From the Archives no. 19—AIGA Membership 1922–1923

The former High School of Graphic Communication Arts in New York City library continues to yield material that expands our understanding of graphic design history. Even small, seemingly innocuous items are valuable if one looks closely at the contents. One such example is the tiny Year Book of the American Institute of Graphic Arts 1922–1923 which provides a snapshot of the profession as it was in the process of formation. This booklet was published the same year that the first recorded use of the term “graphic design” occurred, in an article by W.A. Dwiggins (“New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design” in the special Graphic Arts Section of the August 29, 1922 issue of the Boston Evening Transcript).

It includes a list of AIGA members with their addresses and professions. The latter is of interest. No one describes themselves as a graphic designer, but neither does anyone describe themselves as a commercial artist. Instead some call themselves designers (without a preceding adjective). Among them are Dwiggins, Charles R. Capon, F.G. Cooper, Harvey Hopkins Dunn, Frederic W. Goudy, Guido Rosa, Fred T. Singleton and George F. Trenholm. With the exception of Singleton, who was one of the first to be called a typographer, the others were all known for their lettering ability. Other members—though not Singleton—called themselves typographers. They included Lester Douglas, Gilbert P. Farrar, Albert Schiller and David Silve. Neither Benjamin Sherbow nor Fred Farrar, who I have written about before, appear as AIGA members. Some members are more specific in their descriptions. For instance, Bert Chambers, the inventor of the Jean Berté Process, listed himself as doing advertising and “designing for printing” as did Fred Bertsch, Oswald Cooper’s studio partner. (Cooper does not appear as a member.)

What this tells us is that not only was the term “graphic designer” rare, but so was the term “commercial artist”. Instead, individuals viewed themselves as artists (Tony Sarg), illustrators (Bertsch), designers, art directors, typographers or printers.

The other fascinating aspect of the membership roster is seeing the range of individuals who belonged to AIGA. Among them were Maxwell Perkins, the fabled editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe at Scribners’; Stephen Horgan, credited with using the first halftone in 1880 and Frederic E. Ives, inventor of the first cross-line halftone screen for photoengraving (1885); as well as other photengravers and some electrotypers.

FInally, the booklet says that an exhibition on Writing Books of the Past Four Centuries was scheduled for December 1922 and one on the Historical Development of Process Engraving was planned for April 1923. Thus, the AIGA had one foot in the world of craft and one in the world of technology.