The Definitive Dwiggins no. 141—The Colophon (New Series)

The first iteration of The Colophon: A Book Collectors’ Quarterly came to an end with Part 20 in March 1935. [1] For five years its progenitor Elmer Adler had struggled to establish the journal on a firm financial basis with little success. In order to reduce expenses he reluctantly agreed to replace handset type with machine composition and to change the format from an assemblage of articles produced and printed by different contributors to a standardized design printed by Pynson Printers. To achieve this new look Adler turned to W.A. Dwiggins. [2]

It is a bit surprising that Dwiggins accepted the commission from Adler given his jaundiced views—stated in private—about The Colophon during its first life and the fact that he was in the midst of working on The Dolphin no. 2, a rival bibliophile publication. “The Colophon is aimed at the collector-gentry, and since they all live in sarcophagae it is proper for the Colophon to smell like a mummy,” Dwiggins commented to George Macy (1900–1956) upon hearing his plans for The Dolphin: A Journal of the Making of Books. [3] The Colophon was too “collector-oriented” for his taste, but he liked the direction Macy was proposing for The Dolphin, as indicated in its subtitle. “There is a lot of interest—lay and professional—in book art, more all the time, it seems to me,” he wrote to Paul Johnston (1899–1987), editor of The Book Collector’s Packet, “and no journal of the craft whatsoever—no vehicle for comment and discussion.” Dwiggins was “hungry for news about the craft, and for scraps of specimens of the things other people are doing.” [4]

The Colophon: A Book Collectors' Quarterly New Series, Vol. I, No. 1 (Summer 1935). Cover design by T.M. Cleland. Leaf ornaments by W.A. Dwiggins.

The Colophon: A Book Collectors’ Quarterly New Series, Vol. I, No. 1 (Summer 1935). Cover design by T.M. Cleland. Leaf ornaments by W.A. Dwiggins.

What the revised version of The Colophon offered Dwiggins, besides financial remuneration and an opportunity to show off his design chops for a periodical, was a chance to test out Electra, his new typeface. The year before, when the typeface was still in progress under the name Experimental No. 55, Dwiggins had told Macy that he wanted to introduce it in the edition of Gargantua and Pantagruel he was designing for The Limited Editions Club rather than use it for The Dolphin. Dwiggins’ intent was to showcase the typeface where he felt it would make the biggest splash. [5] It is unclear why he thought that it would be better to debut Electra in a limited edition novel rather than a periodical devoted to bookmaking. His subsequent decision to use it in The Colophon New Series is explainable even though it may seem, at first glance, like a contradiction.

Work on Gargantua and Pantagruel, which had begun in October 1933, was progressing slowly and by the spring of 1935 Jacques LeClerq, the translator, still had not delivered the manuscript. At that point it was clear to Dwiggins that he would not be able to begin designing the book until the summer at the earliest and that the book would not be published that year. Thus, it would not be possible to debut Electra in Gargantua and Pantagruel. It was too late for Dwiggins to change his mind about using the type for The Dolphin since the periodical had gone to the binders in April. [6]

Meanwhile, advance showings of Electra were ready by March 1935, but it was not until October that it was publicly announced. Dwiggins and Paul A. Bennett (1887–1966), Typographic Promotion Manager at Mergenthaler Linotype, did not begin working on Emblems and Electra, the specimen book for the typeface, until June—just as the design of The Colophon New Series was being wrapped up. [7] One of the last items to be completed was the crow to be used as a paragraph divider in “The Crow’s Nest” section at the back of the journal. “I send a crow,” Dwiggins wrote to Adler. “Ticklish to try to make tiny typog. ornaments by etching—need to be cut on wood or metal. Any wood-cutter engraver you can hornswoggle into cutting the crow the right size, as a master for electros? Electro copies would be OK, but even the finest line-plate, etched, has ragged edges.” The Colophon New Series (Vol. I, No. 1), according to the colophon, was  “…finished in July, MCMXXXV—at sunset—on a hot day….” [8]


Only two sizes of Electra were available by June 1935 for use in The Colophon New Series. Thus, Dwiggins, credited with “supervising the typographical layout,” was forced to use another typeface for the footnotes and small text at the back of the journal. He chose Linotype Baskerville. This combination continued in the Autumn 1935 and Winter 1936 numbers, but Linotype Bodoni replaced Linotype Baskerville for the small text in the Spring 1936 issue. It was only with the Autumn 1936 number that Electra was finally used for the notes—though the running heads were in now in Linotype Janson Italic. [9]

