The Definitive Dwiggins no. 133—The Parable of the Prodigal Son
“I caught Dwiggins yesterday printing a book that he had handlettered and was going to sel [sic] himself, and I stopped him and am going to publish it myself. ” Alfred Bartlett (1870–1926) wrote to his friend Edwin O. Grover (1870–1965) on November 11, 1905. “It is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and it is very pretty.”  Bartlett must have been been visiting The Village Press where W.A. Dwiggins was working on the book, despite having gone freelance in May of that year.  At the time he and his wife Mabel were living in Amy Howard’s house on Pleasant Street in Hingham, Massachusetts. “In this house,” Mabel recalled decades later, “Wm. lettered and illustrated the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ which Goudy allowed him to print on the Village Press, tho [sic] without the imprint, since the work was not done by the Master himself.” 
It is likely that Dwiggins had begun The Parable of the Prodigal Son at the behest of Rev. Charles E. Park (1873–1962), pastor of the Second Unitarian Church in Hingham. Park, a member of the Hingham Society of Arts & Crafts, had befriended the Goudys when they moved The Village Press to that Massachusetts town in the spring of 1904, and through the Press had come to know Dwiggins.  Copies of the parable were printed for him to distribute to friends at Christmas in 1905 suggesting that he, rather than Dwiggins, had initiated the project.  However, it is likely that Dwiggins had planned to sell the majority of the edition himself prior to Bartlett’s intervention.
Bartlett was a Boston publisher who specialized in bibelots, greeting cards, and other Arts & Crafts ephemera. He had been commissioning greeting card work from Dwiggins since September of 1905.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son was not the first time he had published an entirely handwritten book, but it was the first that Dwiggins made for him.  Bartlett issued the booklet in mid-December 1905. 
In the Winter 1905 issue of The Cornhill Booklet, the little magazine that started his career, Bartlett advertised The Parable of the Prodigal Son with a double-page spread. A reduced facsimile of the opening page of the parable, showing off Dwiggins’ skill as an illustrator and letterer, appeared on the right-hand page. On the left-hand page Bartlett touted the book’s aesthetic and physical features—its illustrations, lettered text, paper, and binding—and then made his readers a special offer:
Why not let Mr. Bartlett print a special edition of this book for your private use at the holiday season? He would print at the close of the book your own personal colophon, stating that “Here endeth The Parable of the Prodigal Son according to the Gospel of St. Luke, hand-lettered, ornamented and printed for ………………………… and his friends. Christmas Mcmv. Of an edition of …………… copies, this is number ……………..” The colophon might be followed by your autograph. These would make unique gifts, expressing individuality to a marked degree. 
It is unclear how many readers of The Cornhill Booklet took Bartlett up on this offer. I am unaware of any personalized or ornamented copies that have survived, unless the Park ones fit into this category. 
The initial A that opens The Parable of the Prodigal Son is reminiscent of the two woodcut initial As that Erhard Ratdolt used. But Dwiggins’ letter is not a copy. Dwiggins was equally influenced by the white vine initials that Frederic W. Goudy, his mentor, was enamored of in the late 1890s and early years of the 20th century. However, his initial A is not as symmetrical as Ratdolt’s and is more elegant than any by Goudy.  The balance of positive and negative elements in Dwiggins’ A is excellent. It is the first mature initial in his career.
Similarly, the Roman capitals on the opening page have a lightness and grace that contrasts with the heavier ones that Dwiggins, following the tutelage of Goudy, had been making previously. For instance, compare them to the ones he designed for the title page of Good King Wenceslas by John Mason Neale (Hingham, Massachusetts: The Village Press, 1904) the year before.  In the latter, several letters C, G, M, R, and S) are clumsy.
Dwiggins took the text of The Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of St. Luke in The King James Bible. By the time he was preparing the parable, the King James Version of the Bible was no longer widely read or available. It had been supplanted in the mid-1880s by the Revised Version of the Bible. According to Worldcat there were only two editions of the King James Bible published in the United States between 1880 and 1905 that were neither comparative nor interpretive. Thus, Dwiggins must have used The Bible for Children Arranged from the King James Version (New York: The Century Co., 1902) since his text matches it in all regards save one word and some abbreviated words. 
