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Typologia, Part II

I finished up Goudy's Typologia a few days ago, and my overall impression is that it's an excellent source of information about why Goudy's types look the way they do. That might sound a little snarkier than I mean it to, since I’m not a huge fan of Goudy's work, but fan or no I think it's true.

Although he mentions earlier types, he doesn't make very useful analyses of them, What he does, however, is shed a great deal of light on the elements of historical types and scripts that he valued most and strove to maintain in his own type. He's quite clear about having no desire to recreate history, but instead adapt historical elements for modern use. Although his conservative approach to new forms is admirable on the one hand, the degree to which he dismisses any attempt at radical departure in type design makes him sound like a bit of a fuddy-duddy. If you look at hist types they tend to be a little soft, a little quirky, a little old-fashioned, somewhat irregular in form but even enough in color. In this book he pretty much explains where all this comes from: a way of working that always uses history as the starting point, with a huge emphasis on the need for typeforms to maintain the individuality the comes from the human hand more than the mechanical precision of the machine:

"For myself, I believe that type character is the outcome of a sincere attempt by the designer to fashion his letters upon a sound tradition and then to add such subtleties in the handling of his lines and curves as are within his ability and power, qualities which are unconsciously produced in his drawing and controlled by his innate good taste and feeling and imagination.

It can be a bit maddening that Goudy often talks about the importance of "good taste" and "charm" without making much of an effort to articulate such vague terms, or even much of an effort to allow for conflicting views of them, but in many ways this is more of a self-written monograph, so it's easy to cut him some slack.

Chapters 9–11 are the most illuminating of the book. In these, Goudy sets the philosophical perspective aside and turns to extremely precise details of his working method when it comes to designing a face, making patterns, and creating matrices. After all his rhapsodizing about the charms of various historical models, it's refreshing to encounter this real blow-by-blow of metal type production in the early 20th century, complete with all the technical pitfalls and opportunities that really would prevent someone slavishly recreating past works resulting from entirely different processes. Goudy acknowledges some of the eccentricities of his method, largely due to the solitary nature of his work, and his preference of working on the matrices directly instead of handing drawings over to someone else for translation.

It's funny that when Goudy comes up in both Bringhurt's Elements of Typographic Style and Kinross's Modern Typography, both authors acknowledge Goudy as an important figure but they can't seem to find much good to say about his work. I’ve always had a similar problem, and reading his own perspective just reinforces it. I don't necessarily love much of what he's done, but it's rather dazzling to learn how much craftsmanship and understanding went into the work.

Goudy, Frederic W, Typologia: Studies in Type Design and Type Making. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977

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