The Definitive Dwiggins no. 113—The Marchbanks Calendar

Hal Marchbanks (March 1929). Photograph by Edmund G. Gress.

Hal Marchbanks
“Head of His Own Press Was Credited With Revival of a Caslon Type Face” read the headline in The New York Times for the obituary of Hal Marchbanks. [1] In its time—roughly the quarter-century after 1910—The Marchbanks Press was considered one of the best printers not only in New York City but throughout the entire United States. Yet today, it and its owner are virtually forgotten.

Hal Marchbanks was born in 1877 in Ennis, Texas, a small town near Dallas. He had printing ink in his blood from an early age. Edmund G. Gress, long-time editor of The American Printer, claimed that “…little Hal, at the age of eight years became assistant to the editor and publisher of the town’s weekly newspaper.” Marchbanks then worked for a printer in Dallas before moving to Lockport, New York in 1902. There he established his first printing office. A few years later he moved again to New York City where he became the manager of Hill’s Print Shop. [2] In late 1913 John A. Hill (1858–1916) sold the business to Marchbanks who renamed it Hal Marchbanks, Printer. [3] The following year it became The Marchbanks Press.

The Marchbanks Press
From the beginning The Marchbanks Press was a leading New York City job printer. Located at 114 East 13 Street in Greenwich Village, it was a gathering place for artists, designers, printers, and others. “A man of small stature, always dressed in soft comfortable clothing, which he wore with an air of individuality, Mr. Marchbanks was known in Bohemian circles of the city,” wrote The New York Times. He was a member of the Graphic Group that met in 1911-1912, the forerunner of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). [4] Marchbanks collaborated for many years with graphic designers Fred G. Cooper (1883–1962) and Frederic W. Goudy (1865–1947). Cooper designed stationery and promotional pieces for The Marchbanks Press and in turn he relied on the press as his principal printer, especially for the voluminous work he did over the decades for the New York Edison Company. [5] The press was the publisher of the first three numbers of Goudy’s journal Ars Typographica (1918–1922). The two men both formally joined The Marchbanks Press in 1918. [6]

Promotion for The Marchbanks Press (n.d.). Illustration and lettering by Fred G. Cooper. Image courtesy of Leslie Cabarga.

The Marchbanks Press was profiled in the May 1916 issue of The Printing Art and again in the journal’s July 1918 issue. The first portfolio stressed Marchbanks’ emphasis on legibility as the primary concern in graphic design, while the second portfolio highlighted his love of Caslon type and belief in the value of “white space”. [7] According to The New York Times obituary, Marchbanks was a major force in influencing other printers and graphic designers to use Caslon, especially Caslon Old Style 471 which he viewed as “a ‘face’ of individuality, simplicity and dignity”. [8]

The Marchbanks Press dominated the 1920 AIGA Printing Exhibition, overshadowing more famous printers such as The Merrymount Press, John Henry Nash, and Carl Purington Rollins. Fifty of the 1457 items chosen for display were either composed or printed by the press. The items included books, booklets, folders, advertisements, stationery, and greeting cards. The Marchbanks Press won a gold medal for its calendars, and a silver medal for an advertisement for The Irving National Bank. [9] It also won for a poster showcasing Caslon type.

The Marchbanks Press continued to exist for several decades after Marchbanks’ death on April 13, 1934. Emily Connor (b. 1890), who had joined the press upon its inception, continued to oversee it until its demise, sometime after 1960. [10]

Calendar for August 1918; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

The Marchbanks Press Calendars
The Marchbanks Press is most famous for its series of promotional calendars, single-sided strip designs mailed out each month to its customers and friends. The first calendar set was designed by Fred G. Cooper in 1915. He also contributed illustrations to the ones for 1916 and 1919. The 1917 and 1920 calendars were entirely typographic while the one for 1918—in the wartime spirit of “saving” material resources—used old woodcuts and wood engravings. In 1921 or 1922 the calendar began to feature a single contemporary illustrator for the entire year. It is unclear if Guido and Laurence Rosa did all twelve of the 1921 calendars, but René Clarke (1886–1969) was definitely the lone illustrator for the 1922 edition. [11] After Clarke, there was Allen Lewis (1873–1957) in 1923, Thomas Maitland Cleland (1880–1956) in 1924, W.A. Dwiggins (1880–1956) in 1925, Charles B. Falls (1874–1960) in 1926, Rudolph Ruzicka (1883–1978) in 1927, Harry Cimino (1898–1969) in 1928, and Fred G. Cooper again in 1929. [12] I don’t know the identities of any of the contributors to the calendars from 1930 on.

