When Death Doth Us Part: Widowhood and Printing Presses

Women’s History Month 2014
Featuring: Julia Ferrari of the Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press

 Date of Visit: February 21, 2014

 1. David Walter Master Craft Gallery
The Whole Art of Language, Julia Ferrari & Dan Carr’s Presses at Golgonooza
81 Main Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

2. Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press
Box 111
Ashuelot, New Hampshire
Julia Front 2

In mid-2012 Julia Ferrari became the sole proprietor of the Golgonooza Letter Foundry and Press after 30 years of partnership with her husband, Daniel Carr. The premature death of Carr two years ago deprived Julia of both her life partner and her business partner, a double loss from which she is now beginning to emerge with renewed purpose. It has not been easy but she is determined to continue the press, or some incarnation of it, on her own.

Julia is not alone in her situation, in fact she is but one in a very long line of women who inherited their family presses and or foundries. (Please notice that we did not write their husbands’ presses, for most women were active partners in the family business from the start of their marriages.)

Printing Widows in History

For much of history women entered the graphic arts trade through family connections, by either marrying a printer or as a printer’s daughter with a share of the print shop as her dowry. Often the printer/husband was much older, having spent his youth establishing a shop and saving enough money to start a family. The younger wives would work at the press and eventually inherit the shop if no male children or partners were present. Out of convenience, the widow frequently married a senior printer within her employ. The press would then revert to male ownership and the cycle would repeat.

Apart from the remarriage option continuing the family printing business was a difficult but possible endeavor. The widows were familiar with the day-to-day press workings as it was common for the printing workshop to be physically intermingled with the domestic household. Proximity and familiarity alone were not enough; the women needed to be highly literate in their native tongue (and Latin) plus retain a network of writers and business contacts who were willing to work with a woman. If all of these criteria were in place the surviving widow could continue the press, providing her husband’s guild granted her permission.Caroline Guillard

A printer’s widow would usually identify her own work with her late husband’s name to capitalize on his reputation, however, some women printers credited themselves. Charlotte Guillard (d. 1557), the most notable of the 25 or so widows operating presses in early 16th century Paris, is recognized as the first important woman printer. She began her 50-year career when she married printer Berthold Rembolt, a partner in the prestigious printing house, the Soleil d’Or. A decade later Rembolt’s death left Guillard to continue the press alone until her subsequent marriage to Claude Chevallon. Guillard (then Madame Chevallon) imprinted with Chevallon’s name on their collaborative work until his death 15 years later. Working alone for the next 20 years Guillard printed over 150 entirely new editions, almost all in Greek or Latin, using her own name. Her substantial operation included four or five presses with three or four men at each press.

Guillard’s Italian counterpart, printer Caterina De Silvestro of Naples, also left her own mark, literally, when she inherited her press in 1517. She initially signed her books as “Wife of the Master ”, but within five years she changed the imprint to “In the house of Catherine de Silvestro.” Her self-attribution remained in use for eight years until her marriage to one of her husband’s former apprentices.Signora Bodoni and dtitle page

Margherita Dall’Aglio Bodoni, (1758-1851) inherited the press of her husband, the renowned Italian type designer, Giambattista Bodoni (1740– 1813). (Luckily, we will soon be able to learn much more about her in Valerie Lester’s upcoming book, Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His Work, scheduled for publication by David Godine in September 2014.) Ms. Lester shares this advance information: Ghitta (Bodoni’s preferred name for her) worked alongside Bodoni all their married life. She was 33 and he 51 when they married in 1791, and they had 22 years together before his death in 1813. She coped with the business side of the print works, dealing with correspondence and the many visitors they received. She wrote in Italian and French and studied English so that she could converse with their English customers. Ghitta took over the reins of the private press with Luigi Orsi, Bodoni’s foreman, at her side.”

