The Definitive Dwiggins no. 42—The Annual of Bookmaking

The Annual of Bookmaking (New York: The Colophon, 1938). Binding design by W.a. Dwiggins.

The Annual of Bookmaking (New York: The Colophon, 1938). Binding design by W.a. Dwiggins.

W.A. Dwiggins was at the zenith of his career in 1938. The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) had held an exhibition of his work in November 1937, the first time that a living designer had been so honored. Over the course of the previous ten years Dwiggins had completed two typefaces (Metro and Electra) for Mergenthaler Linotype and was in the process of finishing up a third (Caledonia) for Mergenthaler Linotype; had designed four outstanding books for The Limited Editions Club and another eleven highly praised ones in the fine printing manner for other publishers; and established himself as the preferred freelance designer for Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. [1] Dwiggins’ level of success was made manifest in The Annual of Bookmaking 1927–1937 (New York: The Colophon, 1938), a book that could almost as easily have been called The Annual of Dwiggins.

The Annual of Bookmaking consists of signatures, varying in length from twelve to 32 pages and printed on different paper stocks, from twenty-five contributors in the publishing and printing world. In order of appearance they are: the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the University of California Press, Alfred A. Knopf, the University of North Carolina Press, the Rydal Press, Simon & Schuster, the Riverside Press, Wolff Book Manufacturing Co., the Walpole Printing Office, the Derrydale Press, Paul McPharlin, Hawthorn House, the George Grady Press, the Ward Ritchie Press, Yale University Press, Lanston Monotype Machine Co., Taylor & Taylor, the Press of the Woolly Whale, Haddon Craftsmen, The Limited Editions Club, the Overbrook Press, the Lakeside Press, Mergenthaler Linotype Co., the University of Oklahoma Press, and Pynson Printers. The latter printed the book.

Dwiggins’ connection with The Annual of Bookmaking begins with the binding which he designed with an abstract stencil pattern stamped in silver foil over bluish gray cloth on the left and beige cloth on the right. The hand-lettered title, stamped in black, was adjusted and reused for the spine and (in conjunction with an illustration by Rockwell Kent [1882–1971]) for the title page. The imprint and date on the binding are hand-lettered and stamped in silver foil. But Dwiggins’ presence in the annual extends beyond the cover and title page to be part, in varying degrees, of nine of the twenty-five contributions.

The annual opens with “By way of preface: Exordium, or this way in” by John T. Winterich (1891–1970) who immediately poses a ten part quiz, in which a score of 3 is considered passing. The third question is: “Who is Hermann Püterschein?”—a reference to Dwiggins’ alter ego and a signal that Dwiggins is going to loom large in the book.

The AIGA contribution is a list of the winners of the 50 Books of the Year competitions from its inauguration in 1923 through 1938. Dwiggins won once in 1927 (and contributed a title page to another winner), twice in 1929, once every year from 1930 to 1936, and twice in 1937 and 1938. Four of the winning books were done for Knopf: Paraphs (1929),  Seven Famous Novels by H.G. Wells (1934), Gunnar’s Daughter (1936) and Zest for Life (1937).

Although Dwiggins had only been designing whole books for Knopf since 1934, Alfred A. Knopf (1892–1984) took offense at the “few” AIGA 50 Books of the Year awards he had won. Thus, the Knopf contribution to the annual is a full-throated bit of boosterism for Dwiggins. The first page sets forth his case: “During the past ten years, thirty-three Borzoi Books (of which twenty-nine are represented in the following pages) were completely designed by W.A. Dwiggins. Only four of these were selected by the juries of the American Institute of Graphic Arts for the Annual Fifty Books of the Year!!!”

Opening page of insert "Some Borzoi Books Published 1927–1937 by Alfred A. Knopf" in The Annual of Bookmaking. Design probably by Sidney R. Jacobs. Borzoi by W.A. Dwiggins.

Opening page of insert “Some Borzoi Books Published 1927–1937 by Alfred A. Knopf” in The Annual of Bookmaking (New York: The Colophon, 1938). Design probably by Sidney R. Jacobs. Borzoi by W.A. Dwiggins.

In the fifteen pages that follow Knopf showcases Dwiggins’ work relentlessly. [3] The American Secretaries of State and Their Diplomacy (1927), Paraphs (1928), The Collected Prose of Elinor Wylie (1933), Seven Famous Novels of H.G. Wells (1934), Defy the Foul Fiend (1934), Kristin Lavransdatter (1935), Cast Down the Laurel (1935), The Longest Years (1935), Lucy Gayheart (1935), My Mortal Enemy (1926), Tsushima (1937), The Sunpapers of Baltimore (1937), The Charlatranry of the Learned (1937), The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield (1937), Serenade (1937), Young Henry of Navarre (1937), and a few others are all promoted in words and images. Jackets, bindings, title pages and interior pages are all shown. And some of Dwiggins’ views on book design, as expressed in colophons, are quoted. [4] The argument that Knopf made for Dwiggins being overlooked by the AIGA was a bit skewed since Dwiggins only designed a handful of books for the firm between 1927 and 1933.

