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Printers’ Devils

Cover and first page for The Black Art.

Cover and first page for The Black Art printed and published by Goudy’s Camelot Press.


11:15 am-12:15 pm  saturday, october 8

Dianne L. Roman: The Devil Wore a Dress ♠  Steve Matteson: Black Art to Blackletter: Frederic Goudy’s First Foray into Print and his Last Word in Type Design

The typeface designer Steve Matteson and Dianne L. Roman, a doctoral student in printing history, gave presentations on printers’ devils both celebrated and unknown. Matteson spoke on the first and final works of typographical superstar Frederic Goudy (1865–1947), Roman on a number of nineteenth-century American women whose contributions to printing have been largely underrepresented by historians. 

Black Art to Blackletter

In 1894, when Frederic Goudy set up the Booklet Press (later the Camelot Press) in Chicago with his schoolteacher friend Cyrus Hooper, he did not know how to print, but, as Matteson put it, “he figured it out.” One of his first printing jobs was the Chapbook magazine, which proved challenging because of its small size. Goudy’s clever solution was to use a nine-point typecast on an eight-point body, which allowed him to gracefully squeeze in more type per page.

Another of Goudy’s early endeavors was the 1895 reprinting of a recently published essay by the printer and historian Daniel Berkeley Updike. “The Black Art” was a call for simplicity in type design in an era characterized by overwrought decorative printing. Embodying Goudy’s own aesthetic principles, the essay argues that when “everyone screams typographically, no one can be heard.”

Fast-forwarding to Goudy’s last word in type design, Matteson discussed the origin of the final typeface designed by Goudy. In 1940, at the age of 74, Goudy received a request from the Lanston Monotype Company to design a typeface to be used only after his death, as a memorial; it was to be called Goudy Thirty. Goudy accepted the offer, but did not produce the design (to Monotype’s chagrin, a Gothicized roman) until 1942. Matteson shared some amusing correspondence to Goudy from Monotype, clearly irritated by his lateness. Goudy Thirty was not officially released until 1953, and no prints have been found using the typeface before Goudy’s death in 1947.

The Devil Wore a Dress

Dianne Roman’s dissertation work on nineteenth-century women printers in America led her to explore the too-often hidden stories of women involved in printing. She presented biographical summaries of a number of these women, along with a brief history of women in American printing.

Because women were not allowed to join printers’ unions, they were unable to become apprentices and officially join the profession. By the 1850s, however, several opportunistic publishers avoided strike-based union wage hikes by hiring women at a lower pay rate. In 1853, a strike at the Day Book newspaper in New York led to the hiring of a number of “girls” as typesetters. This incident, and similar ones in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, inspired campaigns against women working in print shops. Women hired during strikes were derided as scabs, and were typically fired once union contracts were renegotiated.

The 1860s saw some more enduring gains made by women printers. In 1868, Augusta Lewis (1848–1920) founded the Women’s Typographical Union Local No. 1 in New York, the city’s first trade union for women. One of Lewis’s major efforts was working to help women avoid exploitation through strike-time hirings. The same year, on the other side of the country, Agnes B. Peterson established the Women’s Co-Operative Printing Union in San Francisco, which was dedicated to providing women jobs as typesetters. Early advertisements for the WCPU proudly announced: “Women set type! Women run presses!”

Among the other women Roman discussed in her presentation are Jane Swisshelm (1815–1844), the abolitionist journalist and publisher; Amelia Bloomer (1818–1894), the publisher of The Lily, the first American newspaper made by women for women; and Caroline Romney (1840–1916), the journalist and Colorado newspaper proprietor.

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