The Definitive Dwiggins no. 53—Harper’s Magazine continued
W.A. Dwiggins’ work for Harper’s Magazine did not end with the appearance of tailpiece no. 7 in the August 1926 issue. In the November 1930 issue a new series of decorative elements—headpieces, tailpieces and column frames—began to appear. They are abstract rather than pictorial or floral like the first series. Although there is no documentation about their origin, I have some speculative ideas about how they came to be.
At the time that Dwiggins was redesigning Harper’s Magazine in 1925 a major decorative shift was underway. The Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris from April 28 to November 30 of that year, brought trends that had been bubbling along for a decade or more to the forefront. Suddenly design was “modern” or “modernistic”—Art Deco in current terminology. Although this trend exploded in France and spread throughout Europe it did not reach the United States until two years later.  Thus, by the time that Dwiggins’ redesign was finally settling in, it was looking old-fashioned.
Meanwhile, beginning in 1926 Dwiggins’ designs for other clients were, coincidentally or not, moving in a similar “modern” abstract direction. Much of this came about through his exploration of stenciled decoration using celluloid templates. This experimentation exploded into full view in 1928. In January he began work on a series of “geometrical ornaments” for the paper company S.D. Warren. They appeared later that year in Warren’s Standard Printing Papers, a boxed set of thirty different grades of papers. In its September, October and November 1928 issues The American Printer reused ten of these ornaments as column headpieces. 
In April 1928 Paraphs, Dwiggins’ book of short stories and essays, was published by Alfred A. Knopf. Each of them was adorned with a stenciled decoration. In trying to sell the manuscript to Knopf, Dwiggins wrote:
Here is the ms and dummy of a little book that I have been scheming. Naturally I offer it to you first.
Your reader will have trouble classifying it—neither poetry, essays, nor good red fiction—but ask him not to give it the N.G. at once on that account!
It will not interest the counting room—but do you want it for décor on your list?
The ornament is a new style of typographic embellishment that I have been experimenting with, based on mechanical forms. Experts in these matters say that it is potent. 
The American Printer was not the only publication to take notice of Dwiggins’ new style of ornament that fall. In Direct Advertising vol. XIV, no. 3 Paul Hollister (1890–1970) wrote a profile of Dwiggins entitled “Typographic Fly-Specks” that showed three of the S.D. Warren ornaments (including no. 14 above) along with several other stenciled designs. Beatrice Warde (1900–1969), under the pseudonym Paul Beaujon, included Dwiggins (alongside Bruce Rogers and T.M. Cleland) in an article entitled “On Decorative Printing in America” in The Fleuron VI. She described his stencil work as a mix of the grotesque and the arabesque with influences from chinoiserie and the “art nègre style of ornament brought from the Congo to titillate the modern French atelier“.  Two of the S.D. Warren ornaments appeared in Warde’s article.
A year late Warde wrote a similar article for The Penrose Annual vol. XXIV in which Dwiggins’ stencil ornaments were singled out.
Considerable attention has been aroused of late in American publishing circles by the experiments of Mr. W.A. Dwiggins, in the use of stencil for the decoration of books. Mr. Dwiggins cuts patterns with a scalpel on thin celluloid, and arranges them much as type ornaments would be arranged, but of course with a greatly increased flexibility, as he is not bound to the foursquare rigidity of the printer’s flower. A line block is made of the assembled whole. The units he employs are startlingly modernistic.
Mr Dwiggins has also experimented in the use of flat colour, both for the paper companies (whose policy of issuing magnificent specimens cannot be too highly commended), and for printed books such as Milton Waldman’s America Conquers Death, as recently issued by W.E. Rudge of New York. The “pochoir” process, as it is called in France, allows, of course, of a peculiar intensity of colour, but this can be fairly imitated on zinc or lino and with pigments which are less fugitive than those of water-colour. 
Even if Thomas Bucklin Wells, the editor of Harper’s Magazine, was not directly aware of Dwiggins’ new aesthetic bent, he surely would have discovered it via Arthur W. Rushmore, the head of production at Harper & Brothers, or Ordway Tead (1891–1973), the editor of social and economic books at the publisher. Both men were involved with the publication of Dwiggins’ treatise Layout in Advertising in 1928. But why did it take two more years before Dwiggins’ abstract decorations appeared in Harper’s Magazine?
The November 1930 issue of Harper’s Magazine had fifteen decorations in the new style: eleven headpieces, one tailpiece and frames for “The Lion’s Mouth”, “Editor’s Easy Chair” and “Personal and Otherwise” columns. Here are the tailpieces in the order they appeared:
For the three columns the typeface was changed from Scotch Roman Italic to Bodoni Italic. But the variety of flanking rule combinations remained the same. Here are the frames in the order in which they appeared in the November 1930 issue:
The lone tailpiece in the November 1930 issue of Harpers Magazine was taken from the frame for the “Editor’s Easy Chair” column.
Three more decorations in the new series appeared in the January 1931 issue of Harpers Magazine and a final one in the April 1931 issue: one headpiece and three tailpieces. One tailpiece was reused from “The Lion’s Mouth” column header.
The new series of decorations did not supplant the original 1925/1926 series. In fact, the latter not only continued to be used, but used more often. In examining issues of Harper’s Magazine between 1931 and the early 1940s I never found the new series of Dwiggins ornaments used in more than one issue consecutively. Instead, it was employed roughly every third or fourth issue.
Confined between two horizontal lines, the new series of Dwiggins ornaments are not as visually innovative as the set of S.D. Warren ornaments. They are essentially symmetrical.  This is unusual for Dwiggins whose decorative designs tended to be asymmetrically symmetrical (as below). This is one reason why the abstract art moderne new series of Harper’s Magazine decorations is less interesting than the pictorial first series. And it might explain why the magazine reverted back to the first series rather than wholeheartedly embrace the new one.
In future posts I will explore other projects in which Dwiggins created a series of decorative designs or small vignettes. The redesign of Harper’s Magazine was the first time that he employed this strategy, but it was not the last.
 See The Definitive Dwiggins no. 15 for an explanation of why the United States lagged in adopting Art Deco design.
 See The American Printer (September 1928), pp. 42, 48, 51, 56, and 62; (October 1928), pp. 38, 54, and 63; and (November 1928), p. 35.
 W.A. Dwiggins to Alfred A. Knopf, 24 May 1927. University of Texas, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Papers, Box 731, Folder 12.
 “On Decorative Printing in America” by Paul Beaujon in The Fleuron VI, p. 85.
 “American Artists Tend to Study Graphic Technique” by Paul Beaujon in The Penrose Annual vol. XXIV (1929), p. 85.
 The new series of Harper’s Magazine ornaments are structurally symmetrical but not symmetrical in detail. Throughout his career Dwiggins avoided pure symmetrical designs, even after he began to use stencil templates.