"Some Borzoi Books"

“Some Borzoi Books Published 1927–1937 by Alfred A. Knopf” in The Annual of Bookmaking (New York: The Colophon, 1938). Showing book jackets by W.A. Dwiggins and his design of the title page for Tsushima. Note the 48 pt. Plimpton Initials.

Opening page of insert "Some Borzoi Books Published 1927–1937 by Alfred A. Knopf" in The Annual of Bookmaking. Design probably by Sidney R. Jacobs. Borzoi by W.A. Dwiggins.

Opening page of insert “Some Borzoi Books Published 1927–1937 by Alfred A. Knopf” in The Annual of Bookmaking (New York: The Colophon, 1938). Shown are the title page of Serenade and chapter openings for The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield and Young Henry of Navarre. The ornaments are by W.A. Dwiggins

Apparently Knopf wanted Dwiggins to contribute to the Borzoi insert, explaining his thinking behind the design of each book he had done. But Dwiggins begged off, saying,

To go back over the list and get down in words the reasons that led to the shape-up of each item—given that such a project were even possible—would be an appalling labor for me, because my look is ahead and not back: things done are done. I am sure that the amount of energy involved would be much better spent on the books now in hand, say, for the 38 list?

I know when you suggested it, it didn’t strike you as a tough job—it would be for me, because I lack the time even to scribble at themes that are easy going—and when one adds the condition of a theme that is hard going one simply curls up and dies…so, compelled to reply, I have to say, simply, no can do. I hate to say it…. And I am sorry I put off saying it. [5]

However, when The Annual of Bookmaking came out, Dwiggins was pleased by the Borzoi insert, telling Sidney R. Jacobs, that “…your section is a great WAD show, and your title makes me grin.” [6]  The excessive promotion did not bother the usually reticent designer.

“Some Borzoi Books Published 1927–1937″ did more than push Dwiggins’ work as a book designer for Knopf. The production credits for the signature indicated that the text was set on the linotype using Electra and “the initials [48 pt Plimpton Initials] are a new series designed by W.A. Dwiggins”,  thus reminding readers that he was a type designer as well.

"The Development of Type Faces" bu C.H. Griffith

“The Linotype Development of Type Faces” by C.H. Griffith in The Annual of Bookmaking (New York: The Colophon, 1938). Typography by W.A. Dwiggins and Paul A. Bennett. The ornamental border is an early showing of one of the Caravan units.

Dwiggins’ work as a type designer was brought to the fore in the Mergenthaler Linotype contribution to the annual entitled “The Linotype Development of Type Faces.” Written by C.H. Griffith (1879–1956), the insert summarized the history of Mergenthaler’s accomplishments over its 50+ years of existence.

Three years ago, Electra, conceived and drawn by W.A. Dwiggins, made its debut. An original design, it proved to be a significant addition to the typographic resources of find book and publication printers. Its reception has been so encouraging that Mr. Dwiggins has turned to the William Martin-Bulmer influence for inspiration in rendering a new design to provide a brilliant note in modern typographic expression. This contribution [a reference to Caledonia] will soon be available.

Because of the focus on typefaces for book work , Metro was left unmentioned—but not ignored. It was shown alongside Electra. Caledonia was not shown but “decorative material, designed for the Linotype by Mr. Dwiggins, is here shown for the first time.” This is a reference to Caravan which was not officially released until 1940. The Annual of Bookmaking was an opportunity for Dwiggins (as well as Mergenthaler Linotype and Alfred A. Knopf) to introduce new material.

Showing of Electra and Metro by W.A. Dwiggins in "The Development of Linotype Type Faces"

Showing of Electra and the Metro no. 2 family by W.A. Dwiggins. From “The Linotype Development of Type Faces” insert in The Annual of Bookmaking (New York: The Colophon, 1938). Typography by W.A. Dwiggins and Paul A. Bennett. The ornament became Caravan unit no. 1293.

“The Linotype Development of Type Faces” was designed jointly by Dwiggins and Paul A. Bennett. Its design is a reminder that Dwiggins’ annual contract with Mergenthaler Linotype was not limited to the design of typefaces. He was also on tap to do typographic work for the company, much of it uncredited.

Dwiggins’ work in the fine printing vein was noted in the annual by the Press of the Woolly Whale, the Limited Editions Club, the Overbrook Press, the Lakeside Press, and Pynson Printers. Melbert B. Cary, Jr. (1892–1941) of the Press of the Woolly Whale did not show any of the stencil illustrations from The Treasure in the Forest, but he did tell the story of how the colophon ended up with seven signatures, among them those of Dwiggins, “his alter ego Dr. Hermann Püterschein and Mwano Masassi, the gifted young African from Entebbe, Uganda, who was then studying with him.” Carl Purington Rollins (1880–1960), Printer to Yale University and Dwiggins’ close friend, wrote “The Limited Editions Club: A Survey of Eight Years.” In it he remarked, “If Dwiggins’ highly individualized decorations appear [in Limited Editions Club books], so, too, do such old friends as [John] Tenniel and [E.W.] Kemble and [F.O.C.] Darley.” In “The Story of the Overbrook Press” two of Dwiggins’ “delightful chapter headings” from One More Spring—chapters 6 and 1—are mashed up together on one page (see below). The stencil press mark Dwiggins made for the book is also shown in the insert.

