The Definitive Dwiggins no. 419—Serenade
James Cain (1892–1977) is best remembered for his hard-boiled crime novels that were subsequently made into iconic film noir movies: The Postman Always Rings Twice (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1934), Double Indemnity (1936), and Mildred Pierce (Alfred A. Knopf, 1941).  Serenade (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1937), his third novel, never made it it to the silver screen, but not for lack of trying. Its controversial depiction of the supposed link between homosexuality and artistic creativity was a stumbling block, especially at a time when the Hays Code was still in effect. 
The typography, binding, and jacket for Serenade were all designed by W.A. Dwiggins. In the surviving correspondence between him and the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, there is nary a mention of the homosexual aspect of Cain’s novel. All of the talk is about the jacket design—especially its color combinations—with a few asides about the binding stamping. Both the jacket and the title page of Serenade stress the novel’s Mexican setting and its female protagonist Juana Montes, an indígena prostitute.
The Art Deco-style title page vignette is a Dwiggins concoction with no relation to the story in Serenade, where its male protagonist is John Howard Sharp, a baritone opera singer. It is very likely that Dwiggins read at most a synopsis of the novel—and possibly a bowdlerized one at that.  The stylized woman playing a stringed instrument has no connection to Juana Montes, other than that she appears to be indigenous. Yet, her headdress does not match any known Aztec or Mayan one.  She is a Dwiggins fantasy of Mexico, created out of his stencil elements (augmented by drawing for her nose and hand, and the pegs of the instrument).  The Art Deco theme is echoed with the title set in Ultra Bodoni by Morris Fuller Benton (American Type Founders, 1928). 
The binding for Serenade is dramatic: black cloth stamped in silver.  The front simply has the title in Art Deco stenciled lettering and a field of comma-shaped stencil ornaments, both positioned at the top. The lettering is taken from an alphabet that Dwiggins designed for the binding of American Alphabets by Paul Hollister (New York: Harper & Bros., 1930). The letters are identical except for two small differences: in Serenade the N is wider and the A narrower. Dwiggins must have made these changes to achieve a more pleasing visual rhythm, though the word still seems clumsy. 
The binding spine is a complete contrast to the front—in a typical Dwigginsian manner. The title and publisher’s name are lettered in script and there are stencil decorations at top and bottom that more clearly hint at the Aztec/Maya theme of the title page vignette. In particular, the lower decoration suggests the headdresses of figures found in codices such as the Codex Borgia (c.1500) or the Dresden Codex (12th c.). 
Dwiggins strengthened the Aztec/Mayan theme for the jacket of Serenade, the highlight of his design for the novel and arguably the most startling of all of his jacket designs. He described his idea for the jacket as “wild Mex.” and it certainly is that.  On the jacket front “By the Author of The Postman Always Rings Twice,” the title, and Cain’s name are lettered on a curve in a mix of styles: a chunky serifed italic in upper- and lowercase, condensed grotesque (sans serif) caps, and slab serif caps respectively. Below the text, and bleeding off the bottom of the jacket, is the head of what appears to be Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent deity of Mesoamerica.  The design also incorporates vaguely Aztec/Mayan decorative elements along with a parabolic curve separating Cain’s name from the head of Quetzacoatl. There is a lot of pulsing figure/ground relationship—which varies depending on the color combination—in the entire composition.
The jacket spine is more restful with the title lettered in black slab serif capitals, Cain’s name reversed out of a decoratively bordered colored panel and lettered in classically-influenced sans serif capitals, “Knopf” lettered in oldstyle italic capitals in black, and “Borzoi Books” lettered in classical capitals reversed out of a colored box. There are plant-like stencil decorations in two colors at the top of the spine and between Cain’s name and the imprint. (I have deliberately not specified the colors involved in the jacket because Knopf used four different color variants, which I discuss below.) The whole is a riotous mishmash of lettering styles, ornament styles, and colors.
Dwiggins submitted artwork for the jacket on September 10, 1937, but the real work began after that as he and Jacobs tested out multiple color combinations for the jacket with samples of the final choices being printed by October 23, 1937. What occurred during those six weeks is fascinating, even if an exact chronology cannot be determined. 
