April 4

The journal of Will Ransom contained an entry for April 4, 1903: “Saturday. Before I went to work this morning I went up to see Goudy and he made me a proposition to work with him during the summer. I might make enough to live on, but probably not, and then he may go East within the next sixty days, so that the whole thing is up in the air just at present. However, if circumstances permit, I shall make an awful effort to make it stick. Goudy has been exceptionally nice to me since I came, and if things turn out as I wish I will be indebted to him beyond all hope of repayment.”

So Will Ransom, who himself developed into a type designer and one of the nation’s finest typographers, expressed his thoughts about the personality of Frederic W. Goudy. Most people who came close enough to the great type designer to get to know him and to understand his motivation, shared Ransom’s early opinion.

In 1929 Ransom still felt much the same way about Goudy. In his authoritative Private Presses and Their Books, he wrote: “His life work has been, and is, in type design. From the time when, an unknown book-keeper, he drew an alphabet of capital letters and sold it to a type foundry, he has steadily and consistently produced excellent designs until now there are more than fifty faces to his credit with promise of more and perhaps better to come. It has been said, and with good reason, that Frederic W. Goudy has contributed more to type design than any other man in the history of printing. That opinion is based not alone upon the number and excellence of his types but even more upon a recognition of the fresh viewpoint he has injected into a difficult and limited field of art. The detailed elements of his procedure are largely technical and not pertinent here, but the principle is that letters for type should be drawn by an artist rather than constructed by a mechanic.”

At the present time, nineteen years after his death, it is fairly common to hear Goudy denounced as a “period piece.” His detractors tell each other that he would “starve to death” as a post-war designer. It is obvious that such remarks are made by people who just don’t value the tenet to which Goudy held fast—the integrity of the individual in relation to his work.

Never in his life did the designer give less than he had bargained for. If he continued to design new type, it was primarily because the dream of the perfect roman letter was constantly alive in his mind. He endeavored to reproduce the idea in type metal. Thus, a long flow of roman letters in the 15th century Italian style came from his workshop, each one representing to his discerning eye a definite advance upon the path toward his ideal.

Goudy was right for his time, when there was a revival of interest in classic and traditional forms. Were he alive today he would undoubtedly develop along the lines in which he could contribute most. At present no single standard of typographical accomplishment exists. There are a dozen “schools” with no agreement among them. What is needed to bring them together is an individual with the highest of intellectual standards. Frederic W. Goudy, one of the most admired names of our times in the world of print, was uniquely qualified to fill such a role in his own period, and there is no reason to believe he would not be equally adequate today.

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