Calendar design for November 1924. Design by T.M. Cleland; printing by The Marchbanks Press. Courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

Calendar for November 1927. Illustration by Rudolph Ruzicka; printing by The Marchbanks Press.

Calendar for January 1929. Illustration by Fred G. Cooper; printing by The Marchbanks Press.

The Marchbanks Press 1925 Calendar
The 1925 Marchbanks calendar is the most well-documented since it was the work of W.A. Dwiggins. [13] For the twelve calendar slips Dwiggins varied his illustration style from month to month—something which Ruzicka and Fred G. Cooper also did subsequently. It is likely that he did this to show potential clients, especially book publishers, the range of his skills. [14] The calendars were marketing devices for both The Marchbanks Press and for Dwiggins. Dwiggins was on the cusp between his career as an advertising designer and his career as a book designer. He was eager not simply to design books, but to illustrate them. In Transactions of the Society of Calligraphers, Bulletin No. 1, Part I (January 1, 1924) he wrote, in the guise of his alter ego Hermann Püterschein, “I will confess that these experiments with book pages [of illustrating scientific romances by H.G. Wells] grew out of a craving to make some pictures.”

Dwiggins’ images for each of the months deviate greatly from the usual ones. He avoids the clichés of the baby and old man for January, the lion and lamb for March, showers for April, trees in bud or flowers for May, firecrackers for July, falling leaves for September or October, a turkey for November, and snow or a Christmas reference for December. His images tend to capture the spirit of each month, focusing on the weather and changes in human emotion as the seasons progress. Dwiggins eschews references to specific holidays. Furthermore, his illustrations all suggest eternal verities as he avoids depicting any modern person or place (in contrast to the contemporary New York scenes that C.B. Falls rendered for the 1926 Marchbanks calendar).

Calendar for January 1924. Design and illustration by T.M. Cleland; printing by The Marchbanks Press.

Calendar for January 1926. Illustration by C.B. Falls; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

Calendar for January 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

Why did Dwiggins choose a Japanese archer to represent January? The wind-blown snow obviously signifies winter. Perhaps the bow at rest suggests quiescent nature. There is the slim possibility that Dwiggins intended the archer to be Emperor Jimmu Tenno, the first Japanese emperor who reigned from 660 BC to 585 BC, who is always depicted carrying a bow. According to Lafcadio Hearn, “…the Yoshigami-no-matsuri, or festival of the God of the New Year, and the anniversary of Jimmu Tenno to the throne” coincided. [15] Dwiggins was familiar with Hearn’s writings on Japan and may have remembered this note.

Somehow I overlooked this wonderful illustration when I made my survey of Dwiggins’ depictions of archers in The Definitive Dwiggins no. 33.

Calendar for February 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

The European crossbowman for February makes a nice contrast to the Japanese archer for January. presumably, he is hunting a snowshoe hare or a white-tailed ptarmigan.

Calendar for March 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press. Note the wordplay with the month.

Dwiggins’ illustrations for January and March are among my favorites from the Marchbanks calendar set for their sharp evocation of the weather in both months. For March note the man cupping his hands to light a pipe amidst the blustery wind. And to further suggest the windiness of the scene Dwiggins’ signature WAD is atilt.

The posture of the woman in the foreground is reminiscent of The Gleaners painting by Jean-François Millet (1857).

Calendar for April 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

For April Dwiggins drew a seated faun looking at a classical ruin. Although no flute is visible the figure may be intended as Pan, a Greek god associated with spring. The loose illustration style of the faun is a contrast to the stiffness of February’s crossbowman, suggesting the awakening of life now that winter is over. This change in the seasons is reinforced by the use of four colors compared to the single muted colors of January, February, and March.

