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. 299—Cheap Books

Jacket front of I Am Jonathan Scrivener by Claude Houghton (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1930). First title in The Inner Sanctum Novels series. Format design by W.A. Dwiggins.
W.A. Dwiggins wrote a lengthy letter in response to the article “Bookbuyers’ Complaint” in the June 11, 1932 issue of The Saturday Review of Literature. It was published under the heading “Cheap Books” in the magazine’s June 25, 1932 issue. Here is his text with a few contextual notes.

Some time back—in …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 297—The Sun Dial Library

W.A. Dwiggins and the Vogue of the Small Book
Advertisement card announcing The Sun Dial Library (1928). Note: the text is deliberately on a slant. Image courtesy of the Newberry Library.
Origins of The Sun Dial Library
The Sun Dial Library was established in the fall of 1928 as an imprint of the Garden City Publishing Company, a subsidiary of Doubleday, Doran & Co. An advertising card explained that the new series was being created in response to a demand for …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 210 addendum no. 2—A correction

I recently discussed Joseph Sinel’s redrawing of marks for A Book of American Trade-Marks & Devices with Bruce Kennett. In the course of our exchange he sent me several pairings of Dwiggins’ marks from different sources. One of them was the scribe mark designed by Dwiggins for the Society of Calligraphers. [1] When I saw the two versions I immediately realized that I had made a mistake in The Definitive Dwiggins no. 210 post on 22 Printers’ Marks and Seals. The …
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Blue Pencil no. 46—Yet more on the early history of the term “graphic design”

Alex Jay, who has provided me with material in the past on aspects of graphic design history, has recently sent me two emails with new information on the issue of the early uses of “graphic design” as a term. I have summarized his discoveries below.
“Graphic Design”: More on the terminology of a profession (June 2014) mentioned a snippet that Alex Jay found from The Sierra Educational News about graphic design. The issue is now fully available online and Alex has …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 211—A Book of American Trade-Marks & Devices

In The Definitive Dwiggins no. 209, I quoted Edmund G. Gress, the editor of The American Printer, in praise of A Book of American Trade-Marks & Devices by Joseph Sinel:
American trademarks and devices have never been set forth so attractively…. A great many emblems are shown in posteresque style, one to a page, and others are grouped four or more on a page in an attractive manner. With black there are combined such colors as blue, brown and plum. …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 210 addendum no. 1—A mark for The Printing House of William Edwin Rudge

William Edwin Rudge press mark (center) from the title page of Art by the Way by Timothy Cole (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1925). Design by Bruce Rogers between 1923 and 1925.
In my second post on 22 Printers’ Marks and Seals Designed or Redrawn by W.A. Dwiggins (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1929) I quibbled over the number of marks included in the book, pointing out that there were two for The Cygnet Press. In fact there are two …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 210—22 Printers’ Marks and Seals (Part 2)

Binding of 22 Printers’ Marks and Seals Designed or Redrawn by W.A. Dwiggins (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1929). Design and ornament by W.A. Dwiggins. Printing by The Printing House of William Edwin Rudge.
Title page of 22 Printers’ Marks and Seals Designed or Redrawn by W.A. Dwiggins (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1929). Design, lettering, and decoration by W.A. Dwiggins. Printing by The Printing House of William Edwin Rudge. Note the WER mark by Dwiggins.
This essay is a …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 209—22 Printers’ Marks and Seals (Part 1)

Rejected title page design for 22 Printers’ Marks and Seals, designed or redrawn by W.A. Dwiggins (1928). Design, lettering, and decoration by W.A. Dwiggins. Original pen-and-ink artwork with retouching, paste-up, and specifications. Image courtesy of Special Collections, Boston Public Library.
22 Printers’ Marks and Seals Designed or Redrawn by W.A. Dwiggins (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1929). This is item 29.02 in The Books of WAD by Dwight Agner who describes it thusly: binding of black paper over boards with …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 81A—W.A. Dwiggins and “graphic design”: A brief rejoinder to Steven Heller and Bruce Kennett

When I wrote The Definitive Dwiggins no. 81 —Who Coined the Term “Graphic Design”? in January 2018 I thought I had finally put to rest the long-running claim, begun in 1983 by Philip B. Meggs, that W.A. Dwiggins coined the term “graphic design”. [1] The claim has been taken up as gospel by numerous graphic design historians and general graphic design writers for over three decades. I was one of the first to accept it when I wrote a profile of …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 223—Cold Type

Cold Type (Boston: S.D. Warren Co., 1925). Cover design probably by W.A. Dwiggins. Image courtesy of Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University.
Cold Type: A primer on the power of the printed word (Boston: S.D. Warren Co., 1925). Title page design typography by W.A. Dwiggins. Image courtesy of Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University.
Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours, published in 1925, was the subject of The Definitive Dwiggins no. 222. …
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The Definitive Dwiggins No. 222—Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours

Let’s be Misers with Golden Selling Hours (Boston: S.D. Warren Co., 1925). Cover illustration probably by W.A. Dwiggins.
One of the areas of W.A. Dwiggins’ career which is significantly underreported in W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design by Bruce Kennett (San Francisco: Letterform Archive, 2018) is his work for the paper industry and individual paper companies between 1914 and 1936. [1] Based on his surviving account books Dwiggins did at least one job for as many as 37 different paper …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 204—Streets in the Moon

Binding of Streets in the Moon by Archibald MacLeish (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926). Decoration, lettering, and design by W.A. Dwiggins.
“Didn’t you like the drawing,” Maurice Firuski, owner of the Dunster House Bookshop, asked Elmer Adler of Pynson Printers, “and especially the ornament by Dwiggins?” What prompted Firuski’s question was his decision to buy up the entire large paper edition of Streets in the Moon by Archibald MacLeish from the publisher Houghton Mifflin Company. [1] For the …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 156—Nobodaddy

Cover of the regular edition of Nobodaddy by Archibald MacLeish (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Dunster House, 1926). Decoration by W.A. Dwiggins; design by Elmer Adler; printing by Pynson Printers.
For Nobodaddy: A Play by Archibald MacLeish (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Dunster House, 1926) W.A. Dwiggins designed a cover and a title page. [1] The work is not among his most important, but it is among the best documented. It was also a short assignment. [2] That makes it ideal for a detailed chronological account that …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 173—The Hound & Horn

Cover of The Hound & Horn: A Harvard Miscellany (Spring 1929). Design and illustration by Rockwell kent.
The Hound & Horn: A Harvard Miscellany began life in 1927 as a literary quarterly dedicated to life at Harvard University with contributions by its students and alumni. The magazine was founded (and funded) by Lincoln Kirstein (1907–1996) and Varian Fry (1907–1967). The subtitle A Harvard Miscellany was dropped in 1929 when Kirstein prevailed over Fry in a dispute over whether …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 134—Good Morning, America

The Definitive Dwiggins no. 208 surveyed the books that W.A. Dwiggins designed for Crosby Gaige, Publisher. Among them was Good Morning, America by Carl Sandburg (New York: Crosby Gaige, 1928). The book was one of the first works to extensively showcase Dwiggins’ new interest in abstract ornamental designs made via hand-carved celluloid stencils. [1] For it he created two designs for the spine, and ten for the sections of the book. He also designed a large stenciled cityscape for …
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