Biography of Frederic Goudy

Frederic Goudy was the third most prolific type designer in American history, right behind Morris Fuller Benton and some other guy.  His famous typefaces are still widely used today, including Copperplate Gothic, Goudy Old Style, Berkeley Old Style, and Garamont.

Frederic Goudy was born March 8, 1865 in Bloomington, Illinois. In his youth, he worked as an assistant to a local paperhanger. He cut his first type from a roll of wallpaper, using an old Bruce Foundry specimen book he’d found.

In 1887 he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a clerk in a bookstore. It was there he began to notice and care about how well the books he read were printed. In 1895 he established the Camelot Press, which lasted only a short while before he had to resume another day job as a bookkeeper. In 1897, he married Bertha Sprinks, whom he had met as a fellow bookkeeper.

In 1903, he and Will Ransom founded the Village Press, where his wife began working closely with him as a typesetter.  In 1908, the Village Press and everything inside was lost to a devastating fire. The press was moved and rebuilt, until a second fire destroyed it again in 1939. From 1920 to 1947, he served as art director to Lanston Monotype. Goudy continued to design type, even after the second fire.

At 40, this short, plump, pinkish, and puckish gentleman kept books for a Chicago realtor, and considered himself a failure. During the next 36 years, starting almost from scratch at an age when most men are permanently set in their chosen vocations, he cut 113 fonts of type, thereby creating more usable faces than did the seven greatest inventors of type and books, from Gutenberg to Garamond.1

By the time of his death, Frederic Goudy had designed over 122 typefaces, and published 59 literary works. He is also known for having said, “Any man who would letterspace blackletter would shag sheep.”

1 Type By Goudy. Andrew R. Boone, April 1942


2 thoughts on “Biography of Frederic Goudy”

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