Anyone Hate Goudy Old Style?

Steve Tiano's picture

After reading some about Frederic Goudy, I was struck by how prolific he was, how he had a tough breaks with fires destroying his workplaces, how he seemed to have a 21st century kind of knack for promotion, and how he was really disliked for this last. So I began to take a closer look at his types and decided I really like Goudy Old Style. I mentioned it on my blog. I was surprised by one particular response I got from someone I respect who really came down on Goudy Old Style. Is it really such an awful, dated face?

I was actually thinking of filing it away and looking for a project I could use it on, but now I’m wondering now how far off the mark I am when I look at it and like it.

Stephen Tiano, Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist

dan_reynolds's picture

I agree that it looks too early 20th century, and perhaps even too "American," if that is something one can grasp with a typeface. I can't see how I could ever use it, which is kind of funny, since I'm an American and sort of a history buff to boot :-/

Reed Reibstein's picture

It is definitely dated, but there's something about the smoothness and elegance of the letterforms, especially the capitals, that I find appealing: Fred definitely knew how to make majuscules that evoke Imperial Rome's grandeur.

One thing I'm actually struck by now after having looked at his designs in depth is how much I "recognized" Goudy Old Style when I just looked it up, despite not having seen a sample of it in a while. There's no mistaking a Goudy typeface for someone else's, which does mean that it's a bit hard to use. However, some of his less-known faces I find to be surprisingly contemporary; check out Goudy Sans, Goudy Modern, Goudy Heavyface, Kaatskill, Goudy Ornate, and Goudy Text, all on Lanston. I was especially surprised when I came across Goudy Sans, as I could see someone releasing it today, albeit as a sans-serif "riff" on the early 20th century and Art Nouveau. But maybe that's just a function of the new hairline weight, which I'd love to use someday.

Gary Long's picture

I like Goudy Oldstyle and don't find it "dated"---though it is a typeface you definitely wouldn't use for just anything. If it suits your subject matter, use it. My main beef with Goudy OS is that I haven't been able to find a good version that has been given a little more weight for offset work. Also, the fi and fl ligatures are too tight---don't use them.

For a long time Canadian govenment topographic maps used Goudy Oldstyle for the names of lakes and rivers, which were usually in italic. Goudy OS italic is wide and very legible.

writingdesigning's picture

"and perhaps even too American, if that is something one can grasp with a typeface”

I don't know a great deal about that, but of another of his designs; Goudy Sans, I've always felt it had the same exuberance and quirkiness of some of the hand-painted street graphics one finds quite a lot in southern India!. Especially the italics.

But beyond underlining the point auricfuzz made about his designs being distinctive, I guess that's more a comment on India than on Goudy...

Florian Hardwig's picture

I like it! I especially dig its italics, aswell as its osf.
Does it work as a book face? Well, certainly not for every book, but which face does that? It’s not streamlined and you can’t call it cutting-edge … but dated? I don’t know. You don’t spot it a lot in Europe – at least I haven’t.
There are cases where GOS is very much appropriate and can help establishing a charming, dapper feeling.

P.S.: The link to your blog is broken, so here you go: Stephen Tiano on Frederic Goudy.

William Berkson's picture

Goudy was great, and his typefaces will be used a hundred years from now, as they are now, 60 years after his death. Goudy Oldstyle was overused at one point, though it is still used widely. The Lanston version has the longer descenders that Goudy actually wanted. Various versions of his Californian are used a lot today in publications. Both Font Bureau's Californian and ITC Berkeley are widely used, and perhaps also Lanston's version, I don't know.

In general--except for Copperplate Gothic--they have a handmade feel and a very human warmth. Some people don't like this aesthetic, and some even hate it. But tastes are diverse enough that I think that such type will always have a place.

Goudy did repeat himself a lot, and some of his stuff looks sloppy. With the later stuff, I put this down to his cutting his own faces, and not having outside critics, and especially not adjusting his faces for optical size.

