The Definitive Dwiggins no. 98—S.S. McClure Co.

In the span of less than two weeks—between the end of December 1907 and the middle of January 1908—W.A. Dwiggins was commissioned by the S.S. McClure Co. to design six book covers. A month later he was asked to design a seventh cover. That same day he also received four assignments for McClure’s Magazine. [1] The books were, in order, Through the Magic Door by Arthur Conan Doyle and Piano Playing: A Little Book of Simple Suggestions by Josef Hofmann on December 30, 1907; The Guest of Quesnay by Booth Tarkington, Barry Gordon by William Farquhar Payson, and Reminiscences of a Ranchman by Edgar Beecher Bronson on January 7, 1908; The Vermilion Pencil by Homer Lea on January 11, 1908; and The Under Groove by Arthur Stringer on February 11, 1908. [2] The magazine assignments were for “frames” for poems: “The Heart Knoweth” by Charlotte Wilson,  “Her Fruits” by Mary Ellen Roberts, “There Is No More any Prophet” by Samuel McCoy, and “The Unremembered” by Florence Wilkinson. [3]

All of these commissions were instigated by Daniel Berkeley Updike of The Merrymount Press, who recommended Dwiggins to a series of New York publishers as part of a campaign to raise funds to enable the designer and his wife to take an extended trip to Europe in the spring of 1908. [4] The book designs, with the exception of The Under Groove, came from W.A. Bradley (1878–1939), art director and literary advisor to the S.S. McClure Co. [5] T.M. Cleland, who had became art director of McClure’s Magazine in late 1907, was responsible for the the magazine frames and probably for The Under Groove cover commission as well. [6]

Here are the binding designs that Dwiggins did for McClure, along with some basic bibliographical notes, a few comments on his designs, and some background on the books and their authors.

Binding for Through the Magic Door by Arthur Conan Doyle (New York: The McClure Company, 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. From the collection of Paul Shaw.

Binding for Through the Magic Door by Arthur Conan Doyle (New York: The McClure Company, 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

Through the Magic Door. Arthur Conan Doyle (New York: The McClure Company, 1908)
276 pp., 5.25 x 7.75. Set in Scotch Roman. Dark blue cloth binding with gold stamped title and “door” device on front; gold stamped title, author and Aldus leaf on spine. Binding design hand-lettered by W.A. Dwiggins. Three justified lines of letterspaced classical Roman capitals on the front. The A is notably narrow.

Through the Magic Door is a collection of previously published articles by Arthur Conan Doyle about the books in his library. In it he “explores an eccentric range of topics, from the unreasonable opinions of Samuel Johnson to the deficiencies of Ivanhoe and the fascination of Treasure Island,” to quote Cambridge University Press. It is a book that Dwiggins would have enjoyed reading.

Piano Playing by Josef Hofmann (New York: The McClure Company, 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

Piano Playing: A Little Book of Simple Suggestions by Josef Hofmann (New York: The McClure Company, 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

Piano Playing: A Little Book of Simple Suggestions. Josef Hofmann. (New York: The McClure Company, 1908).
69 pp., 4.75 x 7.75. Set in Scotch Roman. Binding design. Green cloth binding with gold stamped hand lettered title; spine blank. Binding design hand-lettered by W.A. Dwiggins. Title in letterspaced italic swash capitals and author’s name in italic; all centered. The title lettering is influenced by Caslon Swash Italic; but note the narrow A.

Josef Hofmann (1876–1957), a student of Anton Rubenstein, was a leading exponent of Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann. In The Great Pianists,Harold Schonberg said this of Hofmann:

His style on it was one of the phenomena of twentieth-century pianism. Above all he had tone: a magical tone, never hard even at moments of greatest stress; a shimmering, tinted, pellucid tone. His playing had a degree of spontaneity, of “lift,” of dash, daring and subtle rhythm, that was unparalleled. Perhaps only his close friend Rachmaninoff was titan enough to stand by his side as an equal. But even Rachmaninoff never had Hofmann’s poetry, color and vitality. Nobody so made the piano sing.

When he played, there was the feeling of a tremendous and original musical personality. His rubato was carefully measured, yet it flowed freely and naturally. His playing always had breathing space, and his basses exceptional clarity. (Hofmann used to despise what he scornfully called “right-hand pianists.”) Never did the playing sag, never were there dead spots, never did the tensile quality slacken. A strong classic element was represented in the purity of his pianistic approach. And his interpretations, romantic but not exaggerated, had a measure of classicism. [7]

Despite its brevity, Hofmann’s Piano Playing was an influential book, reprinted with several subtitle changes over the years. It continues to be cited today.

