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 obituary was published on December 26, 1956, the day after Dwiggins died. “He was the winner of a gold medal from the American Institute of Graphic Arts for his contributions to the fields of type and book design,” it said at the outset. Looking back on Dwiggins’ career from the perspective of 2015 (or even of 1956) it is not surprising that it was assumed that he had received the AIGA medal for his work as a type designer and book designer. In fact, when the medal ceremony took place on February 4, 1929 he had yet to design a typeface and had only designed a handful of books, though several of them had won AIGA 50 Books of the Year awards. Instead Dwiggins deserved the AIGA gold medal for his work as an advertising designer over the previous two decades, including the writing of Layout in Advertising (1928).

These are the other errors in the obituary—and the correct information:
“He married Miss Mabel Hoyle, also of Martinsville, in 1904.”—Mabel Hoyle was from Cambridge, Ohio, the town in which Dwiggins attended high school.

“In that year [1904] the couple moved to Hingham, where Mr. Dwiggins studied type-designing under Frederic W. Goudy…”—Dwiggins never studied type design. He took a class in lettering and ornament from Goudy in 1899 while a student at the Frank Holme School in Chicago.

“The letters he [Dwiggins] drew [toward the end of his life], like his new Alexandria type face of Egyptian flavor, showed no trace of tremor.”—Dwiggins’ unreleased Alexandria was influenced by Greek letters. He wrote to C.H. Griffith, “During the [1946 Mergenthaler Linotype] strike I have drawn two alphabets: l.c. roman and italic, of a face which I have handle-tagged ALEXANDRIA. It is a result of the studies we made for a greek face: the idea being to see what would happen if the roman forms were written in the greek style of modelling.”

Drawing of a for Alexandria. Dated June 7, 1948.

Drawing by W.A. Dwiggins of Alexandria a. Dated June 7, 1948. (Courtesy of the Margaret I. King Library, University of Kentucky)

“Mr. Dwiggins carved the puppets for his productions; he operated them, made the play scripts, designed the scenery and printed the tickets and programs.”—Dwiggins always insisted on the difference between puppets and marionettes. He designed the latter. The marionette theatre at 0.5 Irving Street was largely, though not wholly, Dwiggins’ effort. His neighbor William Crosby, who provided the initial inspiration for the theatre, wrote the first play performed there. His wife Mabel sewed the marionette costumes. She and other neighbors operated the marionettes. All else was indeed Dwiggins’ doing as indicated by his witty credits for Crosby’s The Mystery of the Blind Beggarman:

Note Bene: Miss Marchpane’s gowns by Madeleine Loder, Inc.; the tobacconist’s wooden leg by Miles Wambaugh; the stage by Morton Smith; the program printed by Messrs. Lincoln & Smith of Boston; scenery by the W. Addison Dwiggins Studios; costumes by Dwiggins and Dwiggins; light and lighting effects by Theodore Prudden and Dr. Hermann Püterschein; military weapons, properties, and effects by Will Dwiggins; swords and sound effects by Dwiggins; uniforms and military boots by Dwiggins; dwigs by Wiggins. The management wishes particularly at this time to express its thanks to Mr. W.A. Dwiggins for many valuable suggestions.*

*Miles Wambaugh, Morton Smith and Theodore Prudden were three of Dwiggins’ Hingham neighbors. Dr. Hermann Püterschein was Dwiggins’ alter ego.

Ticket to a performance of Marionettes Under the Püterschein Authority.

Ticket to a performance of Marionettes: Under the Püterschein Authority. Design, lettering and stencils by W.A. Dwiggins.