Adler was presumably proud of being the first to use Electra, but not enough to learn much about it. “I haven’t asked Mr. Dwiggins why he chose the name for his type,” he wrote in “The Crow’s Nest” column, “but I think the long ascenders and descenders imply the staunch nobility of purpose that was characteristic of the daughter of Agamemnon.” Adler gave no indication of whether he liked Electra or not. But in the Spring 1936 number (vol. 1, no. 4), he complained that Dwiggins’ format was “too sterile” and needed “dolling up.” And in the Autumn 1936 number (vol. 2, no. 1), he went further, remarking that “Solid pages of Electra can be monotonous to the eye, even if they convey good fodder to the brain.” Yet, with the exception of the running heads in Linotype Janson Italic, Dwiggins’ typographical format remained intact. Instead, Adler’s solution to jazz up The Colophon New Series was to add more illustrations, especially in color. [10] Electra (with the oblique Electra Italic) survived the entire run of The Colophon New Series which came to an end with the December 1938 number (vol. 3, no. 4). [11]


Comp for cover of The Colophon New Series by W.A. Dwiggins (1935). Courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Comp for cover of The Colophon New Series by W.A. Dwiggins (1935). Illustration by T.M. Cleland. The frame below it was rejected. For the final frame design see the cover design at the top of this post. Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Dwiggins’ design of The Colophon New Series involved more than a typographic format. He also contributed lettering and ornaments for the cover, lettering and a revised vignette for the title page, small illustrations as headpieces for articles and vignettes for the back-of-the-book columns, an illustration for the colophon page, and an illustration for a subscription page. This was much more than Adler noted in his comments on the new design in “The Crow’s Nest.” [12]

The amusing illustration on the cover of The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935) was by T.M. Cleland. It was reused, with a change of color, for the other three issues in the journal’s first year. Dwiggins designed the spine and a frame for the volume information, though he was not responsible for the clumsy use of Goudy Oldstyle.

Title page for The Colophon, Part V (March 1931). Illustration by Rockwell Kent.

Title page for The Colophon, Part V (March 1931). Illustration by Rockwell Kent.

Title page for The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1935). Design, lettering and illustration by W.A. Dwiggins.

Title page for The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1935). Design, lettering and illustration by W.A. Dwiggins.

Original artwork for alternate version of illustration for title page of The Colophon New Series by W.A. Dwiggins. Image courtesy of Rare Book and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Original artwork by W.A. Dwiggins for alternate version of illustration for title page of The Colophon New Series. Image courtesy of Rare Book and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

For the title page Dwiggins lettered the title in a combination of a sloped Fat Face, decorative capitals, and a wiry script. The decorative capitals are an early version of his 42 pt Plimpton Initials. These letter lack the diamond decorations in the stems, but are otherwise very similar—especially the N. More significantly, Dwiggins redrew Rockwell Kent’s figure of a nude man building a cairn which had graced the title pages of the entire first series of The Colophon. His version is tauter, with less ground at the base of the rocks and nothing in the background. He made two versions, distinguishable principally by the way in which he shaded the rocks and the degree of lushness of the grass. Of the final version, Dwiggins noted on the artwork, “Made with mechanical-curve stencils.” [13]

For the colophon of The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935) Dwiggins created a parody of the title page illustration: a man resting against a pile of stones, mopping his brow, with the caption, “AND THAT’S THAT.” It was not used in subsequent issues.

Colophon page of The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1935). Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins.

Colophon page of The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1935). Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins.

Comp C by W.A. Dwiggins for the title page of The Colophon New Series. Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Comp C by W.A. Dwiggins for the title page of The Colophon New Series. Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Comp D by W.A. Dwiggins for title page of The Colophon New Series. Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Comp D by W.A. Dwiggins for title page of The Colophon New Series. Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Dwiggins tested out other variations of the lettering for the title page, emphasizing “New Series” in one version. (Note the change in the journal’s subtitle from “A Book Collectors’ Quarterly” to “A Quarterly for Bookmen.”) He used the same personal pointed-pen script for the title of the limited edition version of One More Spring by Robert Nathan (Stamford, Connecticut: The Overbrook Press, 1935) that he was working on at the same time he was designing The Colophon New Series. Both projects also shared Dwiggins’ interest in “abstract” illustrations. For the “Advertising Announcements” page he designed a stage scene with a master of ceremonies and a seated banjoist made from simplified stencil elements. For the final design, he dropped the pearl ornament border. The illustration only appeared in the first two issues of The Colophon New Series. It may have been dropped because it was too “avant-garde” for the journal’s readers. Certainly, it did not match the style of Dwiggins’ other illustrations for it.

Original artwork by W.A. Dwiggins for "Advertising Announcements of Great Interest to Bookmen" in The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935). Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Original artwork by W.A. Dwiggins for “Advertising Announcements of Great Interest to Bookmen” in The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935). Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

"Advertising Announcements of Great Interest to Bookmen" page from The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 145.

“Advertising Announcements of Great Interest to Bookmen” page from The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 145. Design and illustration by W.A. Dwiggins.