>I haven’t been able to find a good version that has been given a little more weight for offset work.

Goudy Catalogue is a version of Goudy Old Style cut by Morris Fuller Benton, and is a little heavier for smaller text. You might like that for some uses where you would find Goudy Old Style too light.

Celeste's picture

And don't forget that Goudy Old Style was indeed the basis for this fabulous logotype by Herb Lubalin.

KenBessie's picture

I like Goudy Oldstyle. Like Times and the Garamonds, it can take a lot of abuse in text settings and still look good. And with care and attention, it can shine. Maybe it's overused and maybe it's dated, I don't know. But it is a well-crafted face.

I haven't used Goudy Oldstyle for many years. Got tired of using it. Wanted to explore other faces. Yada, yada, yada. But I think I'll revisit Fred's work. Thanks, Steve, for reminding me...

blank's picture

I don’t worry so much about it looking dated—I get off on that sort of thing—but the lightness keeps me from using it for text. To me it’s like trying to read some of the really light Baskervilles, which just make me squint.

Steve Tiano's picture

My thanks to everyone for taking the time to answer. And thanks, Florian, for giving a good link. I sometimes forget that when I type fast, my touch grows lighter in spots and I create typos despite actually touching the correct keys.

I’m pleased that others like Goudy Old Style to any extent. Goudy himself appears not to be as well thought of as he deserves, and that is a shame. Not simply because he was prolific, but—as in the case of his Old Style—because he did some really fine work that doesn’t seem to have been appreciated.

For myself, it’s not as if I need validation to my taste, as I’m entitled to bad taste, if that’s what it is. But I do care that my judgment of it’s potential usefulness today in a book isn’t way off the mark. I agree, however, that—as with pretty much any typeface—it is important to match it with an appropriate setting, with subject matter that is a good fit.

Celeste's picture

I think a lot of the "bad reputation" of most of Goudy's work comes from the lasting influence of someone like Stanley Morison, who really disliked the man and his typefaces.

bieler's picture


Goudy Old Style was the first new metal typeface I ever bought. I don't know that I would use it now, mainly I guess because of over familiarity. But I have put up something for you over at my Type Road that I hope you enjoy.


George Horton's picture

At small sizes GOS looks better than I would expect, given how ugly it looks to me close up. But there are better Goudy types, especially if you're prepared to do a little editing. LTC/P22 Kaatskill, for instance, seems to me fundamentally better, but like most Goudy types it has its flaws. I tweaked eight glyphs in the roman that I thought could be improved, and the result is almost a workhorse. P22 allow editing, by the way.
(My tweaks were taking off the left part of the stroke on Q, redrawing the right leg on R, giving W a symmetrical cross-over, thickening the bars on f and t, slightly re-balancing the lower bowl on g, lightening the join on r, and pulling fractionally rightwards and lightening the bulb of y's descender. I originally made other changes, such as normalizing the asymmetrical o, which turned out not to be improvements.)

Steve Tiano's picture

Gerald, thank you very much. After the weird weekend I’ve had, it’s nice to call it a night with a reading like that. That’s pretty funny. You know, I’ve read a bit on Morison’s comments about and attitude towards Goudy and his work. Most of it sounds mean and petty. There were others, too, who did their best to diss Frederic. No one’s promised fair, but the way hew was spoken of and treated by some doesn’t seem right.

Stephen Tiano, Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist

kentlew's picture

I used Goudy Old Style a few times in my early days (who didn't, back then?). I suppose I would be one of those who thinks it looks dated. I wouldn't go so far as to say I *hate* it, but it's not high up on my list. When I encounter a book set it in it, I generally think it is a lackluster and uninspired choice.

If I were forced at gun point to use a Goudy face now, the Old Style would not be my choice. But that's just my taste.

-- K.

Giampa's picture

Kent: "I would be one of those who thinks it looks dated"

I have always found that in typography "dated" is a troubling concept. Except, at othe times I find it laughable. Everything is dated, even if it is-up-to-date unless there is an expiry date. Type is "not" a perishable product. We are not dealing with radishes and turnips. Typography is an evolution and if anyone has learned anything it is that if you break the rules of typography what do you get? Bad typography?