Jacobs told Dwiggins he liked the jacket design and when Dwiggins asked for a higher than usual fee he readily assented. At that point Dwiggins and Jacobs apparently discussed ideas about color combinations. “Can you go as wild as this?” Dwiggins asked him, attaching a dark green scrap of cloth with a color swatch of magenta paint. Rather than choose a specific color-combination, Jacobs must have suggested that they print multiple ones since, on September 21, Dwiggins wrote, “Variety of color-schemes for SERENADE jacket grand idea.” At this point Plimpton Press began printing a series of proofs with Dwiggins marking each one up and sending the full set to Jacobs on October 22. In the meantime Jacobs had obtained Cain’s consent to have his book published in a variety of jackets. Dwiggins was very pleased with the final set of jacket proofs, telling Jacobs on October 23, “SERENADE jackets are knock-outs, TOP HOLE PLUS, AAA111; see what the sales-crew and retailers say—if they say NO GO, then this line of attack on jackets will have to be given up.” If the sales office objected to this novel idea they must have been overruled by Alfred A. Knopf himself since Serenade was published with four different jacket variants. 
In the Alfred A. Knopf Papers at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas there is a folder with eleven proofs of the Serenade jacket printed in a variety of two-color combinations plus black. The order in which the proofs were made is not entirely clear as only two of them are numbered and they were definitely not the first two to be tested out.  Six of them are annotated by Dwiggins which provides a partial road map to their sequence.
The first was jacket no. 5 [above] in blue and cerise (or pink)—as Dwiggins inconsistently described the colors—on ivory vellum paper. It is marked at right “first try—too mild and poor color / out“. Below Dwiggins has added a strip of burgundy paint and two more notes. The first says, with an arrow pointing to the strip of color, “this in place of cerise / another could be—this and the yellow-green of green proof.” In red pencil Dwiggins has numbered the cerise suggestion as 1. and the yellow-green suggestion as “2. = black / yellow-green instead of blue / magenta instead of pink.” 
Dwiggins’ practice of dabbing some gouache on paper or attaching a swatch of binding cloth—or even a clipping from something printed—to show Jacobs what color he had in mind or wanted matched by Plimpton Press was not unusual in his day. He worked before the introduction of the Pantone Matching System (PMS) with its numbering of colors based on standardized formulas.  Thus, there was some back and forth trial-and-error involved in getting the correct shades of the various colors Dwiggins envisioned for the jacket.
The reference to a proof with both yellow-green and green suggests that the second proof, made at the same time as the first, was jacket no. 3 [above]. Dwiggins’ comments about it were: “This is the mildest one / good color but see what you think in lamplight.” Apparently Dwiggins, thinking of the conditions under which the jacket would be viewed in a bookstore, was testing the various color combinations in both natural light and artificial light. In his time, the latter would have been from incandescent bulbs as fluorescent lighting was not widely used until the 1950s.
Based on Dwiggins’ notes about lamplight jacket proof no. 4 (above) was probably printed at the same time as proofs 5 and 3 (see above) and possibly jacket proof no. 6 (above) as well. On no. 4 Dwiggins has written: “Everybody will hate this—nevertheless it would be a whiz on the tables / not so good in lampl[ight].” No. 6 is marked “out / the other blue better this too dull” which implies he preferred the blue of no. 5.
Jacket proofs nos. 1 and 2 (below) are surely responses to the red pencil notes on jacket proof no. 5. No. 1 is described as “yell basis this best in lamplight” with “yell” referring to how much the design screams to a potential book buyer. In red pencil someone other than Dwiggins as marked “OK good”. On no. 2 Dwiggins has written, “On the basis of a yell on the tables 1 and 2 about equal—but try effect of lamplight on this green—it goes dull.”
Jacket proofs nos. 7 and 8 (see below) may have been done at the same time as nos. 1 and 2 since they seem to be subtle variations on nos. 5 and 3 respectively. In no. 7 the pink of no. 5 has been strengthened while no. 8 is printed on a rougher paper stock than no. 3. Neither proof bears any annotations.
The final three proofs (see below) represent the color combinations that were finally approved by Dwiggins for publication: no. 9 in blue and magenta; no. 10 in yellow-green and magenta; and no. 11 in cerise and magenta. Only no. 11 is annotated and it sums up Dwiggins’ goal for the jacket design, regardless of the color combination: “These color-schemes need to be ‘gasps’—shockers—close value, like above, or unexpected combinations like the ‘green-green’ proof—not ‘pretty’.” 
Knopf’s experiment with variant jackets for Serenade was unusual for the company as well as for other publishers at the time. There are some jackets (e.g. The Backbone of the Herring) designed by Dwiggins which underwent changes in color for subsequent editions. The closest situation (at least for Knopf) that I can think of is the way in which Dwiggins’ jackets for Not Under Forty by Willa Cather (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936) and The Sea of Grass by Conrad Richter (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936) were adapted for later books by those authors with different combinations of color.
