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

Dear Diego by Elena Poniatowska (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986). Jacket design by Louise Fili.

Fili had taken one of W.A. Dwiggins’ stencil designs and reused it. The design, originally part of a 1929 exhibition announcement for Dwiggins’ friend Charles Hovey Pepper, had been rotated 90° counterclockwise and reversed out. Additionally, the background was airbrushed to give the abstract floral design a subtle sense of three-dimensionality.

North Country. Charles Hovey Pepper. 1929. Announcement design by W.A. Dwiggins.

North Country. Charles Hovey Pepper. 1929. Announcement design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Fili was not the first designer, especially at Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and its subsidiary imprints, to reuse Dwiggins’ stencil designs. That was common practice during his lifetime and into the early 1970s. Regarding the reuse of one of his designs by Sidney Jacobs, production manager at Knopf, he wrote, “Glad to look over proofs if you want me to. Colophon—you could head it Note on the Type or something instead of Designer’s Note, and omit the WAD. If the comment applies to your design of MEN [presumably Men, Women and Places]* you could use it as it is, with last ¶ [paragraph] saying ‘…Norwood, Mass. The typographic scheme is based on a design by W.A. Dwiggins’—or ‘based upon WAD’s design for ‘Stages on the Road’—if you needed to mention Stages.” [1] However, Fili’s design of Dear Diego is different since it uses a decoration that was not designed by Dwiggins for a Knopf book.

Fili’s use of the Dwiggins stencil was not part of the Knopf tradition, even though by that time both Pantheon and Knopf were sister companies under the Random House umbrella. Instead, it is more likely that the idea occurred to her while co-curating with Steven Heller the traveling exhibition “Typographic Treasures: The Work of WAD” that debuted in March 1986 at International Typeface Corporation. The Charles Hovey Pepper exhibition announcement was part of the show.

* I am assuming the book being referred to is Men, Women and Places by Sigrid Undset, author of Stages on the Road (1934), even though it was not published by Knopf until 1939.
[1] W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney Jacobs, 9 May 1936. University of Texas, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Papers, Box 731, Folder 14. There are other instances of Jacobs and others reusing Dwiggins’ designs with his acquiescence—but also with his insistence that it be made clear what his role was in the new designs.