Calendar for May 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

The prancing young woman suggests the elation of May when flowers are fully in bloom and trees are verdant. Dwiggins was never good at drawing nude figures, and this woman is no exception. There is no hint of sexuality in her depiction.

Calendar for June 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

It is hard to figure out why Dwiggins chose a portrait of a well-to-do antebellum Southern belle for the month of June. Nothing about the image suggests summertime, other than a distant hint that the scene is a Southern plantation. This is one of only two illustrations in the calendar set in which Dwiggins has included a decorative element. The neoclassical corner piece draws attention to the classical statue of Artemis/Diana with bow and arrow behind the woman’s left shoulder.

Calendar for July 1925. Illustration by W.A Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

The drummer is another recurrent figure in Dwiggins’ oeuvre. In 1908 he illustrated a Christmas card—”Now Christmas is come / let us beat up the drum…”—for Alfred Bartlett with a young man beating a pair of strapped Colonial field drums. And for Book I of Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais (New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1936) he drew a man banging a side drum to signal the beginning of the tale. For the month of July Dwiggins drew a seated Buddhist drummer. The deep yellow, rather than the figure, signals the heat of mid-summer.

Note how Dwiggins breaks the frame at top with the drummer’s upraised left hand and at bottom with drum itself. In the Gargantua and Pantagruel illustration of a drummer he did a similar thing, breaking the frame at the left with the drummer’s outstretched right hand and at the bottom with his feet.

Calendar for August 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

For August, Dwiggins depicted Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, at rest and unclothed rather than in her usual hunting position and attire. The nighttime scene is a reminder that she is also the goddess of the Moon. [15] This is another archer that I overlooked in assembling The Definitive Dwiggins no. 33.

Calendar for September 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and prining by The Marchbanks Press.

The illustration for September is one of my favorites from the Marchbanks calendar set. Is the man with the English horn commencing a fox hunt, which traditionally is held in autumn? He is reminiscent of one of a trio of musicians Dwiggins illustrated for a Christmas card commissioned by Alfred Bartlett in 1907.

Calendar for October 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

For October Dwiggins chose to show a scene suggesting the grape harvest rather than the grain harvest. During Prohibition, the depiction of Bacchus and bacchae, carried an extra message. However, in this case, it is likely that Dwiggins simply found it an amusing thing to do, not because he was a “wet”. His mother was a longtime Temperance crusader and I suspect that he leaned in that direction as well.

Calendar for November 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

Coincidentally, Dwiggins followed Cleland in showing a lone musician to represent November. Why? I have no idea what the connection is. There is no clue in the note, accompanying the artwork, that Dwiggins sent to Marchbanks:

Dear Hal:
Here is November.
My color scheme is a guess. It may come too pale in general effect. Do not hesitate to substitute something better.
Truly yours WAD [16]

Calendar for December 1925. Illustration by W.A. Dwiggins; typography and printing by The Marchbanks Press.

This is the strangest illustration in the entire Marchbanks calendar set. It appears to be a Hindu religious event, but it does not match any actual ceremony. It is a figment of Dwiggins’ imagination. with no obvious connection to December. It may be a comment on the worship of false gods at Christmastime, though I don’t know if the holiday was as commercialized in 1925 as it is today.

The text, probably written by Marchbanks, is amusing:

Oswald Cooper says dryly that there are getting to be more “expert typographers” than bootleggers in this land of law abiding citizens.

To finish a job of printing right, is to begin it right. That is our method and we are not “expert typographers”.

Dwiggins was the first (and maybe only) illustrator of the Marchbanks calendars who made colored paper an integral part of his designs. This is most evident in the slips for January, August, and November. His longtime experience working for paper companies, especially for Hampshire Paper Company, and Direct Advertising had given Dwiggins a deep understanding of how inks and papers interacted.

The Marchbanks calendar was included in the 1926 AIGA Printing for Commerce show.

The 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library contains original artwork for the February and November illustrations; and I own the artwork for the September illustration. Where the other nine drawings are is unknown. [17] Complete sets of the 1925 Marchbanks calendar slips exist at the Boston Public Library, the Newberry Library, the University of Kentucky, McGill University, and Dartmouth College.

