Blue Pencil

Blue Pencil is a “slog”: a slow blog. It does not get updated daily or even on a regular schedule. Instead, it gets updated when there is something of value to be posted. Postings often take a long time to prepare and appear at intervals of a few weeks or even months. Sometimes there is a flurry of postings within the span of a few days. Blue Pencil may be unpredictable in its frequency, but not in its purpose. Blue Pencil is fiercely dedicated to the 3Rs: research, reading and writing.

The Definitive Dwiggins no. 28—The Humanists’ Library

The Humanists’ Library was published by The Merrymount Press in two series, the first from 1906 to 1908 and the second from 1912 to 1914. There were four books in each series, a total of eight titles in all. The titles in the first series of The Humanists’ Library were, in order of publication:
Thoughts on Art and Life by Leonardo Da Vinci; translated by Maurice Baring and edited by Lewis Einstein (1906); vol. I [Smith 247]
Against War by Erasmus; edited by J.W. Mackail …
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Telephone directory typography in 1908

Cover of Why Talk About It? (New York: Mergenthaler Linotype, 1908).
Why Talk About It?: “The Linotype Way Is the Right Way” to Set Telephone Directories (New York: Mergenthaler Linotype, 1908) is an early booklet by Mergenthaler Linotype dedicated to promoting the linotype as the best method of composing text for telephone directories. It has been scanned by GoogleBooks but cannot be read through them. Instead it can be read via HathiTrust using the link above or at Continue reading

Poggio Bracciolini, an Inscription in Terranuova & the Monument to Carlo Marsuppini: A Theory

NOTE: This is the text of a short talk that I gave at the CAA Calligraphy/Epigraphy Session of the College Art Association 104th Annual Conference in Washington, DC on February 5, 2016. The session, officially entitled Forming Letters: New Research in Renaissance Calligraphy and Epigraphy, was chaired by Debra Pincus and included presentations by David Boffa, James Fishburne, Roberta Ricci, Philippa Sissis and myself with William Stenhouse as the respondent. Jonathan J.G. …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 26—New Light on Updike’s Dislike of Goudy

Both D.B. Updike and Stanley Morison disliked Fred Goudy and Goudy’s typefaces. In their correspondence they reveled in tossing insults at both. One of the more notable (and memorable) instances is this passage from Updike to Morison:
Poor man, I have never seen anybody with such an itch for publicity, or who blew his own trumpet so artlessly and constantly. He once asked me why I did not employ him for decorative work instead of Dwiggins, for “I taught Mr. Dwiggins …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 25 addendum no. 2—Bewick, Updike and Dwiggins

As I have already written, much of the illustrative and decorative work that W.A. Dwiggins did for D.B. Updike and The Merrymount Press involved copying and adapting older work.  A good instance of this is the vignette on the title page of Letters of Bulwer-Lytton to Macready 1836–1866 edited with an introduction by Brander Matthews (Newark: The Carteret Book Club, 1911).
Title page of Letters of Bulwer-Lytton to Macready 1836–1866 (Newark: The Carteret Book Club, 1911). Designed by D.B. Updike and printed …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 25 addendum: Imitation vs. assimilation

In tracking down potential sources of influence on Dwiggins as an illustrator I got in touch with Roger Reed of Illustration House, Inc. He is the son of Walt Reed (1917–2015), founder of Illustration House and author of many books on the history of illustration, including The Illustrator in America (2001, third edition). Reed, who has inherited his father’s expertise, suggested I look at the “Chicago School” of illustrators such as J.C. Leyendecker, Harrison Fisher and Henry Hutt
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 25—Imitation, Derivation and Inspiration

In a previous post on W.A. Dwiggins I investigated the drawings of The Brownies he copied as a child from books written by their originator Palmer Cox. The practice of copying other artists stayed with Dwiggins throughout his entire professional career. Sometimes he imitated a style while at other times he copied a composition in toto or in part. It was part and parcel of the practice of being a commercial artist.
In Chicago 1899–1903
Dwiggins left Ohio in the fall of …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 23—Brownies