Goudy Oldstyle has not broken any rules yet it is "original".

One of the most revealing of Updikes errors was his back handed criticism of Goudy, He said, "truth is the daughter of time". Well, obviously Updike did not have a nose for the truth because Goudy is a valuable typographical asset. It is plain to see that many in the forum like Goudy oldstyle.

It would be wise to another peek at Goudy Oldstyle.


William Berkson's picture

My late Uncle Ben Lieberman in his book "Types of Typefaces" had a category called "Personal" style, as opposed to a more 'invisible' one, epitomized by Morris Fuller Benton. He put Goudy and Zapf (who is an admirer of Goudy) in that 'personal' category. He also put Dwiggins and Van Krimpen there, but I am doubtful that they really belong in the same way.

At any rate, Goudy Old Style and Palatino both have a lot of 'flavor'. The only problem is that you many not like the flavor. Personally I like them both, but I can see why some don't.

pattyfab's picture

Unfortunately for me both of those fonts (Goudy and Palatino) date to the early days of digital design, when there were so few decent fonts available. I used them to death back then and frankly can't look at either of them anymore. Futura falls into that category for me too, as does Copperplate Gothic. I'm not even going to discuss Helvetica or Times Roman since I never ever use them.

I like that categorization "personal" vs "invisible".

ryanholmes's picture

Goudy Old Style is nice and classy. I still use it. For someone to say they "hate it" is really being a pedantic ass. As a designer, it would not be my first choice anymore, but in limited doses I'll use it a bit. For years I did my resume in Helvetica 95 headers and Goudy Old Style for text. Looked great.

For extended copy though, I second the opinion stated above about a preference for ITC Berkeley Old Style. It's tone is a bit more playful, so you need to be careful with the application. But Meta Headline bold or black headers/titling and Berkeley OS text looks great in combination.

Gary Long's picture

Because of its lightness I don't like to use Goudy OS at less than 12 pt for regular body text, but surprisingly it looks good with tighter leading than one would expect, and so despite its wide stance and my self-imposed point size restriction, it can be quite economical. Maybe it's the texture of the design that creates a pleasing page with relatively tight leading. In fact, looking at some books typeset in Goudy OS, I prefer the appearance of those with a larger point size and modest leading to those with small type and more generous leading.

ryanholmes's picture

Good point Gary--Goudy OS sets economical, so it really works well in justified text blocks. And I agree, modest leading is best. Goudy's lightness combined with too much white space = a page that does not work.

Steve Tiano's picture

Just reading the section on Goudy Old Style in the old type designer’s own book, Goudy’s Type Designs. Basically, three points:

1. He didn’t name it after himself and preferred it wasn’t referred to that way.
2. He saw it as an advertising, not a book, face.
3. He himself “never ... cared for” it.

Stephen Tiano, Book Designer, Page Compositor & Layout Artist

William Berkson's picture

>3. He himself “never ... cared for” it.

That may be because of the shortening of the descenders, which was against his will. The Lanston version restores the original full descenders.

johndberry's picture

Goudy Old Style, like all of Goudy's typefaces, is distinctive and idiosyncratic. Even though we're all so used to it that it looks familiar, it's still a very peculiar typeface.

But the problem with Goudy Old Style isn't that. The problem is that there is no digital version that isn't much too light. Take a look at printed samples of the original metal type: there's nothing spindly about it. Yet digital versions (and before them photo versions) are nearly unusable because they don't take into account the ink spread that comes with letterpress printing. (And perhaps because they're based on too large a size of original; I'm not sure whether that happened with Goudy Old Style, but it certainly happened with other photo versions of popular metal typefaces.) Add to this the tendency of phototypesetters and digital typesetters to scrunch out the space between letters, and you end up with something more like a thicket of infinitesimal twigs than like black, readable type.

