mentioned above, for example.

I think 'typographer' goes above 'type designer' in the food chain. All type designers are typographers, imo, but not all typographers design type. ie: square vs. rectangle.

You could also argue that designing individual letterforms/glyphs for use in projects (and not actually completing the entire character set) is a form of type design.

On Sep.06.2007 at 06:27 PM
Nicole’s comment is:

This isn't to say that if we call someone a type designer, they can't be a typographer or vice versa. Ed Fella can be a typographer, a letterer, and type designer. We can describe his activities using more than one word!

IMO, using the words typographer and type designer synonymously confuses what each does – the skill set of a typographer (at least in my definition) are different than a type designer, are different than a letterer, are different than a calligrapher, etc. They may share skills, but they are distinct. I would prefer to honor those unique, hard-won skills by calling them what they are rather than muddying the terms.

On Sep.07.2007 at 03:25 AM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

To be honest, I've always considered "typographer" as being a qualitative term. Just because someone uses type (which is pretty much everyone these days), doesn't make them a typographer. I think a typographer is someone who is knowledgeable about and caring of the type they use. However, where the line is drawn ... how you determine who gets to call themselves a typographer and who not, I am not sure.

Given this, I think that there are type designers (albeit hacks) who are not typographers, so it is not a food-chain item. But most type designers, and certainly all of those of any worth, must necessarily be typographers, because they understand type and how it works.

In this sense I think it's perfectly correct to call Goudy a typographer.

On Sep.07.2007 at 08:30 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

Marian starts off being, as usual, clearly right but I am a bit ambivalent about her conclusion.

The word typographer traditionally meant someone particularly skilled at the use of type. By the time most living designers came around, the job of graphic designer and that of typesetter had separated and typographer was largely an honorific for the best typesetters or those few graphic designers who were intimately involved in the details of their type use.

Since there was no clear distinction between typographers and non-typographer typesetters, one could say that anyone who set type and cared about the details of type was a typographer. By that definition, anyone who designs worthwhile text type is probably, as Marian says, a typographer.

If the term now rises above merely understanding type and how it works and identifies those who use type particularly well, I'd argue that relatively few great type designers (currently or historically) are/were particularly good users of type. There are a few examples of great graphic designer/type designers but damned few.

But Marian is, unsurprisingly, right about the question of using the term for Mr. Goudy. He was clearly a typographer as well as a type designer by the definitions of his time and should probably be considered so by our contemporary standards for the term.

On Sep.09.2007 at 09:14 AM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

Food for thought:

A geographer (source) is a scientist whose area of study is geography, the study of Earth's physical environment and human habitat. Geographers identify, analyse and interpret the distribution and arrangement of features on the earth's surface.

Though geographers are historically known as people who make maps, mapmaking is actually the field of study of cartography, a subset of geography. The geographer is capable of studying not only the physical details of the environment but also its impact on human and wildlife ecologies, weather and climate patterns, economics, and culture.

The skills required to become a geographer are grounded in the physical sciences, but are also highly influenced by the social sciences and the humanities. A modern geographer is often involved in resolving environmental problems and other issues that afflict modern society.

Typography (source) is the art and techniques of type design, modifying type glyphs, and arranging type. Type glyphs (characters) are created and modified using a variety of illustration techniques. The arrangement of type is the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading (line spacing) and letter spacing.

Typography is performed by typesetters, compositors, typographers, graphic artists, art directors, and clerical workers. Until the Digital Age, typography was a specialized occupation. Digitization opened up typography to new generations of visual designers and lay users.

Maybe not a truly apples-to-apples comparison, but it makes for a suitable analogy. Since the activities which fall under the field of typography are so broad (not to mention mostly unscientific), it seems there is little use in assigning a title of ‘typographer’ to any person, although typography is a useful descriptor for one of our most-needed skill sets.

On Sep.10.2007 at 04:06 AM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

typography is a useful descriptor for one of our most-needed skill sets.

Oops! should read:

typography is a useful descriptor for many of our most-needed skill sets.

On Sep.10.2007 at 04:11 AM
Doug B’s comment is:

Typography is performed by typesetters, compositors, typographers, graphic artists, art directors, and clerical workers.


I think I'll take my buggy down to the malt shop and get me an egg creme...

On Sep.10.2007 at 08:15 AM
Phillip’s comment is:

I don't usually comment on these things, but speaking of Goudy and libraries, I found this book by Goudy at the New York Public Library and it's fantastic and moving:


It is his autobiography told through his typefaces, in chronolgical order. It's almost a companion to the very similar Zapf autobiography. Posted on one of these blogs sometime ago some designer was talking about the work their firm did on the Saks Fifth Avenue identity -- going back to the Canarse lettering of the 70s. Going back further than that firm's research, Goudy himself drew some fantastic letters for Saks. He worked in Brooklyn, too.

What an American!

On Sep.10.2007 at 03:49 PM