The Definitive Dwiggins

The Definitive Dwiggins is devoted to surveying the life and work of W.A. Dwiggins (1880–1956), an American graphic designer, illustrator, type designer, calligrapher and letterer, marionette maker, and author. It is born of admiration often bordering on astonishment, but it is emphatically not hagiographic. Instead, it seeks to understand not only Dwiggins and his work, but to place both in historical context. It aims to discover his influences and sources of inspiration, to uncover the stories behind his designs, to try to discern his thinking about each aspect and element. The Definitive Dwiggins promises to correct existing scholarship on Dwiggins; challenge the myths that have built up around him; and, in doing so, create a fuller, more complex, and ultimately more authentic portrait of a fascinating figure in the history of graphic design.

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 …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 438—Book jackets for Alfred A. Knopf [Part Two: 1936–1941] continued

W.A. Dwiggins contributed designs to 328 books published by Alfred A. Knopf according to Dwight Agner, author of The Books of WAD: A Bibliography of the Books Designed by W.A. Dwiggins (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Press of the Nightowl, 1974). I use the phrase “contributed” because he did not design all of these books in the conventional understanding of the term. Agner’s list includes books where Dwiggins was responsible for: 1. the typography, binding, and jacket; 2. the typography and binding; …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 438—Book jackets for Alfred A. Knopf [Part Two: 1936–1941]

W.A. Dwiggins contributed designs to 328 books published by Alfred A. Knopf according to Dwight Agner, author of The Books of WAD: A Bibliography of the Books Designed by W.A. Dwiggins (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Press of the Nightowl, 1974). I use the phrase “contributed” because he did not design all of these books in the conventional understanding of the term. Agner’s list includes books where Dwiggins was responsible for: 1. the typography, binding, and jacket; 2. the typography and binding; …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 438—Book jackets for Alfred A. Knopf [Part One: 1926–1935]

W.A. Dwiggins contributed designs to 328 books published by Alfred A. Knopf according to Dwight Agner, author of The Books of WAD: A Bibliography of the Books Designed by W.A. Dwiggins (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Press of the Nightowl, 1974). I use the phrase “contributed” because he did not design all of these books in the conventional understanding of the term. Agner’s list includes books where Dwiggins was responsible for: 1. the typography, binding, and jacket; 2. the typography and binding; …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 419 addendum—Serenade jacket roughs

Somehow, when I prepared the post on Serenade I overlooked two roughs by W.A. Dwiggins for the jacket. Both are in the Boston Public Library, while the material I had been relying on came from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Neither of the roughs resembles the final jacket design which leads me to believe that they were done before September 10, 1937. But exactly when is unclear.
Both roughs are more conservative—at least by Dwiggins’ standard—than the …
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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). [1] 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 …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 445—Faust

Typography
“For me to function in the project, I should have to have a free hand with the typographic scheme, and be backed up by you in any discussion with Author (I foresee discussion!),” W.A. Dwiggins wrote to Sidney R. Jacobs (1909–2000), production manager at Alfred A. Knopf, on March 19, 1941. “If it is a case, like some others, where Author has to have his way for one reason or another, I want to be told, so I can drop …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 348—A Christmas Carol

The Press of the Woolly Whale is probably the best name ever conceived for a private press. It was the imprint of Melbert B. Cary, Jr. (1892–1941), who, at the time of its founding in 1928, was the president of the Continental Type Founders Association, a company that imported metal type from European foundries and distributed the typefaces of Frederic W. Goudy (1865–1947). The first book issued from the Press of the Woolly Whale was The Vision …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 560—The Creaking Stair

Jacket spine and front for The Creaking Stair by Elizabeth Coatsworth (New York: Coward-McCann, 1949). Design, illustration and lettering by W.A. Dwiggins.
W.A. Dwiggins’ career as a book designer is tightly tied to Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. But here and there he designed a few books for other trade publishers, either as a personal favor to friends or as a means of exploring other aspects of his professional career. The Creaking Stair by Elizabeth Coatsworth (New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1949) is the …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 720—Bertram B. Udell, W.A. Dwiggins & Oswald Cooper: A Question of Attribution

This post is an update and corrective to The Definitive Dwiggins no. 20 in which I tried to figure out how Bertram B. Udell (1877–1956) of The Printing Studio had come to print work signed “WAD” and “C”.