 In a chapter devoted to Signora Bodoni, La Vedova (The Widow) Lester writes: “Just four days after Bodoni’s death, Ghitta wrote to Count Doru, informing him that Baron Pommereul had given her permission to work as a typographer in Parma. She immediately turned her attention to Bodoni’s uncompleted commissions and picked up exactly where her husband had left off: with the French classics ordered by Murat. The Théatre Complet de Jean Racine was on the press on the day of Bodoni’s death. Even as she grieved the loss of “il venerato e diletto mio Bodoni” [my revered and beloved Bodoni], she lost no time in fulfilling his wishes, and the Racine was published before the end of 1813.”

Signora Bodoni’s Discourse in Manuale Tipografico. Parma, 1818. Bridwell Library
Signora Bodoni’s Discourse in Manuale tipografico. Parma, 1818. Bridwell Library

Ghitta is most appreciated for printing her husband’s 600-page masterwork,  Manuale tipografico, upon whose title page she proudly imprinted her own title: La Vedova. In the opening Discourse by the Widow she describes the task of assembling the work: “From the start I was intimidated by the extreme difficulties presented by the mere collection and arrangement (following the guidelines established by his unique genius.) … having gathered and arranged the different alphabets and all the other articles necessary to form this entire work, I had it typeset and then printed. I knew very well the gravity of the burden I placed upon myself, but I husbanded all my resources, my love for him and his fame sustaining me. And I courageously set about the printing in order that Italy and Europe should not be defrauded of so distinguished a monument to the art of typography.”

For another 20 years Signora Bodoni subsumed not only her deceased husband’s business interests but also his professional reputation. When the French type designer, Didot, impugned Bodoni’s Virgil for “appalling proofreading and inferior literary quality,” the widow Bodoni countered by pointing out that Didot’s own edition of Milton contained 85 printing errors on 94 pages as compared to Bodoni’s 600-page Virgil which contained only 37.

Press Widows in America

The widow-inherits-press scenario occurred continuously in Europe and was likewise repeated in the American colonies. The first American printer on record is a woman, Elizabeth Glover, whose husband died during the family’s voyage from England. Arriving on shore with a cortege of five children, some tradesmen and servants, Mrs. Glover’s effects included a press shipped by her late husband. Mrs. Glovers’s involvement with the press is vague. She obtained permission to start the press (although not allowed to use her own name) and then assigned the operations to locksmith Stephen Daye. By the time Glover married the president of Harvard College in 1641 her press had published 1,700 copies of the first book to be printed in the colonies, The Whole Book of Psalms, now known as The Bay Psalm Book.

The second press in the colonies was also inherited, however the beneficiary, Dinah Nuthead, did not have the resources of Mrs. Glover and therefore worked hands-on at the press to assure her family’s financial survival. Perhaps due to her illiteracy, Widow Nuthead’s work was restricted to printing blank forms for the government.

(left) Lynda Bailey (right) Type unearthed from site of Dinah Nuthead’s press, St. Mary's City, Maryland
(left) Lynda Bailey (right) Type unearthed from site of Dinah Nuthead’s press, St. Mary’s City, Maryland

In 1738 Elizabeth Timothy, mother of seven, inherited not only her husband’s print shop but also his six-year partnership contract with Benjamin Franklin. Not permitted to use her own name, Timothy ran her South Carolina Gazette and press under the name of her 13-year-old son, Peter.  Franklin observed in his autobiography that Mrs. Timothy was a far better business partner than her husband. Mr. Franklin was perhaps partial to businesswomen as his brother’s widow, Ann Smith Franklin, successfully continued her inherited press as the official printer to the colony of Rhode Island.

In Philadelphia a convergence of both expertise and family connections left widow Lydia Bailey with one of the largest printing firms in the city. Her husband, an abysmally poor businessman, died leaving Bailey with four children and considerable debt. She mastered typesetting and went on to instruct the male apprentices at her press in the “mysteries of typography.” Not only was she able to get the business back into the black, she was able to buy her father-in-law’s failing press and turn that into a profitable venture. In 1813 she was awarded a lucrative contract as the City Printer of Philadelphia, a business relationship that extended over 30 years.

