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

Title page of Letters of Bulwer-Lytton to Macready 1836–1866 (Newark: The Carteret Book Club, 1911). Designed by D.B. Updike and printed at The Merrymount Press. Vignette by W.A. Dwiggins.

Although, at first glance, the vignette appears to be a wood engraving by Thomas Bewick, it is actually the work of Dwiggins. His account books indicate that on 6 October 1911 he was commissioned by Updike to make a “design for title page of Bulwer-Lytten’s [sic] letters” and was paid $10 on 30 December 1911 for the work. Recently, I came across the wood engraving by Bewick that provided the model for Dwiggins’ design.

I found it in the photocopied inventory of The Merrymount Press Artifacts Collection at The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley compiled by Flora Elizabeth Reynolds and Roger Levenson. The artifacts were given to the School of Library and Information Studies in 1985 by Daniel Bianchi, the son of John Bianchi, Updike’s partner (from 1915 on) in The Merrymount Press. [1] They include wood engravings, electrotypes, photoengravings (zinc’s), brass binding dies and typecast ornaments. In the section on wood engravings I found BART I5W78 M38 No. 2516 which nearly matches the vignette on the Bulwer-Lytton/Macready title page.

Wood engraving by Thomas Bewick.

Wood engraving by Thomas Bewick in The Merrymount Press Artifacts Collection at The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. BART I5W78 M38 No. 2516.

Reynolds and Levenson say the Bewick wood engraving was used by The Merrymount Press in 1919 “as a frame for the legend on a Christmas card.” They make no mention of its connection to the Bulwer-Lytton/Macready book.

Detail of title page

Detail of title page of Letters of Bulwer-Lytton to Macready 1836–1866.

A close comparison of the Bewick wood engraving and the Dwiggins pen-and-ink drawing reveals many differences (despite the limitations of the former’s reproduction as a photocopy.) Dwiggins’ hatching approximates but does not match Bewick’s. Dwiggins has filled in the small pool at the base of the tree, has altered the angle of the two branches that emerge from the right side of the stump, added more leaves to the upper branch, and stretched out the entire scene.

These are deliberate changes and they were most likely made by Dwiggins at the explicit behest of Updike. In order to preserve Bewick’s wood engravings Updike would normally have made electros from them. [2] But even then there would have been the difficulty of getting a crisp image. By having Dwiggins make a new drawing of the Bewick vignette, Updike was able to solve these issues and, more importantly, to adapt it to his own needs. Without the redrawing, it would have been very difficult to insert “1836–1866” into the opening between the stump, foreground and copse in the background.

This is a tiny aspect of the entire book, but it is indicative of the care that Updike applied to the things printed at The Merrymount Press in his desire to create a perfect union of illustration, typography and printing. Letters of Bulwer-Lytton to Macready 1836–1866 is a minor item in Dwiggins’ oeuvre but it is a good example of why Updike needed him.

P.S. I have been unable to identify the original source of the Bewick wood engraving. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

[1] When SLIS was renamed and reorganized in 1994, the MPAC was transferred to the Bancroft where it is now part of the larger Book Artifacts Collection at the library. The typecast ornamental material was previously given to the School by Bianchi. Roger Levenson of the Tamalpais Press acted as midwife in both transactions. See Oral History Transcript: Thirty Years at UC Berkeley’s School of Librarianship and Study of Early American Printers, 1963–1993 by Robert D. Ive Harlan (Forgotten Books, 2013), p. 53. Vol. 30 of History of the Book series. Levenson was a Bancroft Library Associate. He also co-produced Some Recollections of The Merrymount Press by Daniel Bianchi (George L. Harding and Roger Levinson, 1976).
[2] I suspect that Dwiggins made his drawing by working from a proof made from an electro of the original Bewick wood engraving.