Chapter 3 opening of One More Spring by Robert Nathan (Stamford, Connecticut: The Overbrook Press, 1935). Typography and illustration by W.A. Dwiggins.

Chapter 3 opening of One More Spring by Robert Nathan (Stamford, Connecticut: The Overbrook Press, 1935). Typography and illustration by W.A. Dwiggins.

For the Summer 1935 number of The Colophon New Series Dwiggins made an illustration for “The Crow’s Nest” column, an illustration of a broken classical column for the obituary of Burton Emmett, the editor of the first series of The Colophon who had recently passed away, and seven small vignettes to be used as headpieces for articles. For the Autumn 1935 number he added a droll illustration of a hunched over scrivener hounded by musical notes and question marks for the “Notes and Queries” column; and for the Winter 1936 number he designed three more small vignettes for headpieces.

Original artwork (cropped) by W.A. Dwiggins for "Notes and Queries" column in The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 2 (Autumn 1935). Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

Original artwork (cropped) by W.A. Dwiggins for “Notes and Queries” column in The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 2 (Autumn 1935). Image courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.

"America's First Bibles" by Randolph G. Adams in The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935). Typography and headpiece by W.A. Dwiggins. Set in Electra with Bulmer for the title.

“America’s First Bibles” by Randolph G. Adams in The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935). Typography and headpiece by W.A. Dwiggins. Set in Electra with Bulmer for the title.

The ten headpieces are, with one exception, miniature masterpieces of modernism. Stylistically they are a mix of Art Deco, folk art, and Cubism. Other than the conventionally pictorial gourd and grapes headpiece, Dwiggins designed them using his homemade stencils. This is their order of first appearance in The Colophon New Series with the articles they accompanied:

No. 1 [Rabbit]—”America’s First Bibles” by Randolph G. Adams in vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 11.
No. 2 [Foliage]—”Herman Melville As I Recall Him” by Oscar Wegelin in vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 22.
No. 3 [Houses]—”Fly Specks and Folios” by Robert M. Smith in vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 25.
No. 4 [House]—”Stephen Collins Foster, Dramatic Collaborator” by Edward G. Fletcher in vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 33.
No. 5 [Tree]—”‘Waverley in America'” by David A. Randall in vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 39.
No. 6 [Ship]—”Alexandre Dumas, Benefactor” by F.W. Reed in vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 57.
No. 7 [Plant]—”George Eliot and John Chapman: A Fragment” by Blanche Colton William in vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 65.
No. 8 [Landscape]—”The Path of the Pioneer” by Robert P. Eckert, Jr. in vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1936), p. 404.
No. 9 [Plants]—The 1886 Appleton ‘Alice’” by Flodden W. Heron in vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1936),  p. 422.
No. 10 [Gourds and Grapes]—”Book Collector, Italian, Seventeenth Century” by Ethel P. Roberts in vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1936),  p. 428. [14]

Rabbit headpiece from The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1935). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Rabbit headpiece from The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 11. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Foliage headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 22. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Foliage headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 22. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Houses headpiece from The  Colophon New Series vol. 1,  no. 2 (Summer 1935).

Houses headpiece from The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 25. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

House headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1935). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

House headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 33. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Tree headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1935), p. 39. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Tree headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 39. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Ship headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 57. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Ship headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 57. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Plant headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 65. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Plant headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 65. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Landscape headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1936), p.  404. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Landscape headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1936), p. 404. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Plants headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1936), p. 422. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Plants headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1936), p. 422. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Gourds and grapes headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1936), p. 428. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Gourds and grapes headpiece from The Colophon New Series, vol. 1, no. 3 (Winter 1936), p. 428. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

The headpieces for The Colophon New Series should be compared to those Dwiggins designed earlier for Harper’s Magazine. (See The Definitive Dwiggins no. 50 and The Definitive Dwiggins no. 53.) They are more pictorial than those of the new series, but more pared down and less “ornamental” than those of the original series. Nos. 20 and 22 of the latter anticipate these designs. The Colophon New Series headpieces—with the exception of the ship, and the gourds and grapes—show Dwiggins reaching a new level of confidence and inventiveness with his stencils. The two designs I have labeled “plant” and “plants” are astonishing abstract creations. It is a shame that because of their small size they have gone relatively unnoticed. [15]