1. Hal Marchbanks obituary in The New York Times 14 April 1934.
2. Marchbanks’ biography has been assembled from his obituary in The New York Times and “Little Life Stories of Live Men Known to the Printers of America: Hal Marchbanks, Printer” by E.G. Gress in The American Printer vol. 68, no. 10 (May 20, 1919), p. 21. Where the two sources do not agree on dates of events in Marchbanks’ life, I have relied on Gress’ profile. Exactly when Marchbanks moved to New York City is unclear. Leslie Cabarga says he met Fred G. Cooper around 1904, but the only dated reference I could find was a note in The Buffalo Evening News 9 January 1906 that mentioned the former print shop Marchbanks ran in Lockport. See The Lettering and Graphic Design of F.G. Cooper by Leslie Cabarga (New York: Art Direction Book Co., 1996), p. 45.
3. See The American Printer, vol. 57, no. 3 (November 1913) p. 384B: “It is no longer ‘Hill’s Print Shop,’ but ‘Hal Marchbanks, Printer,’ 505 Pearl Street, New York. For seven years Mr. Marchbanks has been managing the print shop of the Hill Publishing Company, and during that time acquired a reputation as a producer of printed matter out-of-the-ordinary.” In 1909 Hill had merged his publishing house with the McGraw Publishing Company to form The McGraw-Hill Book Company. See “Varied Career of John A. Hill” by Richard Spillane in The Depew Herald (Depew, New York), 19 November 1914, p. 3.
4. See “A Brief Account of the Life and Work of William Edwin Rudge”; keepsake by Gallery 303 for Heritage in the Graphic Arts lecture series [1970]. Also see “Seventy-five Years of AIGA” by Steven Heller and Nathan Gluck. Other members of the Graphic Group—not the Graphics group as Heller and Gluck have it—were Arthur S. Allen, William Edwin Rudge, Fred G. Cooper, Frederic W. Goudy, Norman T.A. Munder, John Clyde Oswald, Thomas Nast Fairbanks, Cyril Nast, John Clyde Oswald, C.E. Ruttan, Alan H. Gamble, Samuel Graydon, Ray Greenleaf, and E.A. Kendrick. Allen is often credited as the leader of the group. See The Inland Printer vol. 52, no. 4 (January 1914), p. 582.
5. Cooper met Marchbanks while the latter was the manager of Hill’s Print Shop. See The Graphic Arts vol. III, no. 5 (May 1912), p. 464. In 1915 The Marchbanks Press printed an eight-page insert of Cooper’s work for The Printing Art vol. XXV, no. 4 (June 1915). For a discussion of Cooper’s work for the New York Edison Company see The Lettering and Graphic Design of F.G. Cooper by Leslie Cabarga (New York: Art Direction Book Co., 1996).
6. See The Printing Art vol. XXX, no. 5 (January 1918), p. 124: “Announcement is made of the formation of a co-partnership between Mr. F. G. Cooper and Mr. Hal Marchbanks, of New York, to be known as, and work under the firm name of ‘Cooper-Marchbanks,’ for the production of distinctive advertising and printing. The work of both gentlemen in their respective fields is well known and appreciated by lovers of good design and good typography.” For Goudy, see  The Printing Art vol. XXX, no. 6 (February 1918), p. 395. The notice did not specify Goud’s role, but implied that it would involve his knowledge of typography. Oddly, the New York City directory for 1924/1925 lists Goudy as the manager of The Marchbanks Press.

Illustration by Fred G. Cooper of Frederic W. Goudy flooding the world with his typefaces. Keepsake in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of The Village Press in 1938. Printed by The Marchbanks Press. Image courtesy of Leslie Cabarga.

