The Definitive Dwiggins no. 420—Mars in the House of Death (1939)
According to its back jacket flap copy, Rex Ingram (1892-1950), the author of Mars in the House of Death, was a dockworker, assistant to sculptor Lee Lawrie, silent film director, and movie studio owner before becoming a novelist.  The novel, Ingram’s first (and only one), is about a bullfighter and his tragic romances. Kirkus Reviews called it a “romance of the Gothic-impossible variety”.  W.A. Dwiggins designed the book for Alfred A. Knopf from jacket to colophon. 
The jacket for Mars in the House of Death is among the most vivid that Dwiggins created. Its black, red, and gold color scheme is eye-catching and its tilted title— handlettered in a chunky roman letter—provides an additional liveliness. Dwiggins explained the symbolism of the design to Sidney R. Jacobs, Knopf’s production manager:
I had to confine myself to excitement and not try for any matador stuff. [drawing] is the symbol for Mars and [drawing] is the zodiac for bull. Mars in the House of Death is a horoscope “location” as you no doubt know. The House of Death is Dom. VIII. 
He had no need to explain the significance of the colors. Red is the color of the bullfighter’s cape (capote de brega) as well as one of the most common ones for the traje de luces (“suit of lights”), whose name comes from its sequins and reflective threads of gold. Handlettering the title on the jacket spine enabled Dwiggins to tightly pack the words vertically in a way that was not possible with metal type.
Sometimes, as with Tsushima, Dwiggins copied his jacket spine design for the binding spine of a book, but not with Mars in the House of Death. Instead, the symbols of Mars and Taurus that were on the front of the jacket have been redrawn for the spine of the binding. Dwiggins explained to Jacobs what he wanted to do with the binding: “Mars comes out with me: dead black on the most vivid vermilion we can get, with the top stained to get the Chinese duplex of vermilion and rose”.  He eschewed gold stamping, a surprise given his oft-stated preference for it over ink stamping on bindings—but inconsistency was a Dwiggins hallmark. Several years later he remarked to Jacobs that the binding, especially the spine, was the “right way to design for ink.” 
Unfortunately, Dwiggins did not explain the device on the binding front. It appears to be heraldic, but does not even remotely match any Spanish examples. The frame around the crenellated shield is especially peculiar. The whole thing seems entirely made up, which is surprising since Dwiggins had some familiarity with heraldry. On several occasions D.B. Updike of The Merrymount Press had hired him to draw coats-of-arms for his clients. 
Dwiggins set Mars in the House of Death in his own Caledonia typeface which was ready for use by April 1939.  He supplemented it with his own 48 pt Plimpton Initials for the opening of each chapter. But for the title page Dwiggins used Caslon 471 roman and italic for the title and Beton Open caps for the author’s name.  The combination is odd, especially for a novel. Some mediation between the two typefaces is achieved by a “rule” set in Caravan matrix slide 1285 units designed by Dwiggins. (At the time that Mars in the House of Death was in preparation the Caravan ornaments—known by the working title of “Chinese Spinach”—had not yet been released.)  A final echo of Beton Open is provided by the Knopf borzoi placed with an open tabella ansata.
The title page is part of a double page design with the frontispiece illustrated by Carlos Ruano Llopis (1878–1950). The tonal illustration of a bullfighter executing a pase por alto (high pass) over a bull is nicely balanced by the title in Caslon. Llopis also executed twenty-three line illustrations for the text.
1. For more on Ingram’s colorful life, especially his cinematic career, see Rex Ingram: Hollywood’s Rebel of the Silver Screen: The Life and Films of an Uncommon Director by Leonhard Gmür (Berlin: Druck und Verlag epubli GmbH, 2013).
2. Kirkus Reviews 2 October 1939.
3. Mars in the House of Death is item 39.06 in The Books of WAD: A Bibliography of the Books Designed by W. A. Dwiggins by Dwight Agner (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Press of the Nightowl, 1974). The jacket is shown in W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design by Bruce Kennett ( San Francisco: Letterform Archive, 2018), p. 292 but is neither captioned nor discussed.
4. W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs 29 May  in Folder 1, Box 732, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Papers, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas.
5. These comments are on an undated scrap of paper with color swatches in Folder 5, Box 733, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Papers, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas.
6. W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs 3 October 1941 in Folder 3, Box 733, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Papers, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas.
7. Two examples of books with Dwiggins’ heraldic work in them are William and Mary Ann Appleton and their Descendants 1815–1915 by Susan Mason Loring (Boston: privately printed, 1915) and Letters from Rowland Hazard to His Wife; Written in the Year 1876 (Boston: Privately printed, 1916).
8. A Caledonia specimen was sent by Mergenthaler Linotype in March to key industry people such as Stanley Morison, Elmer Adler, and A.W. Rushmore for their feedback. The New Deal in Old Rome by H.J. Haskell (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1939) was the first book set in Caledonia. It was completed in April 1939.
9. Beton Open was designed by Heinrich Jost for Bauersche Giesserei in 1931. It was imported into the United States by Bauer Types of New York.
10. Caravan ornaments were officially announced in the summer of 1940. Matrix slide 1284 was used for The New Deal in Old Rome by H.J. Haskell (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1939) before 1285 appeared in Mars in the House of Death.