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. 12—Tracking down an advertisement for Tiffany’s

For the past nine years I have been trying to track down the ephemeral advertising jobs that W.A. Dwiggins did in the years between 1906 and 1930. One that has been particularly elusive and vexing was an apparent advertisement for Tiffany’s.
There are three references in Dwiggins’ account books for such a job: May 14, 1909—“D.B.U. Border for Tiffany adv.”;  July 1910 (no specific date)—“Johnson Printing Art Border lettering & initial Tiffany adv.” and August 3, 1910—“The Printing Art: border, lettering and …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 9 continued—Towards a Reform of the Paper Currency…

Towards a Reform of the Paper Currency Particularly in Point of Its Design by W.A. Dwiggns (Cambridge: Kat Ran Press, 2014). Wrapper: typography by Michael Russem; pattern by Cyrus Highsmith.
Towards a Reform of the Paper Currency Particularly in Point of Its Design
W.A. Dwiggins
New York: The Typophiles; Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher; Kat Ran Press: Cambridge, 2014
This is a reprint of a text originally published by The Limited Editions Club in 1932, now with an introduction by Bruce Kennett. Dwiggins’ …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 3 addendum to an addendum continued—The Significance of the “Memento of a Catalogue Clinic”

“A Memento of a Catalogue Clinic” is more than an amusing illustration by W.A. Dwiggins.  It is a key document in understanding the transformation of American printing in the first two decades of the 20th century as well as the growth of Dwiggins himself from a commercial artist to a graphic designer.
The catalogue clinic was sponsored by The Society of Printers, an organization founded in 1905 as part of the spread of the English Arts & Crafts movement. It was …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 11—Woman’s Home Companion (December 1932)

At the second Heller Fili book sale (see my earlier post) I was astonished at the range of magazines they have collected. Along with the obvious titles (copies of Print, Eye, Fortune, Fact, etc.), there was also Modern Priscilla, Youth’s Companion, The Delineator, Woman’s Home Companion and much more. When I saw these titles I picked through the issues in the wild hope that I might find an issue with work by W.A. Dwiggins in it. No such luck with the first three titles, but …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 10—D.B. Updike and W.A. Dwiggins

The current issue of Parenthesis : The Journal of the Fine Press Book Association (Autumn 2014) includes my article “Dwiggins and Updike: Pupil and Mentor over a Few Years in the Early 20th Century” (pp. 11–17). It is the text for my talk at [R]Evolution in Print: New Work in Printing History & Practice, the 2005 annual conference of the American Printing History Association that was held at Mills College in Oakland, California. It is a condensed version of the …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 3 addendum to the addendum—Memento of a Catalogue Clinic, 1917

In the addendum to The Definitive Dwiggins no. 3 post I included “Memento of a Catalogue Clinic”, a drawing that W.A. Dwiggins (under his alias of Hermann Püterschein) made in 1917 as a keepsake for The Society of Printers. It is one of the Society’s most famous pieces of ephemera and there has always been curiosity as to who the various people are. The reproduction of it in The Printing Art simply referred to those present as “leading members of the Society.” [1] …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 3 addendum—Who was Charles Fulton Whitmarsh?

In The Definitive Dwiggins no. 3 post I included one (possibly two) uncredited designs by W.A. Dwiggins reproduced on a page of “trade-marks” from Applied Art by Pedro J. Lemos (1920), a book I stumbled across earlier this year while in the Bay Area to do research at the Letterform Archive. But I found the book while rummaging around at Black Oak Books in Berkeley with Stephen Coles. The title caught my eye as I am constantly trying …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 3—My Long Pursuit of WAD 1978–1980

Within a month or two of moving to New York  I joined several groups in New York dedicated to calligraphy, typography, printing and the book arts: the Society of Scribes, Ltd., the American Printing History Association and the Typophiles. At a meeting of one of the two latter organizations I met Susan Otis Thompson (1931–2008), a professor in the now defunct School of Library Service at Columbia University, who told me—much to my consternation—that she had just completed a book on …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 9—Reform of the Currency

Michael Russem of Kat Ran Press has just announced  that his new edition of Towards a Reform of the Paper Currency by W.A. Dwiggins is ready. Here is his description of the book:
Towards a Reform of the Paper Currency is a passionate and lively little rant with lots of good design ideas for the improvement of banknotes and stamps—and just about anything else. First published in 1932 by the Limited Editions Club in an edition of 452 copies, this new edition is also …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 7—Dwiggins vs. Rand

Kenneth FitzGerald recently posted a blog about the new edition of Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014) which is not only illuminating about the subtle and undisclosed changes from the original 1947 edition, but is also of interest for its comparison of Rand to W.A. Dwiggins. In sections 8 and 9 of his post, he pairs Thoughts on Design with the second edition (1948) of Layout in Advertising, finding the latter to be “an authentic …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 2—My Long Pursuit of WAD 1966–1977

I first became aware of W.A. Dwiggins at the age of eleven or twelve when my great aunt gave me two volumes of Erik Lindegren’s marvelous ABC of Lettering and Printing Types (New York: Museum Books, 1965)—books which I have mentioned elsewhere in my blog posts. Volume A (Lettering), p. 91 reproduced the opening page of The History of Susanna (New York: Archway Press, 1947), a small book entirely hand lettered by Dwiggins. [1] It did not make much of …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 1—A Year (and Counting) of Dwiggins Mania

“Publicity: How to harness bill-board power with International Covers” advertising insert in Direct Advertising (vol. VII, no. 2). Design, illustration and lettering by W.A. Dwiggins, 1920.
I have been studying William Addison Dwiggins (1880–1956) for over three and a half decades. Interest in his life and work was at an ebb when I began my research in 1978, but it began to pick up in the mid-1980s and has steadily grown since. A watershed moment was 2006, the year that …
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