Blue Pencil

Blue Pencil is a “slog”: a slow blog. It does not get updated daily or even on a regular schedule. Instead, it gets updated when there is something of value to be posted. Postings often take a long time to prepare and appear at intervals of a few weeks or even months. Sometimes there is a flurry of postings within the span of a few days. Blue Pencil may be unpredictable in its frequency, but not in its purpose. Blue Pencil is fiercely dedicated to the 3Rs: research, reading and writing.

The Definitive Dwiggins no. 37—The Mystery of the Printing Press

In W.A. Dwiggins’ account book for 1914 there is this entry: “JUNE / 1 PM MP redraw press salt } 20 00” Translated it says that he redrew a printing press, using a salt print as a guide, for the Merrymount Press and was paid $20 for his efforts. This is confirmed twice in his carbons. There is one dated 1 June 1914 that explicitly says, “Merrymount Press / Redrawing printing press 20 00” with payment made on June 20 of …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 36—Knopf Colophons

Recently, I gave a talk at The Book Club of California titled Beyond the Spine: A Closer Look at the Book Designs of W.A. Dwiggins for Alfred A. Knopf. While preparing the talk a few months ago, Jennifer Sime, the executive director of the club, asked me if I could prepare an article on short notice for the club’s quarterly newsletter. I jumped at the offer because it gave me an opportunity to write in depth about the colophons in …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 34—New Ideas in Illustration

“New Ideas in Illustration” advertisement by S.D. Warren & Co. (Print vol. V, no. 3, 1915). Illustration and lettering by W.A. Dwiggins (1914).
During his advertising career W.A. Dwiggins did a large amount of work for paper manufacturers and distributors, especially Strathmore Paper Company and S.D. Warren. His work for the latter occurred in two phases: 1911–1916 and 1917–1937. In the early years the work was done indirectly via Brad Stephens and his various businesses. [1] The later work was …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 28 addendum—The Humanists’ Library

Front of circular for The Humanists’ Library, first series (1907). Printed by The Merrymount Press. Image courtesy of Barry Snider.
Who designed the frames used on the front of the Humanists’ Library circulars? The first circular was issued in the spring of 1907. The frame is not signed. However, there is solid documentary evidence that, despite its precise, mechanical appearance it is the work of W.A. Dwiggins. His account book for January 4 of that year includes this entry: “Redrawing …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 24—Talks on Dwiggins

For the past thirteen years I have been giving talks on W.A. Dwiggins as a means of spreading the discoveries I have made about his life and career while my magnum opus remains in gestation. Below is a chronological list of the talks I have already given, including some in which Dwiggins is a player but not the main subject. They cover a wide range of topics since Dwiggins had a multi-faceted career. There are many other topics* that I …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 31—Early appreciation of Dwiggins

Announcement card for the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston (1909). Designed and entirely hand lettered by W.A. Dwiggins.

On p. 630 of the May 1915 issue of School Arts (vol. XIV, no. 9), a small card designed in 1909 by W.A. Dwiggins for The Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston is reproduced (see above). The card, part of a section of the magazine devoted to “Good Ideas from Everywhere,”  is praised for its “good pen lettering.” A few pages later, Henry …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 29 addendum—Where’s Oz?

After reading paragraphs 122 and 123 regarding the instructions for enumerators of the Twelfth United States census (1900), I decided to see if I could find another instance of someone counted twice. I had in mind Oswald Cooper (1879–1940), designer of the famous (or, depending on your view, notorious) Cooper Black , who had studied at the Frank Holme School of Illustration at the same time that Dwiggins did. Researching his life and work has—like that of Goudy, Updike, Cleland …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 29—Where’s WAD?

