The Definitive Dwiggins no. 63—The Merrymount Press, W.K. Bixby, and Toile du Jouy

Benjamin Franklin's Letter on Balloons. Cover design by W.A. Dwiggins. Printed by The Merrymount Press.

A Letter from Benjamin Franklin on Balloons (St. Louis: Privately printed, 1922). Cover design by W.A. Dwiggins. Printed by The Merrymount Press.

One of Daniel Berkeley Updike’s most faithful clients from the mid-1910s through the end of the 1920s was William K. Bixby, a wealthy St. Louis industrialist, philanthropist, collector, and traveler. He collected art, rare books, manuscripts, and autographed letters. The latter two items were often printed in facsimile form by The Merrymount Press as gifts for Bixby to bestow on his friends. W.A. Dwiggins contributed—often without attribution—cover designs or lettering to several of these projects. The best known of these was Benjamin Franklin on Balloons: A Letter Written from Passy, France, January Sixteenth, MDCCLXXXIV (St. Louis: Privately printed for the friends of W. K. Bixby, 1922) for which Dwiggins designed the cover paper. [1]

“The cover-paper is adapted from a design of the period originally intended for the toile du Jouy, then manufactured at Jouy, near Versailles,” writes Bixby in his preface to Franklin’s letter. Updike, in Notes on the Merrymount Press & Its Work, is slightly more specific, stating, “For the cover paper an amusing ‘balloon’ design used by Oberkampff [sic] for a printed chintz was chosen, being redrawn for our purpose by Mr. Dwiggins.” Dwiggins was paid $100 for his work. [2]

In trying to track down the toile du Jouy that had been the basis for the book’s cover design, I discovered that Dwiggins did more than make a simple redrawing of an 18th century chintz design. Updike’s comment on the design referred to Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf (1738–1815), a German-born French industrialist who founded the royal manufacture of printed cotton at Jouy-en-Josas. His products came to be known as toile du jouy. But Oberkampf was not a designer. His chief artist was Jean-Baptiste Huet (1745–1811) who is credited with a design that includes a manned balloon (see below).

Detail of toile du Jouy from Collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

Detail of toile du Jouy ”Le Ballon de Gonesse” from the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Designed by Jean-Baptiste Marie Huet (1784).

This toile du Jouy, taken from the collections at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, appears to be the model for the cover design of A Letter from Franklin on Balloons. Is this the printed chintz that Updike refers to in Notes on the Merrymount Press & Its Work? At first glance it would seem so, but close inspection reveals that the two images differ a great deal. The elements in Dwiggins’ design are closer in scale to each other than in Huet’s. Many of them have been reversed: the crowd of men and women with horses, the man with a stick, the run-away horse, the pointing woman, and the church with a steeple. Some have been edited (e.g. Dwiggins has changed the church with a steeple, deleting a wing and adding a stone bridge) and others removed (e.g. Dwiggins has dropped the man climbing a tree among several other elements). More importantly, the cover design of A Letter from Franklin on Balloons includes a fair number of things not in this Huet toile du Jouy: a temple, a second church behind the church with a steeple, a shack, a young couple, and another balloon. Where did these items come from?

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston does not have a toile du Jouy with balloons in its collection. The correspondence between the two men includes a letter which implies that the source of the cover design was not an actual piece of fabric but an image of it in an unnamed book sent to Dwiggins by Updike with this note:

The enclosed has just come out from France and gives the material to work on for the balloon design. John [Bianchi] tells me that the Montfgolfier balloon (plate 41, centre) was a hot-air balloon and did not carry passengers, but that the one to the left on Plate 40 did. I daresay you can work them both in, but the one that carried passengers is the kind of balloon described in Franklin’s letter; so it should be the principal subject. [3]

The only book about aeronautical balloons published in France in 1922 is L’aéronautique des origines à 1922 by Henri La Vaulx, Paul Tissandier and Charles Dollfus (Paris: H. Floury, 1922). In the digital facsimile there are no plate numbers, but item no. 7 in the introduction is labeled “Le ballon de Charles et Robert. Carton de J.-B. Huet, pour la manufacture de toiles imprimées d’Oberkampf, á Jouy.” The image of the Charles and Robert balloon (see below) is the same as the one in Dwiggins’ cover paper design, however in all other particulars it is not a match. This suggests the Vaulx/Tissandier/Dollfus book is either not the one that Updike loaned Dwiggins or that his design did not rely upon it. [4]

Toile du Jouy détail by Huet (1784)

“Le ballon de Charles et Robert” toile du Jouy by J.-B. Huet (1784) from L’Aeronautique des origines á 1922. From the New York Public Library Digital Collections. Image ID 169343o.

Based on its decorations, the second balloon in Dwiggins’ cover design is clearly modeled on one used by the Montgolfier brothers. His image of it is similar to a hand-colored etching posted on Pinterest (see below) whose original source I have been unable to track down. [5] Where did Dwiggins see it?

Print depicting Montgolfier balloon in which Pilätre de Rozier and François Laurent, the marquis d'Arlandes, became the first human beings to make an ascent. From airandspace.si.edu via Pinterest.

Print depicting Montgolfier balloon in which Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent, the marquis d’Arlandes, became the first human beings to make an ascent. From airandspace.si.edu via Pinterest.

