The Definitive Dwiggins no. 230—Beau Brummell

George Bryan Brummell (1778–1840), commonly known as Beau Brummell, was a Regency dandy. He was considered to be the arbiter of etiquette and men’s fashion in England during the time of the prince regent George IV in the early nineteenth century. Brummell is credited with inventing the men’s suit. His life and the concept of dandyism have been the subject of several books and numerous essays, beginning with Du Dandyism et de George Brummell by Jules Barbey d’Aureville, written just five years after his death in an asylum in Caen, France. [1]

The most celebrated of these writings is “Beau Brummell,” a short essay by Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), originally published in the September 28, 1929 issue of Nation & Athenæum, an English political and literary weekly with a Liberal/Labor viewpoint. It was also the subject of a talk, in slightly different form, by Woolf in the series Miniature Biographies broadcast in November 1929 on the BBC. “Beau Brummell” was subsequently included as the second figure in “Four Figures” in The Common Reader, Second Series (London: The Hogarth Press, 1932), a collection of Woolf’s essays. [2]

The first “separate” publication of Woolf’s essay was Beau Brummell by the young New York publishing firm of Rimington & Hooper in 1930. Critchell Rimington (1907–1976) and Nathaniel Hooper (1907–1975) had established their firm in 1927. Will Ransom said of their first list, called the “Holly Editions,” that they were “adhering closely to the private press tradition in both editing and presentation.” But their books were produced by William A. Kittredge at The Lakeside Press in Chicago. [3] With their Third Series, scheduled to be published in 1930, they turned to East Coast designers to oversee their books, including Richard Ellis (1895-1982) of The Georgian Press, Peter Beilenson (1905-1962) of The Walpole Printing Office, and W.A. Dwiggins. The latter was listed in their Autumn 1930 announcement for the series as the designer of Beau Brummell: A Monograph, A Technique for Dealing with Artists (listed as ready in the Spring of 1931), and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (in preparation). Although Dwiggins’ version of Treasure Island never happened and his essay A Technique for Dealing with Artists did not get published until 1941, his design of Woolf’s essay did appear as announced.

Beau Brummell is one of Dwiggins’ least celebrated and least known book designs, as well as one that goes against the grain of his views on book design. Yet, for those who collect his work, it is the most expensive item to acquire, with copies currently priced as high as $4500. This is not due to rarity. The edition of Beau Brummell was limited to 550 copies, of which 500 were for sale, with half of those being distributed in England Douglas Cleverdon (1903-1987) of Bristol. [4] Its high price is solely due to the fame of its author, rather than any outstanding aspect of its design or decoration.

Slipcase with label for Beau Brummell by Virginia Woolf (New York: Rimington & Hooper, 1930). Stencil illustration by W.A. Dwiggins.

The book is large in format (9.25 inches x 12.375 inches) which is very unusual for Dwiggins who preferred small books that could easily be held in the hand. It is also very thin, consisting of 24 pages (only eight of them having text). Dwiggins was responsible for the typography, two “embellishments”, the binding, and the slipcase. The book is set in Linotype Caslon Old Face, indicative of Dwiggins’ newfound loyalty to Mergenthaler Linotype following their commission of his Metro series of typefaces in 1929. The printing was done by The Printing House of William Edwin Rudge in Mount Vernon, New York. [5]

The embellishments (as the colophon describes them) consist of an illustration of a young woman (possibly the Duchess of Devonshire) and one of an old man (Beau Brummell in his final days at Caen wearing a cloak to hide his “much-mended trousers”). Both are framed by ornaments, she on three sides and he on all four. She is printed in coral with her floral decorations—two pots with sprigs of flowers flanking her and sprigs of laurel leaves below—in terracotta and spruce green. The old man is printed in spruce green with the decorations—festoons above, bare twigs below, and leaves on the sides—in terracotta. The decorations may have been partially created with stencils.

First “embellishment” by W.A. Dwiggins from Beau Brummell by Virginia Woolf (New York: Rimington & Hooper, 1930).

Second “embellishment” by W.A. Dwiggins from Beau Brummell by Virginia Woolf (New York: Rimington & Hooper, 1930).