Dwiggins either mis-transcribed or misspelled “commandment” as “commandments,” replaced “and” with an ampersand in a few places—following the old printing practice that the Arts & Crafts movement had resurrected—and used the Old English thorn to abbreviate “that” in one place. His calligraphic rendition is full of the odd hyphenation that he later became famous for in his binding designs for publisher Alfred A. Knopf. This is especially obvious on the first page which opens with “A CE / R- / TA / IN / M / AN.” Elsewhere there is “hir-ed,” e-nough,” and “worth-y.”
A rough page layout with a fully realized illustration survives for The Parable of the Prodigal Son. It shows a different interpretation of the prodigal son as a swineherd. Not only has the prodigal son been redrawn in the published version, but Dwiggins altered the proportion of the illustration. In doing so, the two pigs hiding in the brush were removed. The drawing style of the unused illustration is closer to Dwiggins’ earlier Chicago work in its heaviness and stylization. Compare not only his treatment of the prodigal son’s head, but also the sandals, the rocks, and the forest in the background.
In October/November 1906 Dwiggins was corresponding with John Reed, his former classmate at the Frank Holme School of Illustration in Chicago, about establishing a publishing venture to be called Reed and Dwiggins. In the course of their intertwined letters, Dwiggins wrote, “Sure! Prodigal Son for the first booklet.”  There is no further reference to the project, but a “dummy” for The Parable of the Prodigal Son survives. Its cover says “Dummy for Prod. Son. with text redrawn” while the interior simply has roughly drawn lines indicating the position of the text block and the presence of ruled frames. There is no sample text and no illustrations.  The reference and the “dummy” are puzzling since the date of the former is less than a year after Bartlett’s publication of The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Why Dwiggins would have wanted to do another competing edition of the text is unclear, but in any case it never came to fruition. 
1. Alfred Bartlett to Edwin O. Grover, 11 November 1905, in Correspondence 1905–1909, Alfred Bartlett Papers (MS 859), Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College.
2. Dwiggins and his wife moved from Cambridge, Ohio to Hingham, Massachusetts in October 1904 at the invitation of Frederic W. Goudy, his former teacher in Chicago, to become a member of The Village Press.
3. “‘W.A.D.’ Sec. 4 April ’58” typescript by Mabel H. Dwiggins in Folder 1, Box 8, C.H. Griffith Papers, Margaret King Library, University of Kentucky.
4. Bruce Rogers claimed that 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.” See “Bertha Goudy” by Bruce Rogers in Bertha M. Goudy: A Memorial (Marlboro, New York: The Village Press, 1939). However, Park made no mention of such a role in his reminiscences about the press in “Hingham Interlude,” his contribution to Intimate Recollection of The Village Press by Three Friends (Marlborough, New York: The Village Press, 1938).
5. Nearly fifty years later Park wrote to Dwiggins, reminiscing about their time together in Hingham. Although he did not explicitly say that he had commissioned The Parable of the Prodigal Son, he noted (erroneously) that Goudy had printed it and that Dwiggins had set the type (sic). Park still had eight or nine copies. See Rev. Charles E. Park to W.A. Dwiggins, 13 March 1953 in Folder 18, Box 41, 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library.
6. On September 13, 1905 Dwiggins worked on three jobs for Bartlett: a label for the Cornhill Letter-leaflets, and two “dodgers.” See Dwiggins’ account book in Folder 2, Box 81(2), 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. Dodgers were one of several types of greeting cards, along with letter leaflets and others, that Bartlett sold.
7. In 1900 Bartlett published both Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard with initials and borders by Herbert Gregson and illuminations by Emilie Marthecia Whitten; and Two Lyrics by Rev. John B. Tabb with pages “drawn in gothic letter and decorated with initials and other designs by Mr. Theodore Brown Hapgood, Jr. after the manner of the early missals” and illuminated by Whitten.
