November 19

On this day in 1937 the New York Club of Printing House Craftsmen met and honored as its guest of the evening the type designer, Frederic W. Goudy. A veteran of the lecture platform after countless appearances all over the United States, the seventy-two year old Goudy was completely at his ease. As the unquestioned leader of his profession, he was inclined to be somewhat whimsical in his comments. Following his remarks, the chairman announced that the type designer would be rewarded with a framed certificate honoring his long service to the craft. This testimonial was forthwith produced and held aloft for all to admire. The artist who had lettered and illuminated it was also introduced. When the panegyric had been read to the great man, he took it in his hands and, referring to the principal line of the document, lettered in a semi-circle across its face, announced, “A man who would letterspace blackletter would steal sheep!”

Goudy hugely enjoyed the roar of laughter which greeted his remark, even if it did cost him for a few minutes the admiration of the artist, whom he took aside at the close of the meeting to congratulate for a fine job of lettering in spite of “unkind comments from an old man.”

Goudy was a great story teller, and he loved a joke—most of the time. Earl Emmons—Jester to the Court of Goudy in addition to being its Poet Laureate—once told of attending a Typophile luncheon with Fred and then walking to Bryant Park, next to the New York Public Library. Since it was a sunny May afternoon they sat down on a bench so that Fred could watch the girls go by. Whenever he could distract the designer from this pleasant occupation, Emmons attempted to find out what Goudy thought of his doing a serious and definitive biography. Emmons had aspirations of becoming Fred’s Boswell. As he advanced each point of his argument, the designer would nod and chuckle, but it soon became obvious that he was more appreciative of the passing show than of Emmon’s proposal. When it was finally time for Fred’s departure to catch the train back to Newburgh, he turned to Emmons. “Okay, Earl,” he said, “go ahead and do that book. But don’t be too damned flippant with me. And you can leave out Maytime in Bryant Park!”

One Comment

  1. Indra says:

    But what about the shagging myth?

    Erik Spiekermann in Stop Stealing Sheep:
    “In 1936, Frederic Goudy was in New York City to receive an award for excellence in type design. Upon accepting a certificate, he took one look at it and declared that “Anyone who would letterspace black letter would steal sheep.”

    but: himself on typophile (
    “Men who would letterspace blackletter would shag sheep” – Frederick Goudy

    “That is the correct quote. E. Ginger did the research for “Stop Stealing Sheep”, and she actually spoke to an old lady who had been to the event and heard Goudy say the “s” word. Patrick Ames, then publisher for Adobe Press, loved the quote, suggested it as the title for the book and changed it, for obvious reasons. The book was intended for typographic novices, and those were obviously not deemed grown-up enough for real four letter words. I always thought the title way too obscure, but I do have a collection of model and toy sheep (too small to shag), because lots of friends think it very funny to give me sheep as presents.”

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