“The line on title page: Beau Brummell: extremely stylish, and makes the title page. WAD 1955,” Dwiggins wrote at the end of his life. [6] The line (“Beau Brummell”) he was referring to is handlettered as is the title and author on the spine. The spine lettering is stamped in gold. The binding is gray paper over boards with red cloth for the spine. The cover has a paper label with a pink peacock designed by Dwiggins in a Persian manner printed on a rose-colored ground. (The peacock is often hard to se due to the close values of the colors of the ink and paper.) The same peacock printed in peacock blue appears on a label on the front of the pale green paper slipcase. It was originally cut as a stencil in 1925 by Dwiggins as part of a never-published set of illustrations that he called “Graphic response to the stimulus”. [7]

The archer mark that Dwiggins designed for Rimington & Hooper is printed in red on the colophon page. It is nearly identical to the one he created for the cover of Extracts from an Investigation into the Physical Properties of Books as They Are at Present Published (Boston: Society of Calligraphers, 1919). [8] Woolf signed the books, in purple ink, on the frontispiece opposite the title page.

Detail of colophon page of Beau Brummell by Virginia Woolf (New York: Rimington & Hooper, 1930). Design and illustration by W.A. Dwiggins. Note that this copy (currently at the Newark Public Library) was the printer’s copy.

Beau Brummell received mixed reviews upon publication. Under the heading “Old Wine in New Bottles,” Ben Ray Redman of The New York Herald Tribune praised the book despite its slight content. [9] Although The Compleat Collector column in The Saturday Review of Literature complained that the book was physically “too long and unwieldy in size,” nevertheless the reviewer admired Dwiggins’ embellishments:

Aside from Mrs. Woolf’s text… the real interest in this volume is Mr. Dwiggins’s decorations. These consist of quite lovely borders, enclosing figures of a woman and a man. That enclosing the female figure is as lovely as any piece of decoration that Mr. Dwiggins has done—and I rather think that he is the most imaginative and versatile of modern decorative draftsmen. [10]

Hellmut Lehman-Haupt (1903–1992), curator of the rare book department of Columbia University Library, was less enthusiastic in his assessment of Dwiggins’ skills as an ilustrator. “Dwiggins, who has shown himself an able book illustrator in his edition of Poe,” he wrote in Publishers’ Weekly, ” is better represented with the designs for R. Selden Rose’s useful ‘Wine Making for the Amateur,’ cut with great skill by F.H. Fisher, than in his embellishments for Virginia Woolf’s ‘Beau Brummell.'” [11] Along with Tales by Edgar Allan Poe (Chicago: The Lakeside Press, 1930) and Wine Making for the Amateur by R. Selden Rose (New Haven: The Bacchus Club, 1930), Beau Brummell was chosen as one of the Fifty Books of the Year by the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts). The title page of Beau Brummell was included in Contemporary Title Pages published by Mergenthaler Linotype in 1931 to promote their machinery. [12]

In Beauty and the Book, Megan L. Benton discusses the attitude of publishers, printers, and bibliophiles in the interwar years to equate size with quality. [13] Although she does not mention Beau Brummell by name, it is a prime example of the prevailing tendency to take a slight text and inflate its importance through scale and production values. Certainly the size of Beau Brummell is an anomaly among books that Dwiggins designed. The only other book with similar dimensions is his essay Towards a Reform of the Currency Particularly in Point of its Design (New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1932). In that case I think the large format was driven by Dwiggins’ need to fit a fictitious tobacco revenue stamp onto a single page at real size. No such excuse can be made for Beau Brummell, unless Dwiggins was trying to suggest the superficiality of dandyism with the book’s excess of white space. Perhaps he was trying to equate the collector who buys a book for its appearance rather than its content with a dandy like Brummell who dresses for style instead of comfort or warmth. [14]

There is no surviving correspondence between Dwiggins and Rimington & Hooper. Thus we don’t know what Dwiggins was thinking while designing Beau Brummell. The only extant documentary material relating to his design of the book are two entries in his ledgers, indicating that he was paid a total of $350 (in installments of $100 and $250) for his work on the book. [15]