A Note on Payment
Dwiggins was usually paid $75 for designing jackets for Knopf. This was on top of the fee he received for designing the book itself, binding included. In the case of Serenade he wanted more, asking Jacobs “…if the book will stand it make the charge 100, if not, the usual 75.” Jacobs readily agreed.  The exchange occurred before Jacobs suggested printing the jacket in multiple color combinations so it is not clear why Dwiggins felt he deserved more money for this design. Certainly, it was no more complex than several jackets he had designed in 1936 such as those for Not Under Forty by Willa Cather and The Sea of Grass by Conrad Richter.
1. Cain’s second novel Double Indemnity was published in serial form in Liberty magazine in 1936. It did not appear in book form until 1943 when it was part of a trio of novellas titled Three of a Kind (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1943). Double Indemnity (1944) was the first of Cain’s novels to be made into a movie. It was quickly followed by Mildred Pierce (1945) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).
2. The Wikipedia entry for Serenade describes the plot of the novel in great detail and explores critical views of its homosexual themes.
3. It was common for publishers to provide book and jacket designers with a synopsis (possibly as little as one page long) of a book, rather than the entire manuscript. In the case of a novel, Dwiggins would not have needed to read the novel at all to come up with a typographic scheme. He would have specified the title page, contents, a sample chapter opening, and a sample text page. The rest would have been carried out—with galleys being sent to him and Sidney R. Jacobs, the production manager at Knopf for corrections or changes—by the composition department at the Plimpton Press, the printer for all of the Knopf books designed by Dwiggins. For a jacket, the Knopf sales department would have provided him with a summary of its plot. See W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs 16 September  regarding the typography for First Class Passenger: Life at Sea as Experienced and Recorded by Voyaging Landlubbers of the Past by August Mencken: “In the cases where you have only the original MS. you need not send me the whole. Typical ‘problem’ pages and an abstract of the theme will usually be enough. I don’t like the risk of so much handling of unique manuscripts.”
4. Neither the Codex Mendoza (mid-16th c.) nor the Matrícula de tributos (1522–1530) show anything like the headdress that Dwiggins has placed on the woman’s head. Perhaps he was inspired by an Incan sculpture such as this metal female figurine (1400–1533) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
5. Dwiggins often added drawn elements to designs built largely from his stencils. He also frequently retouched and redrew the stencil components themselves. For more information on Dwiggins’ creation and use of stencils see Stencilled Ornament & Illustration: A Demonstration of William Addison Dwiggins’ Method of Book Decoration and Other Uses of the Stencil, Together with a Note by the Artist by Dorothy Abbe (Hingham, Massachusetts: Püterschein-Hingham, 1979).
6. Cain’s name and the imprint are set in Linotype No. 21. (In this 1939 reprint the date has been set in a mix of two typefaces as the 1 and 9 are oldstyle while the 3 is modern style. For the original 1937 title page see this copy on Biblio.com.) Serenade is set in Linotype Bodoni which fits with the title in Ultra Bodoni, but is surprising in light of his views about Bodoni as stodgy, a type that makes a book stiff and lifeless. “One trouble of the Bodonis, when they get together into words,” he wrote to C.H. Griffith of Mergenthaler Linotype, “is the mathematical rigidity, of course: ruled lines and compass curves—but the main ‘action’ trouble is in the spring of the arches and loop-elements away from the stems. In all the Bodonis this motion is always ugly—all the fawn-like grace of a galloping cow.” See W.A. Dwiggins to C.H. Griffith 8 December 1943 in Exp. 283 Folder, Box 6, C.H. Griffith Papers, Margaret King Library, University of Kentucky.
7. There is only one, undated, letter in which Dwiggins mentions his ideas for the binding. He simply says that he is thinking of using black cloth and stamping everything in silver and then staining the top of the pages in vermilion. See W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs n.d. [but late August or early September 1937 since the letter also describes his plans for the jacket as “wild Mex.”] in Folder 1, Box 732, Alfred A. Knopf Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. There is a second letter dated March 24, 1938 in which Jacobs asks Dwiggins when he is going to design the title page and binding for Serenade. This is puzzling since the book was published December 1, 1937 and Dwiggins had earlier commented that The binding came out very spiffy, I thought, and the inside looked alive and going places.” See Sidney R. Jacobs to W.A. Dwiggins 24 March 1938 in Folder 7, Box 732, Alfred A. Knopf Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas and W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs 15 Sept[ember] Wednesday  in Folder 1, Box 732, Alfred A. Knopf Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas.
