The Definitive Dwiggins no. 722—“Mantegna” and Margaret B. Evans

Margaret B. Evans (1903–1986) was a compositor, printer, and book designer. She attended Radcliffe College, graduating in 1927, and then did graduate study in the history of printing under George Parker  Winship at the Fogg Museum in Cambridge. After that Evans went from studying printing in books to learning about it first hand with a two-year apprenticeship from 1929 to 1931 at The Printing House of William Edwin Rudge in Mount Vernon, New York. In 1931 she became the designer for the Ashlar Press of August Hecksher II and Maurice Hecksher. Evans took on the same role, along with that of  compositor, for The Overbrook Press when Frank Altschul acquired the Ashlar Press in 1934. She worked for Altschul for a decade. In 1944 she opened an office in New York, doing freelance book design for several publishers, before moving a year later to Boston where she joined the staff of D.C. Heath & Co. Evans worked for Heath until 1958 when she moved back to New York to be a staff book designer for Charles Scribner’s Sons. She was still designing books as late as 1970, but it is unclear when she retired. [1]

On 24 June 1938, concerned about rumors of W.A. Dwiggins’ health, Evans wrote to Elmer Adler of Pynson Printers:

Mr. Dwiggins is quite ill, I hear, which is very sad news. He is one of the most kindly and ingenious persons in the printing world. A little over a year ago I thought that I would like to have a printer’s mark for my small, leisure time printing activities in the apartment cellar, and I wrote to him inquiring about his re-designing a Tarocchi card, the fee thereof, etc.

About a week later I received three versions of the original, for use with various types, and a characteristic note, and no fee beyond items from the little press suggested. Afterwards I heard about his diabetic condition, and felt very mean about my barging in with a job like that. But I have three charming marks! [2]

Recently, while looking for work by overlooked women designers, I came across one of the three marks that Dwiggins made for Evans. [3] It is reproduced in Bookmaking on the Distaff Side (New York: The Distaff Side, 1937), a book created almost entirely by women in the publishing, bookmaking, and printing trades. [4] Evans’ contribution to the book consisted of designing and typesetting “Women as Compositors at the Time of the French Revolution” by Alphonse Alkan, translated by Helen G. Field [PDF pp. 87–102] [5].

In the colophon to her insert, Evans thanked several people, including Dwiggins:

To Miss Helen G. Field, who has translated this document from the original French; to Mr. Frank Altschul, who most gracioulsy has turned over the resources of the Overbrook Press for the printing of this insert, to Mr. W.A. Dwiggins who, with great generosity, has re-drawn an early playing-card as a personal mark; to Mr. John McNamara, who has done the presswork, the printer expresses her appreciation. [6]

Press mark for Margaret B. Evans designed by W.A. Dwiggins (1937). Taken from Bookmaking on the Distaff Side (New York: The Distaff Side, 1937).

Although I have not been able to learn the name of Evans’ hobby press or to locate the other two marks Dwiggins designed for her, I have tracked down the source of this mark. It comes from the E-Series of the so-called Mantegna Tarocchi cards. The cards were not engraved by Andrea Mantegna, but by an unknown 15th-century artist working in his style. [7] Card No. 49 in the set of fifty is “Primo Mobile”. It is part of a subset comprising “the seven Spheres of the Sun, Moon and five traditional planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), the eighth sphere (Octava Spera) of the fixed stars, the Primum Mobile and Prima Causa (First Cause, God)”.

Card XXXXVIIII / 49 “Primo Mobile” from the E-Series of Mantegna Tarocchi cards (15th c.). Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

Dwiggins has simplified the border and replaced the A and 49 in the lower corners with florets. The female figure has been copied very closely with the original artist’s soft shading replaced by stronger hatching. This is noticeable not only in the folds of her dress, but also in the feathers of her wings. The typography of the press mark was clearly executed by Evans herself. The Lutetia typeface is one that Dwiggins never used, but it appears in several Overbrook Press books designed by Evans. [8]

Dwiggins’ design of a mark for Margaret B. Evans represented a return to the beginning years of his graphic design career when he was often asked by D.B. Updike to redraw woodcuts and engravings from the past in order to make them usable in the present. [9]

1. The facts in this brief biography of Margaret B. Evans were initially gleaned from census records on and Google snippets. They have been fleshed out and updated thanks to information provided by Alex Jay from additional sources, including the 1958–1959 and 1961–1962 editions of Who’s Who of American Women (Marquis Publishing Company). Evans wrote several articles on book design, including “Design in Childrens Books 1945–1950” for The Horn Book (May–June 1951), vol. 27, issue 3, pp. 169–175.
2. Margaret B. Evans to Elmer Adler 24 June 1938 in Princeton University Special Collections, Pynson Printers C0262, Box 323, Folder 3.
3. Dwiggins and Evans met—via mail and telephone—during the course of his design and illustration of One More Spring by Robert Nathan for The Overbrook Press (1935).
4. Oddly, the title page of Bookmaking on the Distaff Side was designed by Bruce Rogers. Several other men, including Dwiggins and John J. McNamara, are credited with minor roles in the creation of various contributions to the book.
5. “Les Femmes Compositrices d’Imprimerie sous la Révolution Française en 1794”. This was a petition to the National Council for the Typographical School for Women presented by “the Citizen Deltufo”.
6. See PDF p. 102. Field (1906–2000), a medical librarian, was a Radcliffe College classmate of Evans. The two boarded together in Manhattan in 1930 and then shared a home in White Plains, New York at the time Bookmaking on the Distaff Side was produced. Field married Judge Giles Rich in 1953. See the Fifteenth Census of the United States (1930), S.D. No. 23, E.D. No. 31–1219, Sheet 3B and Sixteenth Census of the United States (1940), S.D. No. 25, E.D. No. 60–368, Sheet 6B.
7. See “The Mystery of Mantegna Tarocchi” by Zuzana Stanska as well as the Wikipedia entry.
8. See, for instance, The Overbrook Press: The Types, Borders, Rules & Device of the Press Arranged as a Keepsake (1934) or A Dream in the Luxembourg by Richard Aldington (1935).
9. For example see The Definitive Dwiggins No. 41.