The Definitive Dwiggins No. 50—Harpers Magazine
W.A. Dwiggins worked in a wide range of graphic design sub-disciplines. One that is often overlooked is periodical design. Over the course of his career he redesigned mastheads or entire formats for a wide range of magazines, house organs and journals: The Alghieri (1911), Advertising & Selling (1912), Happyland (1913), The New England Printer (1914), The Cornhill Booklet (1914), Granite Marble & Bronze (1917), The Modern Priscilla (1918), The Lever Standard (1920), The Paper Book (1924), The Independent (1924), The Saturday Review of Literature (1924), World’s Work (1925), Harpers Magazine (1925), Architecture (1926), The Sportsman (1927), the humor magazine Life (1928)*, Hound & Horn (1929), House Beautiful (1929), Technology Review (1932, 1948), The American Mercury (1932), The Atlantic (1932, 1947), Pictorial Review (1935), The Colophon (1935), The Dolphin (1935 and 1940), Metropolitan Museum of Art Papers (1937), The Packet (1948), and The Journal of General Education (1949). This list leaves out cover designs as well as his own publications. 
Of these projects, probably the best known is Dwiggins’ redesign of Harpers Magazine in 1925.  To fully appreciate his redesign it is essential to see what the magazine looked like before. The cover of the June 1925 issue shown above, with its illustrative portrait within a drab decorative border, was typical. There was no connection between the illustration and the magazine’s contents. The only suggestion of the latter lies in the heading at the top touting an article by journalist and sportswriter Heywood C. Broun, Jr. (1888–1939).
The title page was centered with the name of the magazine and imprint set in Caslon and Scotch Roman used for the issue date. The interior was set in two justified columns of Scotch Roman. Titles of articles and author’s names were centered in all capitals. Illustrations and photographs were either centered on the page or cut into the columns. Columns (e.g. “Editor’s Easy Chair”), with a hand lettered heading set within a decorative frame, were relegated to the back of the magazine.  It was readable but deadly dull.
Harper’s Magazine was founded in June 1850 as Harper’s New Monthly Magazine by the publishing house of Harper & Brothers. It published literature (including portions of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville) and political and social commentary. Its name changed several times until it became Harper’s Magazine. with the March 1913 issue. The seventy-fifth anniversary of the magazine was 1925. It was the milestone that spurred editor Thomas Bucklin Wells (1875–1944) to commission a redesign. 
In “A Letter to Our Readers On Our Seventy-fifth Anniversary,” in the August 1925 issue of Harper’s Magazine, Wells declared that the September issue would be redesigned as part of an attempt “to make the Magazine more beautiful, more easy to read, and more completely in harmony with the modern emphasis on typographical excellence.”  He went on to explain that, “There will be no change in size, but the striking cover designed by a famous type expert will tell you just what the issue contains…. The mellow softness of the paper… will please the eye and make the type more readily legible. The title page will be a thing of beauty, and the decorations at the head of each article will delight all lovers of good book-making.”  (It is noteworthy that Dwiggins is never mentioned by name, only referred to as a “famous type expert.”)
Dwiggins’ design had actually been in the planning for months. According to his account books, he began working on dummies for the cover and inside of the magazine between February 10th and 14th. He continued to work on various aspects of the design off and on over the next six months, including a trip to New York from May 4th to 9th to meet with people at Harper’s Magazine. His last efforts occurred at the end of September. 
Dwiggins designed a new masthead, cover, contents page, and basic text page. He revised the editorial column headings and created a series of decorative headpieces and tailpieces to accommodate articles. The latter is something we no longer associate with magazine design. For the cover, which he first tackled on February 19, there are six surviving comps. There are no notations on them to indicate the order in which they were done, so the sequence in which I am presenting them is somewhat arbitrary. 
Based on these comps, it seems that Dwiggins had the idea of a solid color cover without image, but with a list of the magazine’s contents, in mind from the outset. These comps play around with colors (shades of brown, orange and ochre) and subtleties of typography rather than with divergent ideas. (It may be that he presented these to Wells and others at Harper & Brothers during his June visit. If so, that would suggest that they were the distillation of his thinking over the previous five months, rather than a record of all of his ideas regarding the redesign. )
All of these comps have the same basic design: the month (but not year) at top, followed by “Harpers” and “Magazine” on separate lines; and then a listing of the issue’s contents; with the price and imprint at the bottom. In essence, the design is a mash-up of a book’s title page and contents page. The “November” comp has a Greek key border around the contents. Since it is the only comp with a border I am assuming it came first with the “December” comp—marked by a decorative panel between the nameplate and contents—following it. It is hard to tell if the decorative panel would have been stenciled or not. But it seems that Dwiggins, for all of his love of ornament, quickly opted for a simple, no-nonsense cover.