8. Dwiggins used letters from this stencil alphabet on at least one other occasion. For the monogram HLM on the binding front of Happy Days by H.L. Mencken (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940) he repeated the H and L, but created a new, less geometric, M.
9. In the facsimile of the Dresden Codex online, see especially several figures between images 41 and 52.
10. The comment is part of an undated note. See W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs n.d. [but late August or early September 1937 since the letter also describes his plans for the binding] in Folder 1, Box 732, Alfred A. Knopf Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas.
11. See the bas relief on the Temple of the Feathered Serpent at Xochicalco, Mexico. Since there is not tongue, there is also the possibility that the head is derived from the crocodile figure in Mesoamerican art. Where did Dwiggins see photographs of the temple? Two possibilities are Myths of All Races: Latin-America by Hartley Burr Alexander (Boston: Marshall Jones Company, 1920), vol. XI (see Plate XI) or Wonders of the World: The Romance of Antiquity and Its Splendours by Sir John Alexander Hammerton (New York and London: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1924). Or he may have done research at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University which has a large collection of photographs of Mesoamerican archeological sites, including the Temple of the Feathered Serpent at Xochicalco.
12. In a “Work Report” summarizing progress on Wild Goose Chase, Boom Town, Winter in April, First Class Passenger, The Journey Down, the Robert Nathan Omnibus [The Barley Fields], and Serenade, Dwiggins said he had finished the jacket for the latter. Just over six weeks later he told Jacobs how pleased he was with the printed jackets. See W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs 10 September  and Dwiggins to Jacobs n.d [but with 23 October 1937 added in pencil by Jacobs] both in Folder 1, Box 732, Alfred A. Knopf Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. The major problem in determining exactly the stages in the development of Dwiggins’ ideas on the color combination for the Serenade jacket is Dwiggins’ unfortunate habit of loosely dating his correspondence with Knopf (e.g. “Sept 21” or simply “Wednesday”). Sometimes the exact date can be identified through Knopf stamps indicating when a letter was received by the publisher, by postmarks on envelopes, or by triangulating with correspondence that is clearly dated. Since none of those methods worked with the letters that discuss the Serenade jacket, I have placed them in order based on their content and the days of the week in September 1937.
13. See W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs “Sept 15 Wednesday” , “Sept 16” , “Sept 21” , “Wednesday” [20 October? 1937], and “Saturday” [23 October 1937] in Folder 1, Box 732; and “Monday” [20 September 1937] in Folder 8, Box 733.
14. The Serenade jacket proofs are in Folder 8, Box 733, Alfred A. Knopf Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. They are undated, but most likely accompanied the “Wednesday” letter that Dwiggins sent to Jacobs which I am provisionally dating as 20 October 1937. The numbering I am using here is based on that assigned to the digitized images provided to me by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas.
15. The different colored pencils used by Dwiggins for his notes suggests that those in regular pencil were aimed at Jacobs and those in red were intended for the Plimpton Press. If this is the case, it is possible that the first four jackets (nos. 3, 4, 5, 6) were sent to Jacobs on the unidentified Wednesday—probably September 29, 1937 not October 20, 1937 as postulated in note 11 above—and the others were sent later. In this scenario, jacket proofs nos. 1, 2 , 7 (and possibly 8) came next with nos. 9–11 being the final approved batch noted in the October 23, 1937 letter.
16. The Munsell Color-Order System existed prior to Pantone, but Dwiggins, with his taste for unusual colors, ignored it. In the W.A. Dwiggins files at the Random House offices in New York, which I examined in 1981 (when the company was located on the East Side of Manhattan) there were several color swatches in the Serenade folder including one taken from the file for Not Under Forty. These folders have since disappeared.
17. It is unclear if only these three variant jackets were published. Dwiggins was lukewarm about the green/yellow-green combination (nos. 3 and 8), but never specifically ruled it out. Yet, there are no images of such a jacket on copies of Serenade offered for sale online. 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), there is no mention of jacket variants for Serenade (37.01).
18. See W.A. Dwiggins to Sidney R. Jacobs 16 September  with a note by Jacobs saying the higher fee is O.K. in Folder 1, Box 732, Alfred A. Knopf Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. Dwiggins’ Job Ledger, 1920–1928 [sic] has a check stub from Alfred A.Knopf with payment of $100 for the jacket of Serenade dated 21 September 1937 with his comment “Prompt, eh!” See Folder 6, Box 81(1) in 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. For the design of the binding and interior of Serenade Dwiggins was paid $75 by the Plimpton Press. See the carbon of his 21 December 1937 invoice for “work on books” that was paid December 27, 1937 in Folder 14, Box 81(1) 1974 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library.