The Definitive Dwiggins No. 222—Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours
One of the areas of W.A. Dwiggins’ career which is significantly underreported in W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design by Bruce Kennett (San Francisco: Letterform Archive, 2018) is his work for the paper industry and individual paper companies between 1914 and 1936.  Based on his surviving account books Dwiggins did at least one job for as many as 37 different paper manufacturers or related paper industry businesses (e.g. distributors) along with additional work for the Paper Makers’ Advertising Club (later renamed the Paper Makers Advertising Association) and its organ Direct Advertising. Collectively, the paper industry was Dwiggins’ principal client between 1914 and 1928, the year when designing books became his principal focus.  Of all the thirty-plus companies he did work for, the most important in terms of quantity was S.D. Warren Co. 
S.D. Warren was one of the original members of the Paper Makers’ Advertising Club when it was organized by Brad Stephens (1878–1964) in the spring of 1914.  But by 1917 the company had dropped out of the cooperative to pursue its own path in promoting its papers. Watson M. Gordon (1882-1958) was working for Stephens as late as 1918, but by 1925 he had become Warren’s advertising manager.  He was responsible for commissioning most, if not all, of the work that Dwiggins did for Warren between 1921 and 1936. Among the items was Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours, a “primer”—in Warren’s terminology—devoted to helping salesmen be more productive. It was one of nearly a dozen primers published by the paper company that Dwiggins contributed to in 1924 and 1925. 
Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours (1925) is a chance to see how diverse Dwiggins’ oft-maligned illustration skills were. The watercolor cover depiction of a miser’s bony fingers sifting roman numerals may, despite the lack of a signature, be by Dwiggins, but there is no definitive documentation. If it is not his work, it could be by John Goss, his studio mate. 
One argument against Dwiggins as the cover illustrator is the poor “typography” of the primer’s title which appears to be set in Goudy Oldstyle Bold. Although Dwiggins studied with Frederic W. Goudy at the Frank Holme School of Illustration in Chicago, he rarely used his teacher’s typefaces in his work. The many primers, booklets, paper specimens, and advertisements that he designed for Warren relied on three typefaces: Caslon, Scotch Roman, and Bodoni.
More significantly, close examination of the title of Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours reveals that it has been lettered by hand. The somewhat crude quality of the lettering rules out Dwiggins as the creator. Instead it suggests that it may be comp lettering—made by tracing over a type specimen— that was inadvertently printed instead of being replaced with actual type. 
But the cover of Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours is not the reason that the 56-page booklet is worthy of discussion. It is the interior, specifically the first nine pages which are replete with illustrations and lettering by Dwiggins. With one exception, all of the illustrations are child-like with stick figures representing people and rudimentary line drawings indicating cars, trains, buildings, desks and chairs, sacks of money, and other objects—even a cigar. The exception is the portion of a clock on the first page. The lettering is almost entirely Dwiggins’ own handwriting rendered in monoline. Four signs on p.  are roughly comped to suggest type. 
Dwiggins’ illustration style was so unusual that it not only caught the eye of Printed Salesmanship, but the magazine felt compelled to reproduce the cover and first ten pages of Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours at full size in the “Selling by the Printed Word” column of its September 1925 issue. The columnist Robert Ruxton (1871–1953), explained,
I reprint herewith the first nine pages of a fifty-six page booklet entitled “Let’s Be Misers with Golden Selling Hours,” issued by the S.D. Warren Company, of Boston. That it is good advertising-selling will, I think, be admitted by anyone who reads the entire booklet; that may possibly be conceded on a perusal of the small section of it herewith reproduced. My object in making this reproduction is to show how very fine effects can be made with the crudest kind of mediums, provided the thing aimed for is an idea. Here the idea is put over, satisfactorily and completely, with a message “written with charcoal on an oyster shell,” as it were. 
Ruxton’s decision was unprecedented. Usually his column, which began in March 1921 in The Printing Art (the forerunner of Printed Salesmanship) and continued into the 1930s, showed only a few thumbnail images of items he was discussing.  Similarly, other advertising and design columnists in The Printing Art, Direct Advertising, The American Printer, and The Inland Printer in the years between 1900 and 1930 never showed more than one or two pages of a printed piece at full size. At the end of his column, Ruxton wrote, “Booklets are not normally reviewed in these columns, but ‘Let’s Be Misers with Golden Selling Hours’ is one of the kind that seems to stand up and demand it.” 
“There is something about those hands [on the cover] that suggests the miser,” Ruxton wrote, contrasting their “high art” with the “elemental plainness” of the stick figures inside. He praised the versatility of the artist, whose identity he did not reveal—if indeed he knew it at all. In Ruxton’s opinion Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours “embodies the subtleties of art and the elementals of art, yet uses both in ways that produce effects and reactions such as merchandising should seek, if its advertising efforts are to be classed as sound. A master hand works here.” 