In the end Dwiggins’ final design for Harpers Magazine includes elements from the other four comps: the nameplate from the “January” design, the pair of swollen rules from the “October” design, and the position of the Harper’s & Brothers mark from the “March” design. Dwiggins lettered the month and nameplate and drew the swollen rules (which are not identical). (He also lettered the entire spine text.) The contents are set in ATF Garamond, with the exception of “By Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick” which is in Goudy Oldstyle. I suspect that the latter was not Dwiggins’ doing, but a last minute decision by the editors of the magazine. Adding a column written by Fosdick (1878–1969), famous for his 1922 sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” defending a modernist view of God’s word, must have been seen as a coup.
The bright orange cover that Dwiggins settled on became the best known aspect of his redesign. It lasted until October 1938 when it was replaced by a paler airbrushed color (darker under the nameplate) which changed with each issue. Dwiggins’ nameplate and swollen rules survived the color change—though they shifted from black to white. (The contents were set in Bodoni.) Dwiggins’ nameplate (and the swollen rules) survived longer than the orange color. Someone added an apostrophe to “Harper’s” with the November 1943 issue, but by the November 1945 issue, his lettering was gone. However, his “look” remained as “Harper’s” was still hand-lettered U&lc in an old style letter and “Magazine” was rendered in letterspaced capitals beneath it for several more years. 
For the opening page of the magazine Dwiggins lettered the masthead in a neoclassical manner with Harpers in roman and Magazine, below it, in italic. The change from the oldstyle lettering of the cover was most likely done to better harmonize with the Scotch Roman typeface used for the body text. He redid the masthead lettering for the contents page in a different neoclassical italic with a swash cap H. Given the conservative nature of the interior typography, it was through small touches like this that Dwiggins put his imprint on the magazine and insured that it looked different from its predecessors.
The Dwiggins Collections at the Boston Public Library have very little material regarding Dwiggins’ redesign of the interior of Harpers Magazine, other than the pasted-up page below. It is not much different from the pre-existing page. The text is still in two justified columns with the heading centered. The text type is Bodoni while the heading remains Scotch Roman. (In the final design Scotch Roman was retained.) What is new is the addition of an ornamental headpiece within hairline rules and a hairline rule between the heading and text block. The ornament is an original Dwiggins design, possibly made with stencils. It is much more eye-catching than the new lettering.
The headpieces, tailpieces and column frames became the focus of Dwiggins’ redesign, occupying most of his time on the project between June and the end of September. The September 1925 issue of Harper’s Magazine sported eleven ornamental headpieces (such as the one above) and decorative frames for “The Lion’s Mouth,” “Editor’s Easy Chair,” and “Personal and Otherwise” columns at the back. But there were more. An additional headpiece and a frame for “Religion and Life” appeared in the October 1925 issue; two more headpieces and two tailpieces in the November 1925 issue; and ten more headpieces and another tailpiece in the December 1925 issue. And in 1926 there were even more: a fourth tailpiece in the January 1926 issue; two more headpieces and a sixth tailpiece in the February 1926 issue; two new headpieces in the April 1926 issue; and a seventh tailpiece in August 1926. In all, there were 39 decorative elements: 28 headpieces, seven tailpieces, and four frames.
The headpieces are tiny. They were designed to fit between two hairline rules (half an inch apart) at the opening of an article or piece of fiction. The tailpieces simply floated at the end of texts that had too much white space. All of the decorative elements can be described loosely as “organic.” There are three main thematic groupings: plants (18 headpieces and three tailpieces, birds (three headpieces and one tailpiece), and people (seven headpieces and three tailpieces). The birds and the people are flanked or surrounded by plants. The people are all exotic or oriental: a man sitting cross-legged holding a flower, a man holding a sword and shield, a man playing a balalaika, a man tending a water buffalo, two men carrying items hanging from poles, two men banging a gong, and a man kneeling with branches in each hand. Several of the figures are wearing coolie hats. Among the tailpieces there is a man in Chinese garb carrying a paper lantern. The oriental theme is also present in one tailpiece with a pagoda in a landscape.
The complete set of decorative elements were never used in a single issue. The headpieces and tailpieces rotated on what seems to be a random basis. It is unclear if Dwiggins designed all 39 elements before September 1925 or if he kept adding to the repertoire over the next ten months.  There is no surviving correspondence between Dwiggins and either Wells or Arthur Rushmore, production manager at Harper & Brothers to shed light on the sequence in which they were created.
Below are the 28 headpieces and seven tailpieces in the order in which they appeared in issues of Harpers Magazine.  Warning: the images were scanned on a library book scanner from bound volumes so they are not the best quality. The first eleven headpieces shown, designed for the September 1925 issue of the magazine, are all botanical except for no. 1 which includes the man sitting cross-legged.
The next batch of headpieces, 13 in all, come from the October, November and December 1925 issues. They include more human designs as well as the first to include birds. Dwiggins’ orientalism becomes very evident with headpieces 17, 19 and 23.
The final four headpieces—from the January, February and April 1926 issues—show nothing new, other than additional birds.
There are far fewer tailpieces than headpieces due to the make-up of the texts in Harpers Magazine. There was less need for them. So it is not surprising that they show up later. In the 1930s a few of the headpieces are used as tailpieces in situations where the amount of extra white space at the end of an article is less than half a page. Below are the seven tailpieces, four of which exhibit Dwiggins’ love of orientalism.