7. “Mr. Marchbanks believes, first, in legibility. Form, proper adjustment of margins, the use of Roman or Italic, letter spacing and other details are of course considered, but to make the work readable is the main point. His success is due largely to adopting a simple treatment no matter what printing problem presents itself.” From “Examples of Typographic Work of The Marchbanks Press; Being an Eight-page Exhibit of a few Commercial Forms Taken from the Regular Run of Orders, and Demonstrating the Pleasing, Legible, and Effective Results to Be Secured by the Intelligent Use of Type” in The Printing Art vol. XXVII, no. 3 (May 1916). “These specimens, while mostly composed in Caslon type display variety and distinction in style, show excellence in composition and a proper appreciation of the value of ‘white space’.” From “Examples of the Work of The Marchbanks Press; Being a collective reprint of some of the commercial printing being produced by this well-known plant” in The Printing Art vol. XXXI, no. 5 (July 1918).
8. Obituary of Hal Marchbanks in The New York Times 14 April 1934. Despite the newspaper’s claim, Marchbanks was not the only one who helped revive the use of Caslon in America at this time. Carl Purington Rollins (1880–1960) used it exclusively during his years printing At the Dyke Mill, Montague (Massachusetts). See The Printing Art vol. XXVI, no. 4 (December 1915), p. 258 and “Shakespearean Printing Three Hundred Years After” in The Printing Art vol. XXVI, no. 4 (December 1915), pp. 297–301.
9. The full list of winners—though without any reproductions, was published as Achievement: A Treatise on One of the Factors in the Advancement of the Art of Printing, with Examples (New York: Japan Paper Company, 1920). Marchbanks was on the exhibition committee, but none of the press’ winning entries were marked by an asterisk which was used to indicate items on display that were not voted on.
10. The latest reference to Emily Connor and The Marchbanks Press that I have found is a city directory listing for 1960. For those looking for women in printing and graphic design, Miss Connor (she apparently never married) is worthy of investigation.
11. Contemporary references to the 1921 Marchbanks Press calendar mention only the Rosa brothers, but the September 1921 slip is signed J.G. [John Goss?].
12. For contemporary overviews of the Marchbanks calendars see The American Printer vol. 83, no. 6 (December 1926), p. 56; “The Essential Principles of Good Calendar Designing” by Walt Harris in Direct Advertising vol. XII, no. III (1926), pp. 4–8; and “Over 17 Years of Calendars” by Burford Lorimer in Advertising & Selling vol. 23, no. 1 (January 1934), insert between pp. 24 and 25. Walt Harris is listed as having contributed to a calendar during the 1920s, but I have not seen any such designs.
13. E.G. Gress, editor of The American Printer, mentioned Dwiggins’ designs for the 1925 calendar twice during the year: 
The American Printer vol. 80 (February 20, 1925), p. 44 reproduced the January calendar; and The American Printer vol. 81, no. 3 (August 5, 1925), pp. 34–35 showed every month from January to June. Only April and December are reproduced in W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design by Bruce Kennett (San Francisco: Letterform Archive, 2017), p. 179.
14. The only instance before this where Dwiggins had displayed a range of illustration styles on a single project was the series of advertisements entitled “The Pageant of Color” he designed for the Hampshire Paper Company from February 1922 to April 1925.
15. This is in a note in Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan vol. II by Lafcadio Hearn (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1894), p. 398. The symbolism of archery in various cultures is discussed in The Symbolism of Archery by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy in Studies in Comparative Religion vol. 5, no. 2. (Spring, 1971). The comments on Japan are brief, however.
16. The undated note is in the Boston Public Library, 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Box 71, Folder 9A.
17. See the Boston Public Library, 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Box 71, Folder 9A. The November artwork was acquired from New York book dealer Irving Oaklander. The February artwork was owned at one time by Herb Simpson, Evansville, Indiana advertising executive and avid Dwiggins collector, who bought it from New York book dealer Philip C. Duschnes. See Herbert Simpson to Paul A. Bennett undated note in New York Public Library, Paul A. Bennett Papers, Box 8, Folder 3: “I have the original drawing on this (bought along with four other drawings for the Marchbanks calendars—from PCD [Duschnes]).” And Herbert Simpson to Paul A. Bennett 23 February 1957 in Dartmouth College, Rauner Special Collections Library, Rudolph Ruzicka Collection UP-66, Box 6, Folder—Postscripts on Dwiggins Correspondence 16–28 February 1957. Simpson says Duschnes sold the drawings for $10 each.