Notes
1. The first series of The Colophon ran from February 1930 (Part 1) to March 1935 (Part 20). Dwiggins did the cover for Part 5. See The Definitive Dwiggins no. 82.
2. I have not been able to locate any correspondence pertaining to the genesis of The Colophon (New Series). The only letters between Dwiggins and Adler during the years 1931 to 1935 that I have seen are devoted to designs for The Colophon (Part V), Adler’s unsuccessful attempt to have Dwiggins’ essay on the reform of the currency published in The Colophon, and failed negotiations between the two men over the nature of a proposed profile of Dwiggins for the journal. These last two discussions are fascinating. They will be detailed in future posts as part of topics broader than Dwiggins’ work on The Colophon. It should also be noted that there is no background information on Dwiggins’ contribution to “The Other Writings of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.” by James D. Hart in The Colophon, Part 19 (December 1934). The insert, printed by the Plimpton Press and set in Monotype Modern and Monotype Modern no. 8, bears the enigmatic credit line: “Supervision of W.A. Dwiggins.”
3. W.A. Dwiggins to George Macy, undated (c.1933) loose letter in George Macy Companies Collection, Harry R. Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. The letter should be in Folder 31, Box 24.
4. W.A. Dwiggins to Paul Johnston, 15 March 1935; and Dwiggins to Johnston, undated (c.1932)  in Folder—Typography 1934, Box 1, Paul Johnston Papers, New York Public Library. Despite the 1934 date, the folder includes correspondence ranging from 1931 to 1935.
5. W.A. Dwiggins to George Macy 14 April 1934, Macy to Dwiggins 16 April 1934 and Dwiggins to Macy 17 April 1934 in Folder 7, Box 39, George Macy Companies Collection, Harry R. Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. It should be noted that Mergenthaler Linotype dubbed all of its typefaces-in-progress as “experimental.” There was nothing unusual about the design that became Electra.
6. In the end LeClerq did not finish delivery of his manuscript for Gargantua and Pantagruel until January 1936, but Dwiggins had already begun testing pages with Electra in December 1935. See Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais translated by Jacques LeClerq (New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1936. For progress of The Dolphin no. 2 see the memo from The Limited Editions Club to Yale University Press 23 April 1935—among other correspondence between January and May 1935—in Folder 9, Box 111, George Macy Companies Collection, Harry R. Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. The Dolphin no. 2 was set in Monotype Bell. Comps for the title page marked “Spring 1935” provide a rough indication of when Dwiggins was working on the design of The Colophon New Series.
7. Oswald Cooper was apparently sent an advance showing of Electra. See Oswald Cooper to Chauncey H. Griffith 2 March 1935 in W.A. Dwiggins Folder, Mergenthaler Linotype Archives (formerly at Melville, Long Island—where I examined them in 1979—but now presumably part of the unprocessed Mergenthaler Linotype Company Records, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution). Electra was introduced in The Linotype News (October 1935). Emblems and Electra was completed by the end of that month. See W.A. Dwiggins to Paul A. Bennett 29 October 1935 in Case 4, Box 10, Paul A. Bennett Papers, New York Public Library.
8. W.A. Dwiggins to Elmer Adler 17 June 1935 note attached to artwork. The crow was made by Mergenthaler Linotype rather than as an electrotype: “The ‘crow’ ¶ mark is Lino 6 pt border #282” Note and artwork both in GC035 Folder, Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University.
9. Although Dwiggins is only credited with the format for the first four numbers of the New Series of The Colophon, it seems obvious that he was responsible for the changes made for the Autumn 1936 issue. At the same time that it was in production, he was working on Not Under Forty by Willa Cather (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936). Both pair Linotype Janson Italic for running heads with Electra for body copy, a combination Dwiggins subsequently used often in his book designs for Alfred A. Knopf.  Not Under Forty was the first trade book set in Electra.
10. The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 4 (Spring 1936); and The Colophon New Series vol. 2, no. 1 (Autumn 1936), p. 155. Throughout the New Series, Bulmer, one of Dwiggins’ favorite typefaces, was used for the secondary information on the title page and for the titles of articles and columns.
11. Adler’s less than enthusiastic assessment of Electra as text type was not shared by Philip Brooks who, in his review of The Colophon New Series for The New York Times “Notes on Rare Books” column, remarked that, “It reads easily.” See The New York Times 18 August 1935. Electra Italic was a sloped roman. Electra Cursive, a true italic companion to Electra, was not released until 1940.
12. For Adler’s comments on Dwiggins’ design see “The Crow’s Nest” in The Colophon New Series vol. 1, no. 1 (Summer 1935), p. 147.
13. The artwork for both versions of the title page illustration, along with comps for the title page lettering, are in Folder GC035, Graphic Arts Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections, Fireston Library, Princeton University.
14. The headpieces were used in the same sequence throughout the entire run of The Colophon New Series. The names of the headpieces are my own invention.
15. None of the headpieces are included among the 37 ornamental items in The Work of W.A. Dwiggins (New York: The American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1937). Unfortunately, there is no surviving artwork for the headpiece vignettes in either the two Dwiggins collections at the Boston Public Library or the Graphic Arts Collection at Princeton University.