John J. Carow, 87, who retired from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in 1948 after 39 years of service, died Sunday at Sibley Memorial Hospital following a stroke.

Mr. Carow was born in Brooklyn. He and his family moved to Washington when he was 10 years old. In 1909, when he was 16, he became an apprentice at Engraving and printing. He was the superintendent of its rotary division at the time of his retirement. He lived in Brookmont, Md.

In private life, Mr. Carow was a musician -- he taught himself to play the piano -- and a painter of glass. His glass paintings were done by an old techinique in which inked lines are transferred from paper to glass. The glass then is painted in oils.

In 1967, several of Mr. Carow's paintings were exhibited at the Foundry Methodist Church in Washington. One of his pictures is in the collection of the Library of Congress and another is owned by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in the John Marshall House in Richmond.

Mr. Carow's survivors include his wife, Gerttude L., whom he married in 1915, of Brookmont; a son, Glenn of Oxon Hill; two daughters, Phyllis Kreps and Barbara Canto, both of Silver Spring, a sister, Dorothy Merrick of Chevy Chase; a brother, Herbert of Mohican Hills, Md.; eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.