The Definitive Dwiggins no. 52—Paulus Franck

Schatzkammer, Allerhand Versalien Lateinisch  vnnd Teutsch allen Cantzleyen Schreibstuben Notarien vnd denen so sich des zierlichen schreibens  befleissigen zudienst  und Wohlgefallen von neüen in Druckh also verferttiget  is the longwinded title of the 1601 writing manual by Paulus Franck of Nuremberg. The book is best known for Franck’s astoundingly intricate set of large fraktur initials (see below). [1]

Ornamental fraktur F by Paulus Franck (1601).

Ornamental fraktur F by Paulus Franck (1601).

But my interest in Franck’s manual is not in the decorative fraktur capitals, but in a set of swash italic capitals that appear near the front of the book. They are the answer to a question I have had about an item in the 1974 Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library. [2] The item is an alphabet of skeletal swash italic capitals (see below) sketched on the reverse of a letterhead for Reed and Dwiggins, Publishers. [3]

From the moment that I saw the capitals they looked familiar to me. For some reason I assumed that Dwiggins had copied them from a type specimen book. But all of my searches through various specimen books from American Type Founders and some of their predecessors came up empty. Then, a few weeks ago, I began looking through writing manuals for italic capital alphabets and in the most unlikely place—Franck’s Schatzkammer—I found what I was looking for.

The key to my search has been finding a swash A with an interrupted right stem. It is the first thing one notices when looking at Franck’s swash italic capitals. But it is not the only letter that matches Dwiggins’ sketch. Every letter is identical in structure, whether twistingly ornate or simple. However, that broken A must have irritated Dwiggins since his sketch concludes with a much simpler and more elegantly balanced swash A.

Pencil sketch of swash italic capitals by W.A. Dwiggins (c.1906/1907).

Pencil sketch of swash italic capitals by W.A. Dwiggins (c.1906/1907). Boston Public Library, 1974 Dwiggins Collection, Box 38, Folder 9. The Reed and Dwiggins letterhead can be seen showing through at the bottom of the paper.

Swash italic apirla vy Pulus Franck (1601).

Swash italic capitals AV by Paulus Franck (1601).

Swash italic capitals by Paulus Franck (1601).

Swash italic capitals WZ by Paulus Franck (1601).

Dwiggins’ skeletal swash italic alphabet is undated. But it was probably created either at the end of 1906 or early 1907 during the period when he and John Reed were trying to establish their publishing venture. Intriguingly, this alphabet with the improved capital A looks like the source for the three swash initials Dwiggins designed several years later for Progressive Papers, the house organ of the American Writing Paper Company. [4] The T has the same spiral flourish the characterizes several of Franck’s capitals and the A is nearly identical to the improved A. Only the H is significantly different from the Franck model.

Progressive Papers (January–February 1914), p. 8. Initial T by W.A. Dwiggins.

Progressive Papers (January–February 1914), p. 8. Initial T by W.A. Dwiggins.

Progessive Papers (January–February 19140, p. 6. Initial A by W.A. Dwiggins.

Progressive Papers (January–February 1914), p. 7. Initial A by W.A. Dwiggins.

While it is gratifying to have finally identified the source of Dwiggins’ skeletal swash italic capitals, I have not yet figured out how he knew about Franck’s alphabet. It is highly unlikely he saw or owned a copy of the original 1601 book. But the alphabet is not included in any of the contemporary books on writing, lettering or the history of the alphabet. I have investigated Alphabets by Edward F. Strange (1895, 1898 and 1907 editions), The Story of the Alphabet by Edward Clodd (1900), Alphabets Old and New by Lewis F. Day (1901 and 1906 editions), Lettering in Ornament by Lewis F. Day (1902), Letters and Lettering by Frank Chouteau Brown (1902), Writing and Illuminating and Lettering by Edward Johnston (1906), Lettering by Thomas Wood Stevens (1906), and several books on lettering and design by F. [Freeman] Delamotte. [6] All with no luck. A search of issues of The Studio and The International Studio also came up empty-handed. [7]

[1] Franck’s book is available via Google Books (see link above). In print there is a semi-facsimile with commentary: Paulus Franck: Schatzkammer Allerhand Versalien 1601 by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel (Ravensburg: Ravensburger Verlag, 1998). Although shown, the italic swash capitals are not discussed.
[2] See the Boston Public Library, 1974 Dwiggins Collection, Box 38, Folder 9.
[3] The story of the failed Reed and Dwiggins publishing enterprise belongs in a future post.
[4] See Progressive Papers (January-February 1914), p. 7 (A), p. 3 (H) and pp. 4 and 8 (T).
[5] The Delamotte titles are: Medieval Alphabets and Initials for Illuminators (1886), Examples of Modern Alphabets, Plain and Ornamental (1891), The Embroiderer’s Book of Design (1903), The Book of Ornamental Alphabets (1906), and The Signist’s Book of Modern Alphabets (1906).
[7] There are two copies of Franck’s book at the Newberry Library in Chicago (Wing folio ZW 14 .F842). If either of them was in the collection prior to 1903, there is the slim possibility that Dwiggins might have discovered Franck during his brief time in Chicago. But with a Wing call number this seems unlikely as The John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing Collection did not exist before World War I.