Preserving the Foundry

Continuity and conservation, rather than designing or making type, were the most important contributions made by women in the early type founding industry (as we have already noted in the case of Bodoni). The obituary of Mrs. Elizabeth Caslon (1730-1795), widow of type founder William Caslon II, extolled her ability to continue and expand the foundry well after her husband’s death in 1778. “Mrs. Caslon, as we have observed, had for many years habituated herself to the arrangements of the foundry; so that when the entire devolved upon her, she manifested powers of mind beyond the expectation from a female not then in early life.”  (Mrs. Caslon was 48 when she inherited the business). Later a falling out with her partner and son (Caslon III) left Elizabeth continuing the business “with talents uncommon to her sex and with a close attention extraordinary indeed at her advanced age” in partnership with her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Rowe Caslon.

Sarah Eaves, type designer John Baskerville’s housekeeper and eventual wife, continued printing for a short time after his death in 1775. Two volumes bear her sole name on the imprint. She kept the foundry active for another two years .Bertha Goudy
Although the history books may not give women their due their spouses always knew the value of a wife/partner. We can see evidence in Frederic Goudy’s writings of his wife Bertha M. Sprinks Goudy (1869-1935), his partner in The Village Press. From 1903 to 1935 the Goudy’s collaboratively worked in a shop modeled after the arts and crafts ideals of William Morris.

Goudy set up a foundry at the press and taught himself how to engrave the matrices as well as cast type. Bertha, by all accounts a quick study, was also an able typographer as evidenced in her cutting of the entire 24 point Deepdene italic. Although her husband was clearly the design star, having designed and produced up to 100-odd typefaces, Mrs. Goudy was also highly regarded for her typesetting and printing skills. These quotes from a 1933 Time Magazine article recognize her contributions.“Most of the sheets were hand set and printed by Bertha Goudy who can match her husband’s reputation as a type designer with her own as the world’s ablest woman printer.” The New York Times Review had equally glowing praise, “Highlight of last week’s exhibition was a broadside of the Oath of Hippocrates, set by Bertha Goudy in Fred Goudy’s Forum type. This was saluted by the greatest U. S. printer, Bruce Rogers, as ‘the finest piece of printing I ever saw.”

Bertha was not a widow: she predeceased Goudy in 1935 leading her grieving husband to discontinue their press and concentrate solely on type design and teaching. Goudy wrote of Bertha: “…her intelligent and ready counsel I welcomed and valued; her consummate craftsmanship made possible many difficult undertakings. She ever sought to minimize any exploitation of her great attainments, that the acclaim which rightfully belonged to her should come, instead, to me. For two-score years she unselfishly aided me in every way in my work in the fields of type design and typography, and enabled me to secure a measure of success which alone could never have been mine.”

Julia Ferrari’s Golgonooza Press :
Poetry, Printing, Punchcutting and Pasta

Julia Ferrari in the Water Gallery exhibition. (Below) Main Street Brattleboro, Walter Gallery on the right,
Julia Ferrari in the Water Gallery exhibition. (Below) Walter Gallery Main Street Brattleboro, Walter Gallery on the right

Although there is little recorded evidence of the abovementioned historical women we are able visit with their descendent, Julia Ferrari, who generously shared her insights. We met her on a chilly, rainy day in late February, following a treacherously icy drive to the David Walter Master Craft Gallery in the center of the artistic town of Brattleboro, Vermont. A front gallery room was filled with books, broadsides, metal type, digital type, monotype prints and typographic punches for her exhibit The Whole Art of Language, Julia Ferrari & Dan Carr’s Presses at Golgonooza. Walter generously provided space for us to settle in and conduct an easy conversation that would continue for five hours.

