The Definitive Dwiggins no. 77—The Unitarian Laymen’s League

The Unitarian Laymen’s League was established on April 11, 1919 to provide fellowship to men and support Unitarianism. Within a year the League’s publications began to sport a seal by W.A. Dwiggins. [1] He had been hired by a former client, the Rev. Charles E. Park (1873–1962), minister at First Church in Boston and one of the leading figures in the new organization. The connection between the two men went back fifteen years to Dwiggins’ arrival in Hingham, Massachusetts.

In 1904, Park, then pastor at both the Second Parish Church and the New North Church in Hingham, reputedly helped lure Frederic W. Goudy and his Village Press from Park Ridge, Illinois. [2] Goudy subsequently convinced Dwiggins to join him in Hingham. In 1905, Dwiggins designed, illustrated, handlettered and printed The Parable of the Prodigal Son for Park. [3]

Seal of the Unitarian Laymen's League (1920). From pamphlet no. 13. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Seal of the Unitarian Laymen’s League (1920). From pamphlet no. 13. Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

The Unitarian Laymen’s League seal does not appear in 22 Printers’ Marks and Seals Designed or Redrawn by W.A. Dwiggins (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1929)—but that is not unusual as a number of seals and marks created by Dwiggins prior to 1929 are missing from that volume. Some of the, like the Unitarian Laymen’s League seal, are, in my opinion, of greater interest than some of those he included. What makes the ULL seal fascinating is the lettering: stressed sans serif capitals of classical proportion.

Dwiggins’ lettering anticipates Hermann Zapf’s Optima by over three decades. This is not quite as surprising as it may seem since the source of Optima, inscriptional lettering found in 15th-century Florentine floor tombs and monuments, was known. [4] A typeface, Florentine Old Style had been issued by American Type Founders in 1896 followed by Florentine Heavyface in 1898 (but renamed Florentine Bold in 1903). [5]

Florentine Old Style no. 2 from American Type Founders (1897), p. 252.

Florentine Old Style no. 2 from Handy Specimen Book: Specimens of Type, Borders & Ornaments, Brass Rule, Wood Type, etc. (Buffalo: American Type Founders, 1897), p. 252.

Florentine Old Style is notable for its abundance of alternate capitals (both in width and form), but Dwiggins’ lettering bears little resemblance to it beyond having wedge-shaped strokes for some letters. It has none of the typeface’s mannerisms such as the high-waisted wide E, the short vertex of M, the excessively rotated round O, or either of the two treatments of the A and N. Furthermore, Dwiggins was unlikely to have had Florentine Old Style in mind since the face had been dropped from ATF catalogues by 1907.

The more likely inspiration for Dwiggins is Letters and Lettering by Frank Chouteau Brown (Boston: Bates & Guild Company, 1902), which has two plates of Florentine sans serif lettering. [6] Plate 28, a rubbing of the circular floor tomb of Berto di Lionardo Berti, is very close to Dwiggins’ lettering for the ULL seal, though the leg of the R differs significantly. Also, the seal has round puncti instead of triangular ones. Not only did Dwiggins base his lettering on the Berti floor tomb, he also used it as the model for the overall design of the Unitarian Laymen’s League seal. The circular format and the distinctive shape of the shield within each are identical. Of course, Dwiggins has filled in the inner circle with a decorative design and replaced the Berti arms with a torch entwined with oak leaves and acorns.

Plate 28 from Letters and Lettering by Frank Chouteau Brown (Boston: Bates & Guild, 1906; 5th ed.).

Plate 28 from Letters and Lettering by Frank Chouteau Brown (Boston: Bates & Guild, 1906; 5th ed.).

In some of the 1921 Bulletins of the Unitarian Laymen’s League the seal is used at half the original size. The result is a muddy blur. Presumably that was the impetus for the redesign that appeared in 1922. [7] The borders were simplified, the flame on the torch was changed, and the lettering was made bolder. Given the quality of the redesign, it was probably done by Dwiggins himself. [8]

Seal of the Unitarian Laymen's League (1922) from Annual Report of the Council, Secretary, Treasurer 1921/1922 (Boston: The Unitarian Laymen's League, 1922). Designer unknown.

Seal of the Unitarian Laymen’s League (1922) from Annual Report of the Council, Secretary, Treasurer 1921/1922 (Boston: The Unitarian Laymen’s League, 1922). Design possibly by W.A. Dwiggins.

The lettering on the Unitarian Laymen’s League seal not only anticipated Optima, but it also predated Dwiggins’ own experiments at the end of the 1920s/early 1930s with a “modelled sans serif” typeface. [9] It was a distinct update of the sans serif lettering he had created for the seal of the American-Scandinavian Foundation in 1914. [10] The ASF lettering is sturdier with flared stroke endings. It also has some characters that share features with Florentine Old Style such as the A with a cross-stroke at the apex, and the extended diagonals of N and M.