The Boston Public Library is the repository of the Dwiggins Collection. In the initial deposit of 1974 (Box 35, Folder 14) there are some items from Dwiggins’ childhood and adolescence. One is a set of four small sheets of paper tied together at one corner by a decorative yellow twill cord. On each sheet there is a single drawing in pencil signed with a script “WAD”. There is no title nor text except on one sheet where “William Addison Dwiggins …
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Ansprache im Goethejahr 1949

I stopped into Argosy Books last week for the first time in several decades. In the $10 bin near the cash register I came across a dog-eared copy of Toward Balzac by Harry Levin (New York: New Directions, 1947) with a cover design by Alvin Lustig (in blue rather than the beige usually seen). Before I could decide whether to buy it or not, my attention was distracted by the next item in the bin: Ansprache im Goethejahr 1949 by Thomas …
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The Rchive no. 21—Poets’ Row in Denver

In August I conducted a lettering walk in Denver for TypeCon 2015. As part of my preparation I spent the day before walking and driving around the city. My chauffeur and cicerone was Diane Wray Tomasso, former New York graphic designer and Denver preservationist, an excellent repository of knowledge of the city’s architectural heritage past and present. One part of the city which we visited but which did not make it into the TypeCon 2015 lettering walk was Poets’ …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 21—Dear Diego

While preparing a biography of TDC medalist Louise Fili for the Type Directors Club website, I reread Elegantissima: The Design & Typography of Louise Fili (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). In the section on her work for Pantheon Books I noticed (p. 22) something familiar about the jacket design for Dear Diego by Elena Poniatowska (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986).
Dear Diego by Elena Poniatowska (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986). Jacket design by Louise Fili.
Fili had taken …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 20—A Calendar of Happy Days

Recently I was reorganizing my Dwiggins images and came across a folder labeled “The Printing Studio (WAD & TMC)” consisting of downloaded pages from an issue of The Inland Printer, one of which included a page from “A Calendar of Happy Days” signed WAD while another showed some lettering signed C (for Thomas Maitland Cleland). The Dwiggins work is a bit of a mystery.
“A Calendar of Happy Days”. Lettering and border design by W.A. Dwiggins (1909).
Left: “Labor is …
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Blue Pencil no. 22 addendum

Several years ago I posted a bibliography of books by and about Hermann Zapf (Blue Pencil no. 22). At the time Jerry Kelly indicated I had missed several (see Blue Pencil no. 23), but never provided me with their titles or other information. Since then Akira Kobayashi has obligingly sent me one of the missing items. Here are the details:
Zapf Exhibition: The Calligraphy of Hermann & Gudrun Zapf
Akira Kobayashi, Juzo Takaoka and Masao Takaoka
Tokyo: Japan Letter Arts Forum, …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 17—The Mystery of Dwiggins and Grassby

Moving announcement from The Occasional Bulletin of the White Elephant (1915). Map designed by W.A. Dwiggins.
The week before Thanksgiving in 1914 W.A. Dwiggins moved into a new studio—with “Chinese tea-paper walls—at 26 Lime Street in Boston. Dwiggins announced his move in January 1915 via the publication of the first (and only) issue of The Occasional Bulletin of the White Elephant which contained a map showing both his old address at 69 Cornhill and the new one at 26 Lime Street. …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 19—Untrustworthy sources

In researching W.A. Dwiggins for over thirty years I have come across many untrustworthy sources, including Dorothy Abbe, the executor of his estate, and even Dwiggins himself. I was reminded of this yesterday when, at the Thomas J. Watson Library of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I came across the New York Times obituary for Dwiggins. Although it was not new to me, I had not read it in several decades and thus had forgotten how many mistakes it contained.
The …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 18—L’Afficheur

“L’Afficheur” by Edmé Bouchardon
W.A. Dwiggins was not always an original illustrator or ornamentalist. He copied the work of Pillement, Flaxman, Choffard, Callot and Bouchardon among others. Not only did his clients—most notably Daniel Berkeley Updike—ask him to copy the work of these artists and illustrators of the past, but sometimes he did so on his own initiative. One such instance is a paper sample insert designed for International Covers*, a Chemical Paper Company brand.
The insert, titled “Old Fashioned Advertising & …
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