Goudy Catalog is a darker alternate, but it's not the same typeface.

bieler's picture


Well, metal type is usually viewed from specimens which incorporate ink spread and impression to a degree and give the illusion of weight. Fournier said it was not right to blame the letter for the fault of the ink.

When one uses a digital font for letterpress printing, it is the spindly typeface that is preferable. If not, it has to be modified (reduced in weight) to look correct when printed (EULAs be damned). And yes, a bit a tracking (at the smaller sizes).


The Bieler Press

William Berkson's picture

>The problem is that there is no digital version that isn’t much too light.

Ah, that's probably why I have noticed it often looking quite nice on signs, but poor in text. On signs the light weight is optically appropriate.

will powers's picture

"Hate" comes fairly close to it for me.

In the early and middle 1980s I was a partner in a letterpress book printing shop. One year we had a contract for a quarterly journal set in Goudy Modern [metal Monotype]. The typeface's quirks were getting to us, so one day I went into the office, got a copy of one or the other volume of Updike, and my partner & I took a solemn oath never again to use a Goudy face for text.

Next thing I know I'm an ad type director in Minneapolis, and something like 70% of the serif type specified by art directors at that agency was Goudy Old Style. Dang! I could not get away from it. I had to immerse myself in a study of the type and learn how to show art directors and typesetters how to make it look good. This was with Compugraphic's version, which, like most others, was too light for text sizes. I learned how to get the face set right, but I never did learn to love it. It is indeed too idiosyncratic for my taste in book work. When I have the choice of types, I will not use any Goudy faces. If I HAD to use a Goudy face nowadays, I'd take a look at some of the Lanston versions. Or I might just agree to be shot in the head.

& I agree with Kent: I see little work set in GOS that appears to have been carefully done.

I also feel the same way about most of Zapf's faces.


PS: I had some great November turnips from my Iowa cousin's garden last night. Really tasty. Good turnips have a bit of a tang to them, and that can remind me of some of the flourishes seen in Goudy's types. They are OK in turnips, but not in types.

William Berkson's picture

>I also feel the same way about most of Zapf’s faces.

I think the 'personal' styles of type have a problem that you can get sick of their assertive and sometimes quirky features. Maybe they are inherently better as display than as text. I see a lot of signs that I think look very good not only in Goudy Old Style, but also in Palatino. But I can't remember the last time I really liked the look of text in either one. (It may be that Aldus works well, I don't know.)

Somehow the stylistic assertiveness is appealing in many display situations, and tiresome in text...

poms's picture

>(It may be that Aldus works well, I don’t know.)
For sure, one of the best book faces from the (digital) past. Was a pleasure to read it …

Jackie Frant's picture


When I had a type shop in New York - my logo was done in Goudy. It is a lovely face, easy to read, and always looks new and fresh. I am amazed by how many do not recognize Goudy when they see it.

Well maybe I didn't have anything else to add - but I had to cast my vote - Yea Goudy!

kentlew's picture

Will: I'm not sure it's worth letting oneself get shot over ;-)

That said, if forced I'd probably make a go of Deepdene. Might have to make my own version -- but I would bet that Lanston's is good (haven't examined it closely). I've also seen Lanston's digital Kaatskill used to good effect on occasion. Even used it myself.

-- K.

Giampa's picture


"Good turnips have a bit of a tang to them, and that can remind me of some of the flourishes seen in Goudy’s types."

I closely examined Goudy's "Remington Typewriter" and was unable to find the flourishes you speak of. I find it rather tangless.

How are you doing these days? You wouldn't know what happened to Clifford Burke would you?


will powers's picture

Gerald: you are right, of course. Not all Goudy faces have tangs to them. Some are as tangless as potatoes. & that's all right. I guess I was mostly thinking of the faces that one might use for text / book work.

Drop me a private note to and I'll fill you in on Clifford Burke, etc.


David Sudweeks's picture

I just used it last night making this wordmark. This is my first time using the face at all.

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