8. The booklet was not ready as of the beginning of December 1905. See Alfred Bartlett to Edwin O. Grover, 1 December 1905, in Correspondence 1905–1909, Alfred Bartlett Papers (MS 859), Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College. Of the eighteen copies of The Parable of the Prodigal Son surviving in libraries and other institutions, thirteen were printed for Bartlett and five for Park. The Bartlett colophon reads in part, “The text hand-lettered and designs drawn by Will A. Dwiggins. / Issued by Alfred Bartlett, Boston, Massachusetts, in December 1905.” In contrast, the Park colophon reads in its entirety: “The Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of St. Luke. Hand-lettered and printed for Charles E. Park and friends, Christmas MCMV.” There is no mention of the total size of either edition. Oddly, there is no mention of The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Dwiggins’ account books. This may be due to the sparseness of his early financial records or because of the booklet’s tangled genesis. Dwiggins subsequently created two other completely handlettered books that Bartlett published: The 91st Psalm in 1909 and A Description of Jesus in 1913.
9. The Cornhill Booklet vol. III, no. 6 (Winter 1905). The advertisement is in a copy of the magazine that I own, but it is missing from the University of Michigan copy digitized by Google Books. The latter has a blank page after p. x and two blank pages after p. xxii.
10. These special editions were priced at $40 for an edition of 100 copies and $22.50 for an edition of 50 copies (equal to a 10% discount in either quantity). Bartlett’s wording implies that Dwiggins was going to add ornament to the personalized copies, but no known copies have additional decoration by hand. I have not seen any of the Park copies in person, but Eric Frazier of the Library of Congress has provided me with a snapshot of the colophon (lettered by Dwiggins) of the copy at the Library of Congress. The text (see note 8 above) does not match the wording suggested by Bartlett. It is possible, though, that Bartlett allowed his customers to choose the text they wanted for the colophon. If Rev. Park did that, then my account of the origins of The Parable of the Prodigal Son are in question.
11. Dwiggins’ probably saw Ratdolt’s initial A in Early Venetian Printing Illustrated by Ferdinando Ongania (Venice: Ferd. Ongania; London: John C. Nimmo; and New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895) where it is reproduced upside down on p. 71. But it was also available in other books at the time. Goudy’s initials were widespread, especially since The Inland Printer photoengraved some and sold them to printers. Dwiggins was familiar with them both as Goudy’s student and his colleague. The initial G, with white vine decoration, in Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning (Hingham, Massachusetts: The Village Press, 1904) has been attributed (rightly I think) to Dwiggins by Will Ransom. See A Bibliography of The Village Press 1903–1938 by Melbert B. Cary, Jr. (New York: The Press of the Woolly Whale, 1938).
12. During his brief stint with The Village Press Dwiggins contributed to two titles: Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning (November 1904) and Good King Wenceslas by John Mason Neale (1904). For Rabbi Ben Ezra he designed (and cut in wood) a frontispiece illustration and two decorations. For Good King Wenceslas he designed the ornament and lettering for the double page title.
13. See The Bible for Children Arranged from the King James Version with a preface by Francis Brown and an introduction by Henry C. Potter (New York: The Century Co., 1902), pp. 391–392. The text of the parable in this edition of the King James Version differs from the text in the other edition listed in WorldCat in not having line numbering, italicized words, or quotation marks. The other edition is The Harmonized and Subject Reference New Testament: King James’s Version Made into a Harmonized Paragraph, Local, Topical, Textual, and Subject Reference Edition, in Modern English Print arranged by James W. Shearer (Delaware, New Jersey: The Subject Reference Co., 1904), pp. 189–190.
14. See p. 7, chain letter between W.A. Dwiggins and John Reed October–November 1906 in Folder 2, Wing MS 12, The Newberry Library. That part of the chain letter by Dwiggins is dated “Saturday Oct 20” without a year indicated, but October 20 fell on a Saturday in 1906. The year is confirmed by Reed’s response which is dated “11/14/06.”
15. Folder 12, Wing MS 12, The Newberry Library.
16. A future Definitive Dwiggins entry will summarize what is known of the aborted publishing venture of Reed and Dwiggins.
n.b. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is not listed in The Books of WAD: A Bibliography of the Books Designed by W.A. Dwiggins by Dwight Agner (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: The Press of the Nightowl, 1974). W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design by Bruce Kennett (San Francisco: Letterform Archive, 2018), pp, 56, and 59–60 reproduces the cover and opening page of the book, but says nothing about its origins or production.