Ferrari’s career has combined aspects of self-exploration and serendipity. Born in rural southern New Jersey, she grew up living next door to her grandmother’s chicken farm. Self-described as quiet, artistic and cerebral, she was raised by her mother (a high school teacher) and father (a carpenter). Having a self-employed father proved to be an important role model in building Ferrari’s future confidence to navigate through the uncertain world of self-employment, she learned the invaluable lesson that working for one’s self is economically unpredictable but that it is possible to survive.

She enrolled in Northeastern University in Boston to study psychology but found that her Jungian interests did not match the behaviorally based curriculum. A rebellious mood prompted her to leave college to pursue the more expressive fields of art and poetry. One day she stumbled across a small advertisement in the alternative weekly Real Paper inviting anyone to “Come print your own poetry.” She called the telephone number and made her first connection with Daniel Carr.

Ferrari arrived at Carr’s print shop at 7 Sherman Street, Charleston (near Sullivan Square), a large wooden-framed building that housed an ad hoc artists’ coop. There was not an immediate love connection between Carr and Ferrari, but similarities of interest drew them together intellectually, especially their fondness for poetry and William Blake. Julia apprenticed under Carr for 6 months before their relationship bonded— romantically as well as professionally.

Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari printing together in 1985
Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari printing together in 1985

The couple joined with book artist Mark Olson (now at Innerer Klang Letterpress, Asheville, North Carolina) to create the Four Zoas Night House Ltd., which was an off shoot sister press to their Four Zoas Press (the name derived from a prophetic book by Blake). The small literary press published fine press books, chap books and poetry. Carr added a foundry division that cast type from a library of English and American Monotype faces. Finances were tight. To augment income Julia took part-time work at Monotype keyboarding for Michael Bixler’s type foundry.

By 1982 Ferrari and Carr were married. In that same year encroaching gentrification threatened the studio’s location and precipitated the couple’s search for an affordable building elsewhere. Friends in Winchester, New Hampshire, suggested a nearby industrial building in Ashuelot (a Native American name pronounced Ash-we-lit) that they subsequently purchased.

Ferrari working at the Monotype keyboard, 1985
Ferrari working at the Monotype keyboard, 1985

The Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press

Moving meant downtime in the shop and after about a month of no income Carr began to worry. Ferrari, accustomed to this sort of income lull from her childhood, pointed out that a pantry full of spaghetti would sustain them until an income flow was restored. Money was never a huge objective for the couple nevertheless outside clients were needed to sustain the pasta stockpile. Neither partner was much of a self-promoter and it was more than likely that new work would find them through word of mouth.

The Ashuelot press, dubbed the Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press (from a mythical city of art and science from William Blake), was a vertical operation of bookmaking and type founding: writing, layout design, printing, binding, typesetting, casting and punchcutting. The couple had a well-oiled working relationship sustained, no doubt, by their complete separation of tasks. Carr assumed the role of the poet, book designer, punchcutter and type caster while Ferrari was the visual artist who created illustrations, printed on the presses, bound books, proofread, edited, and composed type for the Monotype. (By then Ferrari had earned a degree in Fine Art and Art History from nearby Mount Holyoke College.)

Ferrari in the binding space and Carr casting type
Ferrari in the binding space and Carr casting type

Carr was the more visible partner through his poetry and writings in typographic periodicals as well as his typographic font designs. Inspired by the prospect of seeing his personal writings printed in his own custom typeface Carr set about learning the difficult crafts of type design and metal punch cutting. From 1990-1994 he created two text fonts Lyons and Cheneau.  His skills were further refined during a period overseas. In 1992 the type historian Stan Nelson invited the couple to participate in workshops at the University of Reading in England, an experience that expanded into an opportunity for Carr to study punchcutting at the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris. Training under the expertise of master craftsmen Christian Paput and Nelly Gable, Carr was awarded the Diplome of Matire-graveur Typography (Master of Punchcutting) after completing his original design, Regulus, (1997).Gift of the Leaves...REgulus Trosi Fontianes .JPG

The first completed* use of Regulus was in a collaborate book by the couple, Gifts of the Leaves (1997) published under Golgonooza’s Trois Fointaines division. Shown above is the colophon about the artist (Ferrari) and the poet (Carr). Ferrari created the art, the cover of pastepaper painting over boards, the binding, damped the paper and set the shaped colophon, which she helped print; the text printing, typeface and poetry were by Dan Carr.