Dwiggins’ stick figures and casual handwriting give the pages of Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours a “modern” feel, especially when combined with Bodoni as the text typeface. If it was not for the justified layout, this section of the booklet—spare and unornamented—could easily fit in with the work of Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig done fifteen to twenty years later. But what is truly impressive about the stick figures is how expressive they are. Dwiggins achieved an amazing sense of movement and even emotion in these simple illustrations. Look, for instance, at the postures of the figures in the illustration above: two men lean back in their chairs, one hunches forward, another has his hands on his hips, and fifth is scratching his head. These are not a child’s awkward stick figures nor are they the cold icons of the Isotype system. They seem to anticipate Dwiggins’ work with weighted marionettes in the 1930s.
While the stick figures are the principal reason for devoting a blog post to Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours, Dwiggins’ lettering is also of interest. It is not exactly his handwriting since in his correspondence he often used a fountain pen that created some thick-and-thin to his writing. Here he has deliberately made the writing monolinear so that it harmonizes with the illustrations and the speech bubbles. The lettering has a casual, yet sophisticated air because Dwiggins’ handwriting was not based on the Spencerian or Zanerian models of penmanship in vogue when he was growing up in the late 19th century. His writing has few loops and almost no elaborate capitals (exceptions being P and a Th ligature). It thus manages to be surprisingly legible—especially for its time.
Unvarnished handwriting like this is exceedingly rare in American graphic design and advertising before World War II, especially in such large quantities. And when it appears among the modernist designers in the 1940s and 1950s it is inferior. The handwriting of Alex Steinweiss (e.g. Brahms Symphony no. 2 in D major) and Lustig (e.g. Anatomy for Interior Designers) is mannered in comparison; and that of Rand (e.g. Goodbye, Columbus) is downright clumsy.
Ruxton’s detailed showing of Dwiggins’ stick figures in Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours in the pages of Printed Salesmanship encouraged other companies to crib the idea. The Ockford Printing Company of Detroit included stick figures in an eight-page pamphlet promoting itself which it issued in 1926. Ruxton reproduced two of the pages in his column the following year.  One of them is shown below.
Dr. West’s Tooth Brush, made by the Western Company (Weco), published a series of advertisements in 1926 which used stick figures to tout their sealed packaging. The top portion of one of the advertisements, which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post—where S.D. Warren also advertised—is shown below. (Thumb brushing was apparently a non-sanitary activity that shoppers in drugstores routinely engaged in back in the 1920s.) 
Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours was not the first time that Dwiggins had used stick figures in his work for S.D. Warren Co. There are three earlier instances that I have been able to find.  In Making it Easy to Print on Warren’s Olde Style (1922), three stick figures appear in the margin of a page headed “Dignity—Flippancy—Humor?” from Better House Organs: The Olde Style Number, possibly a fictitious publication. The page is part of a collage of pages intended to show how “house organ and booklet pages” look on Warren’s Olde Style paper.
In More Business Series No. 2: More Business through Illustrated Business and Return Cards (1923) Dwiggins created stick figures that “add a touch of humor and help to get attention” to sample return card no. 7. These, with their smiley faces, are less elegant than the figures in Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours. I doubt they would have garnered approval from Ruxton.
The third example is from More Business Series no. 4: More Business through House Organs (1923). On p. 34, headed “Cartoons Help Keep Readers Cheerful.” Dwiggins has shown how cartoon figures can be either used “straight” with a neutral background or inserted into a photographic background. All three of these earlier uses of stick figures have a cheerful or comic purpose. That distinguishes them from Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours where the figures have no cartoonish overtones. Between 1923 and 1925 Dwiggins—or possibly Watson Gordon—realized that stick figures could be used to tell a complicated story in a clear manner. That is what Ruxton was so excited about when he devoted twelve pages of his column to Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours.
1. Kennett devotes two paragraphs to Dwiggins’ work for the paper industry along with scattered comments about individual items. See W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design by Bruce Kennett (San Francisco: Letterform Archive, 2018), p. 76 and pp. 163–164. He does reproduce sixty-eight examples of work by Dwiggins—and two others incorrectly attributed to him—for paper companies. See pp. 76, 110–112, 114 (neither example is by Dwiggins), 145–154, 159, 163-175, 208–211, 239–240, 249-250, and 317. But those examples are only the tip of the iceberg. By my count, Dwiggins did roughly 300 different paper company-related jobs, many of them involving multiple elements. The exact number is difficult—if not impossible—to calculate because Dwiggins’ account books are inconsistent in listing the specifics of a job. E.g. these two 1925 entries for Let’s Be Misers with Golden Selling Hours: “December 12 Warren Golden selling hours 3 hrs” and “[December] 18 Warren”.
2. Although Dwiggins created design for over 30 paper companies, the great majority of them came through Brad Stephens (1878–1964) who was far more than the publisher of Direct Advertising. I will be doing a post in the future on Stephens and why he is among the three most important figures in Dwiggins’ professional life, alongside Daniel Berkeley Updike and Alfred A. Knopf. However, Stephens was not involved in Dwiggins’ work for Strathmore Paper Company after 1918 and for S.D. Warren Co. after 1917.
