January 26

“The old pre-Revolutionary mill at Marlborough, in which Frederic W. Goudy famous type designer, has his studio and workshop since 1923, burned to the ground early Thursday morning [January 26, 1939], with everything it contained. The loss is tentatively estimated at $50,000 at least; the money value of many of the things destroyed is beyond estimate. Between $35,000 and $40,000 in type matrices was lost.”

The Marlborough Record gave over its front page banner to this catastrophic event in the life of the town’s most illustrious citizen and America’s most famous type designer. Goudy gave the newspaper a list, itemizing his loss in some detail. The list included the matrices for twenty-five of his types and patterns for over one hundred designs, in addition to five tons of type which had been cast and packed in boxes for shipment. Also destroyed were all of the accoutrements of The Village Letter Foundery—casters, engraving machines, milling machines, microscopes, etc.

Naturally enough, when the word of Goudy’s misfortune was circulated, Deepdene became a magnet which drew scores of curious spectators. In a letter to his friend Howard Coggeshall of Utica, New York a short time later, Goudy wrote with some asperity, “What with the influx of visitors, well-meaning but inopportune, the avalanche of letters, telegrams, requests for materials for articles, making inventories for insurance, and visits to town to get rid of some of the asinine suggestions and plans being made for me without my consent or knowledge, and lately a bit of physical and mental let-down—the past three weeks have not made it easy to write!”

Goudy’s workshop was covered by an $8,000 insurance policy. But the seventy-four year old type designer lost little time in mourning his loss, immediately setting to work to continue his career. A number of projects which were hopefully suggested in the weeks following the fire never did come to fruition. The American Type Founders Company negotiated for thirty-two of the Goudy designs, suggesting that Goudy secure from his customers sufficient type to enable them to manufacture electrotype matrices. The same firm also requested information on the cost of a new type, as did the University of Chicago. None of these offers were fulfilled, the ATF gesture apparently foundering, as Goudy later stated, by “quibbling over a few hundred dollars!’

However, Goudy was optimistic about his future and began to plan a new workshop for his home. He concluded his letter to Coggeshall with some nostalgic comments on his past.

“I do not anticipate any salvage,” he wrote, “but there may be some souvenirs. I feel like the gink Browning writes about who intimated that at his death the word ‘Calais’ would be found written on his heart—I know damned well ‘Village Press’ is on mine; and yet I seem entirely detached from it all—the ruins stun me because of the happy hours spent in the old shop—but I’m still here and kicking. . . .”

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