April 23

April 23, 1924, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, American architect, died. While Goodhue achieved notable success in his profession, the printer’s fraternity is most interested in his contributions to the book arts. Beginning his career at the same time and in the same spirit as the William Morris revival, he produced innumerable decorative designs in the medieval style, particularly borders and initials. Goodhue also designed two types, the first of which was commissioned by Daniel B. Updike, proprietor of the Merrymount Press of Boston, and named for the Press. Merrymount type was a bold, solid letter patterned upon the same Venetian originals as the Golden type of Morris. It was ideal for the closely-set and boldly decorated pages of the Kelmscott style.

It was with his second type, Cheltenham, that Goodhue produced one of the best known American typefaces. It was designed originally as a book type for the Cheltenham Press, operated by Ingalls Kimball in New York City, and incorporated Goodhue’s ideas concerning a legible type rather than an aesthetic one.

Goodhue reasoned that white space above the line of type increased legibility. Therefore he increased the height of the ascenders of his type, keeping the descenders quite short, an attribute which does increase the legibility of words composed into lines. The serifs of Cheltenham were narrowed, allowing the closer fitting of individual letters, and the contrast between the strokes of each character was minimized.

While all of these facts are important in a type designed for straight-matter composition, and were fulfilled in the Cheltenham design, it is ironic that the great success of the type was in the setting of display matter rather than in book composition. Kimball sold the design to both American Type Founders Company and Mergenthaler Linotype Company. By 1906 it was on its way to becoming the most successful type ever produced and probably the best known face to come from an American designer.

In all this activity, however, Goodhue had no part. Kimball later wrote that while the designer was pleased with the great popular success of the basic letter, he was never willing to forgive the many commercial variations that were made of it by the foundry and the composing machine manufacturer.

Under the guidance of Morris Benton, American Type Founders put Cheltenham in the family way. Starting with the medium weight original, Cheltenham was narrowed, stretched, and generally contorted to meet every demand a printer could make upon a type. The 1923 specimen book of ATF lists 23 variations of what printers soon learned to call “Chelt.” As most of these ranged from 6-point to 72-point, and several reached all the way to 144-point, it would require over 350 type cases to hold the whole family.

For long years Cheltenham reigned as the supreme display type for advertising and commercial printing, until during the Twenties, it was supplanted by supposedly more sophisticated types. Following the revival of the sans serif types, Chelt was relegated to the country newspaper shop. It emerges only upon occasion for use in national advertising, at which times articles appear about Chelt being “revived.” It is still a useful type, and although just a few of the variations are still available, it will undoubtedly be around for a long time to come.

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