Gifts of the Leaves as seen in the Waters Gallery exhibition.
Gifts of the Leaves as seen in the Waters Gallery exhibition.

Another Carr font, Parmenides, was part of The Fragments of Parmenides and an English Translation, a collaborative project with Robert Bringhurst and Christopher Stinehour for printer/publisher Peter Koch. Carr designed, cut and cast the Greek face and Ferrari set Bringhurst’s English translation in Golgoonoza’s Monotype Dante.

Ferrari holds Carr’s punches for Parmenides. Carr also completed three digital type faces; Cheneau (Judge's Choice ATypI 2000), Philosophie and Lyons.
Ferrari holds Carr’s punches for Parmenides. Carr also completed three digital type faces; Cheneau (Judge’s Choice ATypI 2000), Philosophie and Lyons.
The Reach of the Heart, Poems by Carr, monotypes by Ferrari, a collaborative layout
Poems by Carr, monotypes by Ferrari, a collaborative layout

Another important collaborative piece in the exhibition, The Reach of the Heart, 2008 (shown above) is “a sequence of poems that explore the small epiphanies of ordinary life.” Ferrari is currently organizing a publication covering the history of the press during the period of the couple’s partnership.

 Refounding Golgonooza

After several hours at the gallery we embarked upon the 20-minute drive to the Golgonooza Letter Foundry & Press location in nearby New Hampshire. The shop is located on the ground floor of a 150-year-old brick building with views over the Ashuelot River. At the entrance we were greeted by a picture of Carr whose presence still permeates the atmosphere.

Encouragement from Carr and Winnie the Poo.
Encouragement from Carr and Winnie the Poo.

The large shop is chock full of equipment of all types needed for professional printing, binding and type casting. Every surface is covered with metal type paraphernalia, paper or tools. Type cases shine with rows of fresh metal type, so clean and organized—it’s enviable.

(Left) Type case with gleaming fresh type (Right) Carr’s sketches for Regulus numerals.
(Left) Case with gleaming fresh type (Right) Carr’s sketches for Regulus numerals.

Like her predecessor Signora Bodoni, Ferrari not only mourns her beloved but feels compelled to complete his unfinished work. After discovering that Carr had not fully completed several numerals for Regulus, Ferrari has set about learning the art of punchcutting— as part of a revival she & compatriots refer to as the “refounding” of  Golgonooza.

During the spring of 2013 Ferrari traveled around Europe to learn as much as possible about the cutting and casting of type. In the Netherlands, she trained with John Cornelisse on comp casters. A note in her trip journal marks her resolve, “I can fix and run a Monotype keyboard, proof galleys, work on the frame, make corrections, and print, but after losing our skilled caster person, Dan, I feel it is important to put myself in front of the task of making letters in metal.” In London she visited at the Type Archive to train on the super caster with her former teacher, Gerry Drayton. “It was Gerry who first taught me how to take apart a Monotype keyboard in 1985, and put it back together, adjusted. Gerry was never sexist in this very masculine machine world, encouraging me to work to my potential alongside Dan, telling me stories of an all woman’s Monotype shop in Piccadilly Circus in London that did everything themselves except clean the pumps (too heavy). He always made me feel that it was within my power to master these typographic wonders of the industrial age.

Ferrari at the caster (left) and (right) practicing technique with Nelly Gable
Ferrari at the caster (left) and (right) practicing technique with Nelly Gable

Ferrari also returned to Paris and the Imprimerie Nationale where she visited with punch cutter Nelly Gable**. The two women planned a three-week punchcutting workshop which took place during the summer of 2013. When Gable first arrived at Golgonooza last July she set about cleaning Carr’s workspace and his rusted tools. Over the next few weeks of intensive work Ferrari was able to grasp the fundamentals of the art and when Gable departed the two friends pledged to continue their connection, albeit virtually, as Ferrari hones her skills.