Overbrook Press page from insert in The Annual of Bookmaking. Typography probably by Margaret Evans.

Page from “The Story of the Overbrook Press” insert in The Annual of Bookmaking (New York: The Colophon, 1938). Typography probably by Margaret Evans. Stencil illustration by W.A. Dwiggins from One More Spring (1935).

It was through Elmer Adler (1884–1962) and Pynson Printers that Dwiggins first worked for Alfred A. Knopf and Random House. [7] The Pynson Printers insert includes the title page of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (New York: Random House, 1929) as a sample of Dwiggins’ work with them along with his version of the company’s Pegasus mark.

Dwiggins’ dominance of The Annual of Bookmaking is especially striking when one realizes that Bruce Rogers 1870–1957, widely considered the leading American book designer of his generation, is virtually absent from the book. None of his work his shown, though his name is mentioned by the Riverside Press and Peter Pauper Press—and naturally appears in the AIGA 50 Books of the Year and Limited Editions Club checklists. After Dwiggins the most visible designers are Elmer Adler and George Salter (1897–1967) with four book designs shown, followed by Rockwell Kent with three and T.M. Cleland (1880–1964) with two. [8] This surprising bias reflects the influence of both Alfred A. Knopf and Adler on the contents of the book. But it also points to a shift occurring in American book design away from the traditionalism and fussiness of Rogers, Daniel Berkeley Updike (1860–1941),  Frederic Warde (1894–1939), John Henry Nash (1871–1947) and Porter Garnett (1871–1951)—all of whom are missing from the annual. Yet, at the same time proclaimed modernists like Robert Josephy (1903–1993) and Merle Armitage (1893–1975) are equally absent. Because of the overemphasis on Dwiggins, The Annual of Bookmaking fails to provide an accurate overview of American book design at the end of the 1930s.

One final aspect of Dwiggins’ remarkable presence in The Annual of Bookmaking speaks to his versatility. Two diagrams from his article “Counterbalanced Marionettes” (Puppetry 1935, pp. 48–55) are included in Paul McPharlin’s contribution “Puppetry Imprints & Their Making.” Thus, the annual reflects Dwiggins’ multiple roles as illustrator, ornamentalist, letterer, book designer, type designer, and marionette maker. None of his contemporaries could match his range of activities.

Illustrations from "Counterbalanced Marionettes" by W.A. Dwiggins reproduced in "Puppetry Imprints & Their Making" by Paul McPharlin in The Annual of Bookmaking.

Two diagrams from “Counterbalanced Marionettes” by W.A. Dwiggins. Reproduced in “Puppetry Imprints & Their Making” by Paul McPharlin in The Annual of Bookmaking (New York: The Colophon, 1938).

[1] Metroblack and Metrolite were released in 1929, followed by Metromedium and Metrothin in 1930; Electra was released in 1935; Caledonia was first used in 1938 but not officially released until 1939. For The Limited Editions Club Dwiggins designed Tartarin of Tarascon (1930), Droll Stories (1932), Towards a Reform of the Paper Currency (1932), and Gargantua and Pantagruel (1936). The other eleven notable “fine printing” books Dwiggins did between 1928 and 1938 are: Ballades from the Hidden Way by James Branch Cabell, Sonnets 1889–1927 by Edwin Arlington Robinson, Good Morning America by Carl Sandburg, and Elizabeth and Essex by Lytton Strachey in 1928; Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1929; Tales by Edgar Allan Poe and Beau Brummell by Virginia Woolf in 1930; The Time Machine by H.G. Wells in 1931; The Travels of Marco Polo in 1933; One More Spring by Robert Nathan in 1935; and The Treasure in the Forest by H.G. Wells in 1937.
[2] Some of the other questions are: “Was the forward seat ridden in a steeplechase in 1820?” and “In constructing a horse marionette, how many strings should be attached to the hock-rear and fetlock-joint of each hind leg?”. Winterich described the answers to his questions as a “load of non-agglutinant information” but noted that they are all in the book.
[3] Four of the pages are devoted to other designers: two to Elmer Adler of Pynson Printers and one to George Salter.
[4] For Dwiggins’ views on book design as expressed in his colophons see The Definitive Dwiggins no. 36.
[5] W.A. Dwiggins to Alfred A. Knopf, Tuesday [received 8 November 1937] in the University of Texas Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Files, Box 732, Folder 1.
[6] W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs 3 August 1938 in the University of Texas Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Files, Box 732, Folder 1.
[7] Dwiggins also did design work for The Colophon, the  journal devoted to the book arts that Adler established in 1930.
[8] Both Adler and Salter, who had emigrated from Germany in 1936, were promoted by Knopf. The latter was still called Georg. He was also promoted in the H. Wolff Manufacturing insert which he designed. Kent was highlighted in the Pynson Printers insert and his work illustrated the contribution by the Lakeside Press. Pynson Printers also showcased Cleland.