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. 41—A Christmas card for Mrs. Foster

In several previous posts (nos. 3, 13, 25, 34 and 37) I have explored the sources that W.A. Dwiggins relied upon for his illustrations. In his work for The Merrymount Press these sources were often provided to him by his client, Daniel Berkeley Updike. A rare instance of Dwiggins discovering an historical source on his own for an illustration for a Merrymount Press job is the portrait of a Madonna and Child that graces the exterior of a 1908 Christmas …
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The Definitive Dwiggins No. 40—The Noble Order of the Golden Louse

For ten years I have been poring over W.A. Dwiggins’ surviving account books in an attempt to identify and locate the thousands of ephemeral design jobs he worked on between 1907 and the end of the 1920s.  Although much of the work is mundane and some of it trivial, all of it is fascinating since it tells us a lot about the nature of his career and of the state of American graphic design in these formative years.
One entry (of many) …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 39—The Cambridge City Bakery

“The Staff of Life” advertisement for The Cambridge City Bakery. From Frederic Goudy by D.J.R. Bruckner (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Publisher, 1990), p.48.
In his biography of Frederic W. Goudy, D.J.R. Bruckner shows the above image on p. 48 with the caption, “Advertisement for the [sic] Cambridge City Bakery designed by Goudy. This claim, for which Bruckner provides no documentation, has bothered me ever since the book was published. How did Goudy come to design the advertisement and when …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 38—Alvin Lustig and W.A. Dwiggins

The 1950 Fifty Books of the Year competition held by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) did not include a single book published by the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. This was the first time that had happened in the history of the competition. Knopf was not happy. He apparently complained to W.A. Dwiggins who responded with this note:
The whole art of book designer has been shaken loose from its foundations—there is not doubt about that.
It’s the work of these …
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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 fifteen 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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