Ferrari has many plans for her future. She will soon find a distributor for Carr’s digital fonts, publish a book on the history of the press, continue to study type cutting and casting and plans to establish a typographic center in Asheulot. She has all of the tools, the energy and an extremely large and helpful network of compatriots to launch her new direction.GLF POSTER5

Ferrari’s story echoes those of widow printers before her. Perhaps they, like Ferrari, felt a continued connection with their absent spouse by using his tools and carrying on their work. All of their husbands would probably be a little amazed at what their wives could accomplish on their own, and mostly likely, very proud.


*The lower case for Regulus was printed in a chapbook titled Intersection in 1989, but had a different fit for the letters.

**You may recall our earlier post about Gable and the fate of the historical typographical works at the Imprimerie Nationale. Gable is still working with the collection although it has moved to Douai in northern France for the time being.  There have been reports of plans for yet another move of artifacts and staff  to Normandy, to the site of the publishing archive IMEC (Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine) near Caen. It remains to be seen if this ever materializes.



Berry, John D. dot-font: Preserving Ancient Wisdom with Age-Old Printing Techniques, June 15, 2001, Hyperlink.

Bertha S. Goudy, First Lady of Printing: Remembrances of the Distaff Side of the Village Press. Tributes by Bruce Rogers, Mabel H. Dwiggins, Alice Goudy Lochhead, Paul A. Bennett, George Macy, and F. W. Goudy
The Distaff Side, 1958.

Davidson, Rebecca, W.  Unseen Hands: Women Printers, Binders and Book Designers. Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts Collection, 2009.  Hyperlink.

Hansard, T. C.. Typographia: an historical sketch of the origin and progress of the art of printing; with practical directions for conducting every department in an office: with a description of stereotype and lithography. Illustrated by engravings, biographical notices, and portraits.. London: Printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1825. Print

Lester, Valerie, Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His Work, scheduled for publication by David Godine in September 2014.

Jack, Belinda Elizabeth. The Woman Reader. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Print.

Parker, Deborah. Women in the book trade in Italy, 1475-1620. New York: Renaissance Society of America, 1996. Print.

Symposium on Hand and Computer, June 10-11, 2001 in the San Francisco Public Library. Speakers: Robert Bringhurst, Dan Carr, Peter Koch and Christopher Stinehour.

Tedder, Henry R. “John Baskerville”, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Vol 03, London: Smith, Elder and Co. Print.

Images Credits/Copyrights:

All images property in Section: Julia Ferrari’s Golgonooza Press, Poetry, Printing, Punchcutting and Pasta) are copyrighted by Nancy Stock-Allen, Julia Ferrari and Eric Allen.

Bertha and Fred Goudy Images:
America Marlborough, Emily Amodeo, Joanne Sagarese Pagnotta and James B Cosgrove, Marlboro Free Library, Acadia Publishing, Charleston South Carolina. Print.112

Typographica cover from A Specimen of the Village & Other Types Cast at the Village Letter Foundery [sic], Marlborough-on-Hudson, N.Y., by Fred & Bertha Goudy.” Typographica, Number 5, Summer, 1927.

3 thoughts on “When Death Doth Us Part: Widowhood and Printing Presses

  1. What a lovely story of Julias life and printing presses ! Thanks for allowing us to tag along and experience this great trip with you. 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on DC Design and commented:
    A fascinating article on women in the letterpress. I studied with Sam Hamill, Tree Swensen, Michael McCurdy, and David R. Godine. I taught a few workshops with Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari, who,is the focus of this wonderful article, reblogged.

  3. As a rare books cataloguer, fine art printmaker and widow of a librarian I found this story intriguing and inspiring. Thank you, from Co. Kildare, Ireland.

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