The Definitive Dwiggins no. 61—W.A. Dwiggins and George F. Trenholm

In several Definitive Dwiggins posts I have investigated the sources where W.A. Dwiggins got his illustration, decoration and lettering ideas. But, as much as he copied other people, other people copied him. One of the most persistent Dwiggins imitators was George F. Trenholm (1886–1958), a contemporary colleague and rival. [1] He is barely remembered today, except as a type designer—and even then his typefaces (such as Cornell and Waverly) are not household names. But before he began designing typefaces he was, like Dwiggins, a Boston-based commercial artist whose principal strength was his handlettering.

Recently, in the course of preparing material for the Paper Is Part of the Picture exhibition at The Sage Colleges of Albany, I stumbled across a map online that looked oddly familiar. It was the endpapers of Stephen Daye and His Successors 1638–1921, a promotional booklet issued by The University Press (John Wilson & Son) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although not signed, the map was presumably the work of Trenholm since he is credited with the “sketches and initials” in the booklet. Yet, it looked like a map by Dwiggins.

Endpaper maps for Stephen Daye and His Successors 1638–1921 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The University Press, 1921). Design and lettering by George F. Trenholm.

Endpaper maps for Stephen Daye and His Successors 1638–1921 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The University Press, 1921). Design and lettering by George F. Trenholm.

In fact parts of the Stephen Daye map are nearly identical to parts of a map that Dwiggins designed in 1915 for The University Press that was part of a small pamphlet the press published on behalf of The Printing Art, a journal it printed. Overall the two maps depict the location of the press from two different geographical perspectives: the 1915 map emphasizes its location in relationship to Harvard Yard and Cambridge Common, while the 1921 map is skewed to encompass a broader area of Cambridge along with Soldiers’ Field across the Charles River.

Apparently Trenholm, in being commissioned to make a map for the Stephen Daye book, incorporated portions of the map that Dwiggins had done earlier: the heading “The Topographical Relationship of the University Press to Harvard Square, Cambridge” and the insert (lower left) labeled “How to Find Your Way to Cambridge.” Was the idea his or that of The University Press? Either way, Trenholm altered Dwiggins’ work. He lowered the title of the inset; deleted the subtitle of the inset (“Through the Boston Wilderness Explored for the Printing Art by WAD”); altered the text accompanying the fist (“This is the Subway Station where you take a train for Cambridge” became “The Subway Stations where you take a train for Harvard Sq.”) and added a second fist; and removed the cast shadow on the right side of the scroll.

Although Trenholm attempted to match Dwiggins’ lettering for the Stephen Daye map, his work falls short. Part of the problem can be attributed to coarser printing since the lettering is thicker and less crisp overall. But some of Trenholm’s lettering is simply less accomplished (e.g. his rendering of “Harvard Square”) or elegant (e.g. his choice of roman capitals for “Massachusetts Ave.” vs. Dwiggins’ use of script). Normally, Trenholm signed his work with his initials GFT, but not this map. Perhaps he declined to do so because he knew it was not entirely his own work.

"A Topographical Map of The University Press in Relation to Harvard Square" by W.A. Dwiggins for The Printing Art (1915).

“The Topographical Relationship of the University Press to Harvard Square” by W.A. Dwiggins for The Printing Art (1915).

1. The relationship between Trenholm and Dwiggins is difficult to parse. While there are plenty of examples of his work that imitate Dwiggins (and he publicly expressed is admiration for Dwiggins), there is also evidence that the two men worked together on several jobs. They also shared many clients such as Manahan, S.D. Warren and Strathmore Paper Company. I plan to do a more extensive look at their relationship in a future Definitive Dwiggins post.