As much as I admire W.A. Dwiggins, I had no idea that he had super powers allowing him to be in two places at the same time. But yesterday I discovered that the Twelfth Census of the United States (1900) records him as living in Chicago as well as Cambridge, Ohio.
The popular view of the census is that enumeration takes place on a single day (often dubbed “Census day”), thus providing a “snapshot” of the country’s populace, both in place …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 28—The Humanists’ Library

The Humanists’ Library was published by The Merrymount Press in two series, the first from 1906 to 1908 and the second from 1912 to 1914. There were four books in each series, a total of eight titles in all. The titles in the first series of The Humanists’ Library were, in order of publication:
Thoughts on Art and Life by Leonardo Da Vinci; translated by Maurice Baring and edited by Lewis Einstein (1906); vol. I [Smith 247]
Against War by Erasmus; edited by J.W. Mackail …
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Telephone directory typography in 1908

Cover of Why Talk About It? (New York: Mergenthaler Linotype, 1908).
Why Talk About It?: “The Linotype Way Is the Right Way” to Set Telephone Directories (New York: Mergenthaler Linotype, 1908) is an early booklet by Mergenthaler Linotype dedicated to promoting the linotype as the best method of composing text for telephone directories. It has been scanned by GoogleBooks but cannot be read through them. Instead it can be read via HathiTrust using the link above or at Continue reading

Poggio Bracciolini, an Inscription in Terranuova & the Monument to Carlo Marsuppini: A Theory

NOTE: This is the text of a short talk that I gave at the CAA Calligraphy/Epigraphy Session of the College Art Association 104th Annual Conference in Washington, DC on February 5, 2016. The session, officially entitled Forming Letters: New Research in Renaissance Calligraphy and Epigraphy, was chaired by Debra Pincus and included presentations by David Boffa, James Fishburne, Roberta Ricci, Philippa Sissis and myself with William Stenhouse as the respondent. Jonathan J.G. …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 26—New Light on Updike’s Dislike of Goudy

Both D.B. Updike and Stanley Morison disliked Fred Goudy and Goudy’s typefaces. In their correspondence they reveled in tossing insults at both. One of the more notable (and memorable) instances is this passage from Updike to Morison:
Poor man, I have never seen anybody with such an itch for publicity, or who blew his own trumpet so artlessly and constantly. He once asked me why I did not employ him for decorative work instead of Dwiggins, for “I taught Mr. Dwiggins …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 25 addendum no. 2—Bewick, Updike and Dwiggins

As I have already written, much of the illustrative and decorative work that W.A. Dwiggins did for D.B. Updike and The Merrymount Press involved copying and adapting older work.  A good instance of this is the vignette on the title page of Letters of Bulwer-Lytton to Macready 1836–1866 edited with an introduction by Brander Matthews (Newark: The Carteret Book Club, 1911).
Title page of Letters of Bulwer-Lytton to Macready 1836–1866 (Newark: The Carteret Book Club, 1911). Designed by D.B. Updike and printed …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 25 addendum: Imitation vs. assimilation

In tracking down potential sources of influence on Dwiggins as an illustrator I got in touch with Roger Reed of Illustration House, Inc. He is the son of Walt Reed (1917–2015), founder of Illustration House and author of many books on the history of illustration, including The Illustrator in America (2001, third edition). Reed, who has inherited his father’s expertise, suggested I look at the “Chicago School” of illustrators such as J.C. Leyendecker, Harrison Fisher and Henry Hutt
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 25—Imitation, Derivation and Inspiration

In a previous post on W.A. Dwiggins I investigated the drawings of The Brownies he copied as a child from books written by their originator Palmer Cox. The practice of copying other artists stayed with Dwiggins throughout his entire professional career. Sometimes he imitated a style while at other times he copied a composition in toto or in part. It was part and parcel of the practice of being a commercial artist.
In Chicago 1899–1903
Dwiggins left Ohio in the fall of …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 23—Brownies

The Boston Public Library is the repository of the Dwiggins Collection. In the initial deposit of 1974 (Box 35, Folder 14) there are some items from Dwiggins’ childhood and adolescence. One is a set of four small sheets of paper tied together at one corner by a decorative yellow twill cord. On each sheet there is a single drawing in pencil signed with a script “WAD”. There is no title nor text except on one sheet where “William Addison Dwiggins …
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