The identity of the multiple sources Dwiggins used as inspiration for the cover design of A Letter from Franklin on Balloons remains a mystery. However, a related mystery—the identity of the artist who created the similar all-over cover design for Two Letters: Wayne and Washington—has been solved. [6] Julian Pearce Smith, in his bibliography of The Merrymount Press appended to Notes on the Merrymount Press & Its Work, claimed that the cover design of “was adapted by W.A. Dwiggins from an 18th-century illustration.” When Dwiggins was asked about this by Dorothy Abbe, he said he did not do any work on the book. Both John Bianchi and his son, Daniel Berkeley Bianchi, said that the design was the work of Rudolph Ruzicka. [7] The Merrymount Press business records show that Ruzicka was paid $200 but that only half of the money was credited to Two Letters. [8]

It is not entirely true, despite the disclaimers by Dwiggins and the two Bianchis, that Dwiggins had nothing to do with Two Letters. The Merrymount Press business records indicate that he was paid $10 for hand-tooling the zinc plate for the seal of the United States on the title page. [9]

Two Letters (St. Louis: Privately printed for W.K. Bixby, 1922). Cover design by Rudolph Ruzicka. Printed by The Merrymount Press.

Wayne and Washington Letters (St. Louis: Privately printed for W.K. Bixby, 1922). Cover design by Rudolph Ruzicka. Printed by The Merrymount Press.

Ruzicka’s design was reused for Martha Washington’s Letter: Written from Philadelphia, June 15, 1794, to Mrs. Frances Washington (St. Louis: Privately printed for W.K. Bixby, 1922) but with the colors changed to red and blue. Dwiggins contributed the lettering for two vignettes (the introduction and the colophon) in the book. For both, the lettering was made to look as if it was from the Colonial era with the latter mimicking a Bewick wood engraving. [9]

Martha Washington's Letter. Cover design by Rudolph Ruzicka. Printed by The Merrymount Press.

Martha Washington’s Letter (St. Louis: Privately printed for W.K. Bixby, 1922). Cover design by Rudolph Ruzicka. Printed by The Merrymount Press.

The cover design for A Letter from Benjamin Franklin on Balloons is evidence that Dwiggins did not always copy the material supplied to him by Updike faithfully. In some instances he not only adapted it for contemporary printing conditions, but also adjusted it to suit his own design sensibilities as well as those of Updike. Yet more research is needed to fully identify his sources for this cover design.

Notes
1. Dwiggins’ role in A Letter from Benjamin Franklin on Balloons is not acknowledged in the book itself, but is mentioned the bibliography of the Press by Julian Pearce Smith included in Notes on the Merrymount Press & Its Work by Daniel Berkeley Updike (Boston: The Merrymount Press, 1934), p. 40.
2. See the entry for June 6, 1922 in Dwiggins’ account books in Folder 6, Box 81(1), W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library; and the entry for June 28, 1922 in the Merrymount Press Invoice Book December 1919–July 1922 in The Merrymount Press Business Records, Huntington Library.
3. D.B. Updike to W.A. Dwiggins, 3 May 1922. Letter 108:635 in The Merrymount Press Business Records, Huntington Library.
4. A further reason to doubt that L’aéronautique des origines à 1922 is the book that Updike was referring to is that there is no image of the Montgolfier unmanned balloon flight (the Aerostat Réveillon of 19 September 1783), though there are three plates showing manned Montgolfier balloons (nos. 10, 12 and 13). Yet, there is no other French book on balloons from either 1921 or 1922 listed in Worldcat. Decorative Textiles: An Illustrated Book on Coverings for Furniture, Walls and Floors…. by George Leland Hunter (Philadelphia and London: J.P. Lippincott Company and Grand Rapids: The Dean Hicks Company, 1918) includes several plates of Huet’s toile du Jouy but none match elements in Dwiggins’ cover design.
5. The print comes from the Harry F. Guggenheim Collection at the National Air and Space Museum, but its original provenance is unclear. It is not included in L’aéronautique des originés des 1922.
6. Two Letters: I. Anthony Wayne and Lake George; II. Washington’s Announcement of Arnold’s Treason (St. Louis: Privately printed by [sic] W.K. Bixby, 1922).
7. Daniel B. Bianchi to W.A. Dwiggins 2 June 1948 inserted into copy of Two Letters in Dorothy Abbe Collection, Boston Public Library; John Bianchi to Noble 27 August 1946 in Folder 6, Ruth Noble Papers, Boston Public Library. Ruzicka’s design was apparently inspired by another toile du Jouy by Huet, “America Paying Homage to France” (c.1783). Where he saw it is also a mystery as the copy in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (see below) was not acquired until 1951.
8. See entry for March 10, 1922 in Merrymount Press Invoice Book December 1919–July 1922, The Merrymount Press Business Records, Huntington Library: “Rudolph Ruzicka For cover design and drawing based on chintz design 200.00 1/2 charged to this job.” Was the other half of the fee applied to the Martha Washington’s Letter account?

"America Paying Homage to France" (c.1783) toile du Jouy by Jean-Baptiste Huet. Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“America Paying Homage to France” toile du Jouy by Jean-Baptiste Huet (c.1783). The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

9. See the entry for April 28, 1922 in the Merrymount Press Invoice Book December 1919–July 1922, The Merrymount Press Business Records, Huntington Library. The same entry includes payment of $15 to Dwiggins for “Lettering for vignettes: ‘D.B. Updike’ [sic] and ‘Preface’ [sic].” This refers to his lettering of “Introduction” and “The Merrymount Press / Boston” for Martha Washington’s Letter.