3. S.D. Warren Co. traces its history back to 1854 when Samuel Dennis Warren of Grant, Warren and Company purchased a paper mill in Westbrook, Maine. In 1867 the mill changed its name to S.D. Warren Paper Mill Company. That same year it decided to add wood fibers to its rags fibers for paper. It was the first mill in the United States to do so. By 1880, Warren was the largest paper mill in the world. It is credited with inventing the first coated paper c.1881 at the request of printer Theodore Low De Vinne whose client The Century Magazine needed a smoother paper for reproducing halftone engravings. For more on the history of Warren see A History of S.D. Warren Company 1854–1954 (Westbrook, Maine: S.D. Warren Company, 1954). Today, S.D. Warren is part of Sappi North America. It was acquired by Sappi Limited in 1994.
4. Stephens was one of the most important figures in Dwiggins’ professional life, on a par with Frank Holme, D.B. Updike, Alfred A. Knopf, and George Macy. Unfortunately, there is little information about him and his career. The relationship between Stephens and Dwiggins will be the subject of a future post.
5. I am indebted to Alex Jay for providing me with much personal information on Watson M. Gordon.
6. None of the S.D. Warren primers is included among The Reflected Works on Sappi’s website. note The odd capitalization of Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours was typical of Warren’s publications.
7. Dwiggins’ account books contain several specific entries for Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours—referred to as “Warren Golden Selling Hours booklet”—but none of them indicate the full breadth of his contribution to the primer. They simply indicate he consulted on it. See the entries for 13 and 19 November 1924; 12, and 19 December 1924; 26 March 1925; and 25 June 1925 in Folder 6, Box 81(1), 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. Several other entries between 6 November 1924 and 29 December 1924 may also be related to the primer but their notations are too sparse to be sure given that Dwiggins worked on several Warren projects at one time. Dwiggins took up watercolor painting in early 1922 at the urging of his artist friend (and client) Charles Hovey Pepper so that he could become a member of the Boston Watercolor Society. See the typescript for an unpublished 1972 biography of Dwiggins by Dorothy Abbe in Folder 181, Box 31, 2001 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. Dwiggins is documented as contributing a watercolor illustration to another Warren primer entitled The Full Meal in Advertising (1925).
8. The soft edge of the letters is not easy to see since this is a low-resolution copy of the cover that has been prepared for web viewing. But scrutiny of letters such as e, n, o, and s shows discrepancies in curves, counters, and serifs. The title of Edit Your Copy with a Camera, one of four primers shown together on a page in Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours, is in comp lettering (see below). Unfortunately, no copy of the actual booklet is known that would enable a comparison of its final design. The other three primers on the page do exist and they match their images. The title type on all three is Caslon Oldstyle no. 471.
9. I have indicated the page numbers in brackets since the booklet is not paginated.
10. “Selling by the Printed Word” column by Robert Ruxton in Printed Salesmanship vol. XLVI, no. 1 (September 1925), pp. 64–65. The entire reproduction of pages from Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours takes up pp. 63–72 and includes a tenth page reproducing an S.D. Warren advertisement.
11. Information on Ruxton is scarce online. By 1919 he was widely referred to as the “master salesman” and his booklets on advertising and salesmanship were sold by The Mailbag, a major advertising industry publication. In 1920 he was the Director of Plan and Copy Staff—an awkward title—at The Dando Company in Philadelphia, but when he joined them I have not been able to discover. (Dwiggins did one job for The Dando Company inMarch 1919, so he may have crossed paths with Ruxton.) I assume he left Dando by 1922 once his column for The Printing Art took off. That year the General Service Department of the American Writing Paper Company published twelve of his booklets on advertising and selling both individually and gathered together in a single volume.
12. “Selling by the Printed Word” column by Robert Ruxton in Printed Salesmanship vol. XLVI, no. 1 (September 1925), p. 73.
13. “Selling by the Printed Word” column by Robert Ruxton in Printed Salesmanship vol. XLVI, no. 1 (September 1925), pp. 66 and 67–68.
14. The Ockford Printing Company pages are reproduced in Printed Salesmanship vol. XLIX, no. 2 (April 1927), pp. 142-143. The power of Ruxton was noted early on by the editor of The Printing Art. In an editorial entitled “Is Ruxton Right or Wrong?” he stated that the addition of Ruxton’s column had resulted “in an increase in new subscribers, many of them mentioning Mr. Ruxton in the letters which accompanied their subscriptions, and later in the requests to begin the subscriptions with the first of Mr. Ruxton’s articles.” See “Is Ruxton Right or Wrong?” in The Printing Art vol. XXXVIII, no. 2 (October 1921), p. 169.
15. Other advertisements with stick figures for Dr. West’s Tooth Brush can be online.
16. There are other unidentified drawings of stick figures by Dwiggins for S.D. Warren projects in Folder 12, Box 72pb and Folder 13, Box 73pb, 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. The original artwork for pages 3, 4 and 6 of Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours is in Folder 13, Box 36, W.A. Dwiggins 2001 Collection, Boston Public Library. I have not reproduced any of these drawings because I have been unable to obtain images since the Dwiggins Collections at the Boston Public Library closed in 2017 in order to rectify a mold infection in the Special Collections Department.