Portrait of Bertram B. Udell (1912). From The Inland Printer vol. XLIX, no. 3 (June 1912), p. 385. Photograph by Misses Ray and Heine.
Bertram B. Udell
Bertram B. Udell was born in Rantoul, Illinois in 1877. [1] His father E.J. Udell (1838–1903) was the publisher of …
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The Song of the Twisted: Being a Tale of Woe Told by the Victim

Frank Holme (late 1890s?). Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Arizona.
In 2015 I discovered an amusing yet fascinating manuscript of doggerel in the Frederic and Bertha Goudy Collection at the Library of Congress. [1] The manuscript, entitled “The Song of the Twisted: Being a Tale of Woe Told by the Victim” was written, lettered, and illustrated by Frank Holme (1868–1904), the celebrated newspaper artist and proprietor of the School of Illustration in Chicago. It tells the story of how Holme …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 131—Reed and Dwiggins, Publishers

Reed and Dwiggins, Publishers letterhead (1906). Design and lettering by W.A.Dwiggins. Image courtesy of Special Collections, Boston Public Library.
For nearly two years, between the time that he left The Village Press in early 1905 and the beginning of 1907 when he fully gained Daniel Berkeley Updike’s trust, W.A. Dwiggins was floundering about professionally. He had a powerful urge to be an artist in the Arts & Crafts manner, producing bibelots, prints, and sundry other artistic items. And at the …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 714—The 23rd Psalm

At the end of The Definitive Dwiggins no. 179, dedicated to two editions of The Ninety-First Psalm, I wrote that:

…Dwiggins struggled to sell his copies. Bartlett must have also had difficulty selling his edition since copies were still available for sale nine years later. Maybe the two men should have published The Twenty-Third Psalm instead.

The last line was an oblique reference to a November 11, 1909 entry in Dwiggins’ workbook regarding unspecified work on a “23rd Psalm booklet” for “AB …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 165 second addendum—Oswald Cooper, Buckeye Covers, and Mrs. Kendall Banning

The Buckeye “Dummy” Covers insert page by Beckett Paper Co. in Direct Advertising vol. IV, no. 3 (1917).
Several months after posting the addendum to The Definitive Dwiggins no. 165 I was in Chicago for the Type Chicago conference. While there I did some digging into two Oswald Cooper archives and found two items relevant to the addendum: artwork for Buckeye Covers and a brochure for a recital by Mrs. Kendall Banning. [1]
The artwork for “Buckeye Covers” (below) matches …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 179—The Ninety-first Psalm

This post is part of a trio concerning handwritten booklets that W.A. Dwiggins created between 19o5 and 1913. For the other two see The Definitive Dwiggins no. 133 The Parable of the Prodigal Son and The Definitive Dwiggins no. 713 A Description of Christ.

Daniel Berkeley Updike of The Merrymount Press wrote to W.A. Dwiggins on July 5, 1906 asking him for a copy of the “Psalm,” saying that “I may be able to get you a little bit of …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 130—Will Dwiggins, Publisher of Prints

notes on trying to identify and date items:
First Dwiggins list at Dartmouth—3 woodcuts in preparation; probably fall 1905
Second Dwiggins list at Newberry—3 woodcuts completed and 5 quotations; probably spring 1906
Bartlett 1906 catalogue at BPL, notes at Huntington—5 mottoes and revelations; printed September 5, 1906
Revelations copy at Dartmouth; visually similar to Parable 1905—see image below
woodcut of sea fight in February 1907 SACB catalogue; thus definitely done earlier
possibly use letterhead to date had to be printed by The Heintzemann Press during his …
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