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Michael North, Head, Reference and Reader Services, Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Amanda Zimmerman, Reference Librarian, Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Created: May 18, 2022
Last Updated: August 12, 2022
Frederic W. Goudy (1865-1947) was an eminent American type designer, artist and printer, creating over 100 typefaces including Copperplate Gothic, Goudy Old Style, and Kennerly. Together with his wife Bertha M. Goudy (1869-1935), he founded the Village Press in 1903, which won many awards. The Frederic and Bertha Goudy Collection in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division was purchased from Goudy himself in 1944 and consists largely of material that escaped a disastrous workshop fire in 1939. The collection includes Goudy's personal library on typography and numerous examples of fine printing (approximately 1890-1944), particularly from private American Presses. The output of the Village Press is documented by over 150 items ranging from dummies and broadsides to finished books.
While many letter-form artists achieved fame by the production of one or two popular typefaces, Frederic Goudy designed no fewer than 116 from 1898 to 1944 and can be ranked with Jenson, Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville, and Bodoni as one of the masters of the craft of type design.
Frederic Goudy's accomplishment is even more remarkable when contrasted with the background of American typography in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The consolidation of the industry into the hands of a few large foundries had standardized type and stagnated the craft of design. It was Goudy, more than any other person in America, who helped bring about the change.
Frederic Goudy began experimenting with layout and printing while working as a bookkeeper in Chicago in the 1890s in an office where he met his future wife Bertha Matilda Sprinks. He saw himself as the modern embodiment of the artists, craftsmen, and goldsmiths of the Renaissance who were the first designers and cutters of type. While Goudy looked back to the early masters for inspiration, however, he was no mere copyist. His typefaces, while showing a regard for tradition, are distinctively original. Goudy was successful in achieving beauty and dignity in his typefaces while realizing the demands of modern publishers for practicality. It was his work, both his handsome types and his writings about the arts of type-design and typography, that enabled the general printer in America to understand and to profit from the revival of fine printing begun by William Morris in England in the 1890s.
Bertha M. Goudy co-founded the Village Press with Frederic Goudy and Will Ransom in Oak Park, Illinois in 1903 and served as its principle typesetter for 31 years until her death in 1935. Frederic wrote and illustrated and Bertha typeset two works now considered classics of lettering design: The Alphabet (Mitchell Kennerley, 1918) and Elements of Lettering (Mitchell Kennerley, 1922). The last book she typeset was the monumental Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, published by the Limited Editions Club in 1934. She died after a stroke in 1935 and is fondly remembered by Frederic in his, Bertha M. Goudy: Recollections by One Who Knew Her Best, published by the Village Press in 1939.
In addition to the holdings in the Frederic and Bertha Goudy Collection by and about the Goudys and their work, there is a significant amount of material produced by the Village Press and examples of Frederic Goudy's type design in the Pforzheimer Bruce Rogers Collection and the Shapiro Bruce Rogers Collection at the Library of Congress.
The unique materials of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, now totaling over 1 million items, include books, broadsides, pamphlets, theater playbills, prints, posters, photographs, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. At the center is Thomas Jefferson's book collection, which was sold to Congress in 1815. The Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room is modeled after Philadelphia's Independence Hall. This room is home to the divisional catalogs, reference collection, and reference staff. Collections are stored in temperature and humidity controlled vaults.