The four column frames that Dwiggins designed for Harpers Magazine have the title of each column set in Scotch Roman Italic and centered within two Oxford rules. The frames are completed with symmetrical botanical ornaments at each end. It is the ornaments that are memorable. In July 1933 a column titled “In the Financial World” was added to the magazine and the flanking ornaments from headpiece no. 13 (the balalaika player) were used as endpieces. (It is unlikely that Dwiggins had a hand in this jerry-rigged design.) As a reminder of how fresh Dwiggins’ column frames were look at the previous frame at the top of this post.
The ornaments are hard to appreciate when leafing through issues of Harper’s Magazine. They are tiny and ink squash makes many of their features hard to decipher. (The magazine was printed letterpress.) But they are some of Dwiggins’ most charming and inventive decorative elements.Their appearance in 1925 is part of a shift in his decorative work as he begins in the 1920s to experiment with stencils (made initially of wood blocks and eventually of celluloid) that allow him to build up original designs out of an evolving kit of parts. At this point his work is decorative work is still botanical or pictorial, but as will be seen in an upcoming blog on his work for Harper’s Magazine, it will change dramatically. 
Dwiggins’ redesign of Harper’s Magazine may not seem like much to us today—especially in light of what was happening with the European avant-garde at the same time. But American contemporaries apparently took note of it. “A month following the adoption of the new cover the circulation of Harpers had increased thirty per cent,” said The American Printer (5 December 1925). Two years later Westvaco Inspirations for Printers no. 35 (Oriental Edition), the house organ of the West Virginia Pulp & Paper Co., lauded the headpieces Dwiggins designed for Harper’s Magazine, describing them as having “the charm of the ‘old Willow’ pattern so popular in china dishes.” More importantly, the editor[s] went on to say, “These delightful headbands are from Harper’s Magazine, the new dress and typographic style of which are, throughout, the masterly work of Mr. Dwiggins. This has seemingly set a mark for the other magazines, as some have followed with a new format, and it is understood that a change is contemplated in the typographic dress of others among the old established publications.” 
 Dwiggins also did illustration, decoration and lettering for many magazines (e.g. McClure’s Magazine and The Delineator) besides these. Among his own periodical designs are The Tattler (1903–1904), The Occasional Bulletin of the White Elephant (1914), The Fabulist (1915, 1916 and 1921), and Transactions of the Society of Calligraphers (1924–1925).
 Note the absence of the apostrophe in the magazine’s title.
 The “Editor’s Easy Chair” column was written by Edward S. Martin (1856–1939) from 1920 to 1935.
 There is no biography of Thomas Bucklin Wells online. He was editor of Harper’s Magazine from 1919 to 1931.
 Harper’s Magazine, Vol. CLI, no. CMIII (August 1925), p. 382.
 See Boston Public Library, 1974 Dwiggins Collection, Box 81(1), Folder 6. The dates listed are: February 10–14, 19; March 11–12; April 23–24 and 30; May 1, 4–9 and 12; June 1–4 and 20; August 8 and 17; and September 21–23.
 The comps are at the Boston Public Library, 2001 Dwiggins Collection, Box 4, Folder 24.
 The comps were given to book jacket designer George Salter by D.F. Bradley of Harper & Brothers in 1962. Presumably, Salter subsequently gave them to Dorothy Abbe, Dwiggins’ executor, and that is how they ended up in the 2001 Dwiggins Collection.
 The best way to see the evolution of the Harper’s Magazine cover is to scroll through offerings on ABE Books. The August 1945 issue is the last one visible on the site that has Dwiggins’ original lettering (with the apostrophe).
 Boston Public Library, 2001 Dwiggins Collection, Box 4, Folder 26 has matted artwork for twelve headpiece designs.
 My numbering of the ornaments is based on their order of appearance. Note that no. 7 is the headpiece in the paste-up above.
 For a good introduction to Dwiggins’ stencil work see Stencilled Ornament & Illustration: A Documentation of William Addison Dwiggins’ Method of Book Decoration and Other Uses of the Stencil by Dorothy Abbe (Hingham: Püterschein-Hingham, 1979). A 1980 reprint is available online and the book was recently reissued with an afterword by Bruce Kennett by Princeton Architectural Press.
 Westvaco Inspirations for Printers no. 35 (Oriental Edition) is unpaginated. They showed Harper’s headpieces nos. 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 24, 25, and 28. The headpieces were accompanied by Dwiggins’ title page design for Streets in the Moon by Archibald MacLeish (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1926) as part of a feature called “Oriental Motifs in Fine Book Design.”
*Dwiggins was also involved in the development of Henry Luce’s Life magazine, but had nothing to do with the design that finally emerged in 1936.
N.B. Although this is The Definitive Dwiggins no. 50 it is not a landmark. As anyone reading these posts has noticed, several numbers are missing. They are posts that I have begun but, for various reasons, not yet completed.