History of Lettering typographers

Mr Frederic W Goudy’s ‘curves are perhaps too round and soft’

It’s always a joy to pick up a book, any book, and find a colophon describing the typeface used in the publication. This most recently happened to me when I bought a copy of Geoff Dyer’s novel Out of Sheer Rage (Canongate Books, 2012). The typeface selected for the edition is Goudy Old Style, Goudy lettering_0001designed, it is noted, by ‘Frederic W Goudy, an American type designer, in 1915. It is a graceful, slightly eccentric typeface, and is prized by book designers for its elegance and readability’.

OK. Slightly eccentric took me to my bookshelves to see what others have written about Mr Goudy. What does Updike have to say? He writes of Kennerley, Goudy lettering another of the designer’s faces commissioned in 1911 by Mitchell Kennerly: ‘[it] is a freely designed letter which has been much praised in many quarters. Its capitals are excellent but the lower case roman, except perhaps in 10-point, seems to “roll” a little; and, as was said of another of Mr Goudy’s types, “when composed in a body, the curves of the letters – individually graceful – set up a circular, whirling sensation that detracts somewhat from legibility. That is to say, the curves are perhaps too round and soft, and lack a certain snap and acidity”.’ (Printing Types, vol II. 2nd ed, 2nd printing, 1937.)

My Oh My. They were savage critics back in the twentieth century.

What has Carter to add? ‘Goudy died in 1947,’ he concludes, ‘heaped with honours…His faces are not widely used for the setting of books: they do not fulfil the customary demands of reticence for such purposes. But for displayed work and advertising design they have always been deservedly popular’. (Twentieth century Type Designers, 1987.) Carter also notes how Goudy made a new fount, that is cutting the matrices by hand and giving them to Updike the same day – Updike having called for lunch (this was 1933) and complaining he couldn’t find the right size or style for a title page he was then designing. Now that’s what I call a good lunch.

Another writer, BH Newdigate, says of Goudy’s Kennerley face (this written in 1920): ‘…[it] is perhaps the most attractive letter which has been placed within the reach of British and AMerican printers in modern times.’  Times change.

History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

Some notes about Spanish typography and Vincent Steer

Printing Design and Layout was written by Vincent Steer in 1934 and dominated the typographic profession for several decades, as a primer for students as well as practising typographers. My copy is undated but I’d reckon it one of the later editions, though all have the foreword by Beatrice Warde.

My motive for writing, however, concerns the illustrations of Spanish type from Fundacion Tipografica, Madrid. Nothing very startling about the designs maybe, yet they made me wonder about Spanish typography in general.

The first reference book one goes to at times like this is Updike’s Printing Types, where he writes regarding the establishment of printing that it was ‘wandering Germans’ who introduced the craft in the fifteenth century. However, he goes on that quite soon Spanish printers adopted a style of their own – ‘…rugged yet effective, and reminiscent, to one who knows Spain, of its rough, careless splendour, its grave, sad magnificence’. Nicely put.

He also illustrates this title page from 1515, suggesting that it perfectly shows ‘Spanishness.’ Of Spanish incunabula in general he writes: “I am not saying that these books are the finest that were ever printed, but they were in one way among the finest. For if entire unity with the life about it makes great printing, these books were great.”

Clair, in his A History of European Printing, updates Updike by observing the first press was probably established in Barcelona, though by those wandering Germans, in January 1473.