1. The most recent book on Brummell is Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy by Ian Kelly (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2005). The American edition is unfortunately subtitled “The Ultimate Man of Style”.
2. The essay was reprinted in the New York Herald Tribune, September 29, 1929. The complete text can be found online (misdated 1925) at
3. Private Presses & Their Books by Will Ransom (New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1929), p. 398. Both Rimington & Hooper apparently held down other jobs while getting their publishing firm started. Although I have found little information on Hooper, Rimington was described as the art director of
Doubleday, Doran & Company in 1929 and then associate editor at John Day Co. in 1930. He went on to work as an executive for Alfred A. Knopf, implying that Rimington and Hooper had ceased to exist by 1933.
4. Excluding the small books he worked on with Dorothy Abbe at the end of his life, the scarcest Dwiggins-designed book is The Treasure in the Forest by H.G. Wells (New York: The Press of the Woolly Whale, 1936) published in an edition of 130 copies. Agner does not say how many copies of The Glistening Hill by W.A. Dwiggins (Hingham, Massachusetts: Hingham-Püterschein, 1950) or To Autumn by John Keats (Hingham, Massachusetts: Hingham-Püterschein, 1951) were printed; and he does not include Twelve Poems by Florence H. Shimer (Hingham, Massachusetts: Press of the Little Red Hen, 1950).
5. Beau Brummell is number 30.12 in The Books of WAD by Dwight Agner (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: The Press of the Nightowl, 1974). Agner describes the embellishments as decorations when they are in fact illustrations with decorative frames. In 1972 the Folcroft Press published a facsimile edition of the original Rimington & Hooper book.
6. This note appears inside Dorothy Abbe’s copy of the book. See Boston Public Library, Dorothy Abbe Book Collection, Shelf 14, Item 14.27 The title lettering (shown below) was the inspiration for a Dwiggins typeface experiment that eventually evolved into Electra. The “Beau Brummell” letter will be the subject of a future post.
7. The stenciled peacock can be found on a scrap of paper that also includes stenciled lettering reading “Graphic response to the stimulus CONGO” and “M. Firuski, Dunster House, Cambridge, Mass.” in Boston Public Library, 2001 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Box 34, Folder 6.
8. The differences are slight: the ground is redrawn, the shadows and ripples of clothing have been subtly changed, and the frame is heavier. This revised archer first appeared in Autumn 1930 on the cover of Rimington & Hooper’s Third List. See the copy in Boston Public Library, 2001 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Box 5, Folder 27. For more on the archer in Dwiggins’ iconography see The Definitive Dwiggins no. 33.
9.  The New York Herald Tribune (14 December 1930), p. J10.
10. The Saturday Review of Literature (December 20, 1930), p. 478. The anonymous reviewer R. was Dwiggins’ close friend Carl Purington Rollins.
11. Publishers’ Weekly (February 7, 1931), p. 723.
12. Contemporary Title Pages: A Selection of Outstanding Books composed on the Linotype including twenty-one of the 1931 “Fifty Books of the Year” (Brooklyn: Mergenthaler Linotype Company, 1932). The book was designed by Dwiggins and included an essay by him and three books he contributed to: Treatise on the Gods by H.L. Mencken (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930) (pp. 110–111), Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (Chicago: The Lakeside Press, 1930) (pp. 112–113), and Beau Brummell (pp. 148–149). Mergenthaler used the Beau Brummell title page in a series of advertisements in 1930 and 1931 that promoted their Caslon Old Face type. See for example The American Printer vol. 92, no. 3 (March 1931), p. 2; Advertising Arts (1 March 1931), p. 2; and Publishers’ Weekly (8 August 1931).
13. See Beauty and the Book: Fine Editions and Cultural Distinction in America by Megan L. Benton (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), pp. 117–119.
14. The size of Beau Brummell should be compared to the compact formats of Tartarin of Tarascon (New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1930) and Tales by Edgar Allan Poe (Chicago: The Lakeside Press, 1930), which he was completed the same year.
15. See the entries for 20 December 1930 and 16 January 1931 in Boston Pubic Library, 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Box 81(1), Folder 4. The only known correspondence between Rimington & Hooper and Virginia Woolf is a letter requesting permission to publish an American version of the “Beau Brummell” essay. See R.C. Rimington to Virginia Woolf 8 October 1929 in The Keep [Brignton, East Sussex, England], Monks House Papers: Papers of Virginia Woolf and Related Papers of Leonard Woolf, SxMs-18/1/E/2/3.

Title lettering by W.A. Dwiggins for Beau Brummell by Virginia Woolf (New York: Rimington & Hooper, 1930).