Binding for Reminiscences of a Ranchman by Edgar Beecher Bronson (New York: S.S. McClure Co., 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Binding for Reminiscences of a Ranchman by Edgar Beecher Bronson (New York: The McClure Company, 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

Reminiscences of a Ranchman. Edgar Beecher Bronson. (New York: The McClure Company, 1908).
314 pp., 5.25 x 7.75. Set in Scotch Roman. Green cloth binding with gold stamping on spine and front; blind stamped border and geometric ornament on front. Binding design hand-lettered by W.A. Dwiggins. Title and author rendered in calligraphic Roman capitals; letters nested in REMINISCENCES on the spine.

Edgar Beecher Bronson (1856–1917) was the nephew of Henry Ward Beecher. In his 20s he moved West to become a cowboy and then a rancher. Reminiscences of a Ranchman is the story of his adventures as he learned the cattle business under Clarence King before setting up his own ranch in Sioux County, Nebraska. The book continues to be a favorite for those fascinated by cowboy life.

Binding for The Vermilion Pencil by Homer Lea (New York: S.S. McClure Co., 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Binding for The Vermilion Pencil by Homer Lea (New York: The McClure Company, 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

The Vermilion Pencil: A Romance of China. Homer Lea. (New York: The McClure Company, 1908).
331 pp., 5.25 x 7.25. Set in Caslon. Dark green cloth binding with gold stamped title, Chinese dragon decoration stamped in vermilion and gold, and stamped vermilion double-ruled border on front; vermilion Chinese decoration and gold stamped name on spine. Binding design by W.A. Dwiggins. Title and author lettered in calligraphic Rustic Roman capitals.

Homer Lea (1876–1912) was an adventurer and geopolitical strategist as well as an author. Between 1900 and his death in 1912, he was closely involved in the turbulent political affairs of China. The Vermilion Pencil is a romance novel about the relationship of a French missionary and the young wife of a Chinese viceroy based on his experiences in China.

Binding for Barry Gordon by William Farquhar Payson (New York: S.S. McClure Co., 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

Binding for Barry Gordon by William Farquhar Payson (New York: The McClure Company, 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

Barry Gordon. William Farquhar Payson. (New York: The McClure Company, 1908).
342 pp., 5 x 7.75. Set in Scotch Roman. Dark blue/gray binding with gold stamping of lettering and Arabesque ornamentation on front and spine. Binding design by W.A. Dwiggins. Author’s name and title in Roman capitals with palmate Y and Rustic curled G. (Note that online editions of the book at Ohio State University and the University of California at Berkeley have brown cloth bindings.)

William Farquhar Payson (1876–1939) was a journalist and author. Barry Gordon, his sixth novel, was serialized in Munsey’s Magazine from February to August 1908. It is the melodramatic story of a young man’s struggle with “the curse of his old Virginia family, the drink habit”. Most of the action takes place in Morocco, which explains Dwiggins’ Arabesque decoration. The cast of Cheated Hearts, the 1921 movie version, included Boris Karloff.

Binding for The Guest of Quesnay by Booth Tarkington (New York: S.S. McClure Co., 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

Binding for The Guest of Quesnay by Booth Tarkington (New York: The McClure Company., 1908). Design by W.A. Dwiggins. Collection of Paul Shaw.

The Guest of Quesnay. Booth Tarkington. (New York: The McClure Company, 1908).
335 pp., 5.25 x 7.125. Set in Scotch Roman. Red cloth with title, author and border stamped in gold on front; lettering and border gold stamped on spine. Binding design (signed D.) by W.A. Dwiggins. Title lettered in old-style roman capitals with author’s name in italic; all centered. Rococo border with vines.

Booth Tarkington (1869–1946) is best known for his novels The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) and Alice Adams (1921). Although known as a Midwestern regionalist, The Guest of Quesnay, a story of two young American painters, is set in Paris. It was serialized in Everybody’s Magazine from November 1907 to April 1908.

The variety of lettering treatments and decorative styles on these six bindings for The McClure Company show how quickly Dwiggins had outgrown the Arts & Crafts influence of William Morris and his mentor Frederic W. Goudy. This maturation process can be attributed to the influence of Updike who introduced him to Renaissance and Neoclassical art. While Dwiggins’ level of skill as a letterer in 1908 was matched by a number of his contemporaries, he surpassed all of them—including Edward Johnston, Goudy and Cleland—in the variety of his repertoire.


 

"Her Fruits" by Mary Eleanor Roberts (McClure's Magazine May 1908, p. 189). Decorative frame by W.A. Dwiggins.

“Her Fruits” by Mary Eleanor Roberts (McClure’s Magazine May 1908, p. 189). Decorative frame by W.A. Dwiggins.