Seal for American-Scandinavian Foundation (1914). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Seal for American-Scandinavian Foundation (1914). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.

The seal was the first of several jobs, including a bookplate, that Dwiggins did for the Unitarian Laymen’s League. Unfortunately, I have been unable to track down any of them.

1. The first item to include the seal was Cross of Christ, Flag of America by Charles H. Strong (Bulletin no. 1) (1920). The first pamphlet it appeared on was The Unitarian Laymen’s League by William Wallace Fenn no. 8 (1920).
2. There are several differing stories as to what precipitated the move of the Village Press from Park Ridge, Illinois to Hingham in the spring of 1904. Park’s role comes from “Bertha Goudy” by Bruce Rogers in Bertha S. Goudy, First Lady of Printing: Remembrances of the Distaff Side of the Village Press (The Distaff Side, 1958): “He [Goudy] had chosen Hingham as a residence because a Hingham minister named Park, who was an enthusiast for fine printing had written to him several times, wanting Fred to come East.”
3. The Parable of the Prodigal Son was published by Alfred Bartlett. Evidence of Park’s role comes from Rev. Charles E. Park to W.A. Dwiggins 13 March 1953, Folder 18, Box 41, 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. The letter is not entirely reliable as Park claims that the printing and typesetting [sic] were done by Goudy. Most likely Dwiggins did the printing at the Village Press.
4. Hermann Zapf’s design of Optima was specifically sparked by several floor tombs in Santa Croce in Florence. See About Alphabets: Some Marginal Notes on Type Design by Hermann Zapf (New York: The Typophiles, 1960), pp. 40–41. The basic text on the Florentine sans serif is “Sans Serif and Other Experimental Inscribed Lettering of the Early Renaissance” by Nicolete Gray in Motif 5 (1960). Although reprinted with corrections and additional commentary by myself in 1997, Gray’s pioneering essay needs further corrections. See “The Tomb Slabs of Santa Crose: A New Sepoltuario” by Doralynn Schlossman Pines (PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 1985) which changes Gray’s dating of tombs.
5. The origins of Florence Old Style are in dispute. Mac McGrew attributed their design to Ludvig S. Ipsen (1840–1920), a designer in the Boston area, but Anna of TypeHeritage believes they are the work of an artist at the Binner Engraving Company of Chicago and Milwaukee—a claim I do not accept. The Florentine “lettering” that Anna cites in a Binner advertisement in the May 1897 issue of The Inland Printer is clearly the ATF typeface released the year before; and the pre-1896 Binner lettering she shows as the Florentine design as it was supposedly evolving has no more than superficial links to Florentine Old Style. ATF filed patents for the Florentine series in 1903 with Ipsen listed as the originator of the designs. Why she would dismiss such evidence is unclear. See “Revivals of Revivals” by David Shields on; and American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century (2nd, rev. ed.) by Mac McGrew (New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Books, 1993), pp. 138–139. John F. Cumming (1852–1940) is believed to have engraved the Florentine series. See “Designers and Engravers of Type no. VI: John F. Cumming” by William Loy in The Inland Printer vol. XXI, no. 4 (July 1898), p. 470. Some believe that Florentine Old Style originated with the Dickinson Type Foundry of Boston (one of the foundries that merged in 1892 to create ATF)—a plausible scenario given that both Ipsen and Cumming were local—but no evidence has been provided.
6. Although Letters and Lettering was published in 1902, most surviving copies are from 1921. A 1906 edition is online at the Internet Archive. Dwiggins owned a copy of the book. See Box 106, 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library.
7. The new design first appears on the cover of Annual Reports of the Council, Secretary, Treasurer 1921/1922 (Bulletin no. 11) (Boston: The Unitarian Laymen’s League, 1922).
8. See Dwiggins’ account book entries for January 23, 24, and March 15–21, 1922 in Folder 6, Box 81(1), 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library.
9. For more on Dwiggins’ experiment with a modeled sans serif see Chapter 28 “Optima and the Humanist Sans-Serif Types” in Anatomy of a Typeface by Alexander Lawson (Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, 1990).
10. The American-Scandinavian Foundation seal was commissioned by Daniel Berkeley Updike for use in a series of Scandinavian Classics, the first of which was Comedies by Holberg: Jeppe of the Hill, The Political Tinker, Erasmus Montanus translated by Oscar James Campbell, Jr. and Frederic Schenk (New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1914). The binding has a variant of the seal with bolder lettering and a simplified boat and waves.