"The Heart Knoweth" by Charlotte Wilson (McClure's Magazine June 1908, p. 81). Illustration and frame by W.A. Dwiggins.

“The Heart Knoweth” by Charlotte Wilson (McClure’s Magazine June 1908, p. 81). Illustration and frame by W.A. Dwiggins.

Dwiggins’ two published frames for McClure’s Magazine also show Updike’s influence. The one for “Her Fruits” could be mistaken for one of Cleland’s many bits of decoration for the magazine, except for the presence of the D. signature. However, the illustration for “The Heart Knoweth” is distinctively Dwiggins. It has a density of action reminiscent of The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello. (But what does a medieval battle scene have to do with Wilson’s poem?)

During the six-week period that Dwiggins was designing book covers for The McClure Company and decorative frames for McClure’s Magazine, he was also doing work for other clients. His account books during that time record seven jobs for Atkinson, Mentzer & Grover (a textbook publisher based in Chicago), six for The Merrymount Press, and one each for Ginn & Co. and Alfred Bartlett. Two of the Merrymount Press jobs commissioned secured from New York publisher T.Y. Crowell by Updike as part of his campaign to raise money for Dwiggins’ European trip:  A Stevenson Calendar by Florence L. Tucker (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1909) and Christmas Builders by Charles Edward Jefferson (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1909). [8]

Notes
1. See the entries in Dwiggins account books for 30 December 1907, 7 January 1908, 11 January 1908, and 11 February 1908 in Folder 2, Box 81(2), 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library.
2. Despite the success of several of these titles, Samuel McClure sold the book business, which had been formed in 1900, to Doubleday, Page & Co. in November 1908 in order to focus his attention on the magazine. See The New York Times 13 November 1908 , p. 1.
3. “The Heart Knoweth” was published in McClure’s Magazine, vol. XXXI, no. 1 (May 1908), p. 81; “Her Fruits” in McClure’s Magazine, vol. XXXI, no. 2 (June 1908), p. 189; and “The Unremembered” in McClure’s Magazine, vol. XXXI, no. 6 (October 1908), p. 664. Dwiggins’ frame for the latter was rejected. Although his frame for ”There Is No More Any Prophet” was accepted, the poem was published without it, nearly two years later [McClure's Magazine, vol. XXXIV, no. 2 (December 1909), p. 176]!
4. For evidence of the S.S. McClure recommendation see D.B. Updike to W.A. Dwiggins, 25 December 1907 (108:130) and 7 January 1908 (108:138). Updike also recommended Dwiggins to Macmillan, Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., and possibly to other publishers. For Macmillan see Dwiggins to Updike 2 January 1908 (108:133) and 7 January 1908 (108:138) and Updike to Dwiggins 8 January 1908 (108:140). Apparently the Macmillan jobs did not come through because Dwiggins’ estimates were too high. For Crowell see Updike to Dwiggins 28 January 1908 (108:148), 3 February 1908 (108:153), and 7 February 1908 (108:156), and Dwiggins to Updike 7 February 1908 (108:155). All of the above correspondence is in Folder 108, Box 69, The Merrymount Press Records, Huntington Library.
5. See W.A. Dwiggins to D.B. Updike 2 January 1908 (108:133) and 7 January 1908 (108:138), Folder 108, Box 69, The Merrymount Press Records, Huntington Library. William Aspenwall Bradley should not be confused with Will Bradley, the graphic designer.
6. See T.M. Cleland to D.B. Updike 20 December 1907 in Folder–1907 Updike Letters, Box 21, T.M. Cleland Papers (MSS 16147), Manuscript Division, Library of Congress: “I have sent Dwiggins some poems to make page decorations for which I hope will be of some use to him and which I think he can do very nicely.” Dwiggins’ cover design for The Undergroove was rejected and one by T.M. Cleland was used instead (see the image below).
7. The Great Pianists by Harold Schonberg (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p. 487.
8. See note 4 for the correspondence between T.Y. Crowell and Updike which led to commissions for both A Stevenson Calendar and The Christmas Builders by Charles Jefferson. Although Dwiggins designed covers for both books in February 1908, they were not published until 1909. See Dwiggins’ account book entries for 29 January 1908 in Folder 2, Box 81(1), 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. Although Updike brokered the Crowell commissions The Merrymount Press printed only Christmas Builders. The printing for A Stevenson Calendar was handled by The University Press in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Binding for The Under Groove by Arthur Stringer (New York: S.S. McClure Co., 1908). Design by T.M. Cleland. Collection of Paul Shaw.

Binding for The Under Groove by Arthur Stringer (New York: The McClure Company, 1908). Design by T.M. Cleland. Collection of Paul Shaw.