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. 110—Chronology 1781–1879

For over twenty years I have been building a detailed chronology of the life and work of W.A. Dwiggins. It includes not only information about his ancestry, immediate family, life and career, but also about his contemporaries in the design world. This post is the first installment of a distilled version of it.
July 3 1781 Robert Dwiggins born in Guilford County, North Carolina; paternal great-grandfather of WAD.

July 19 1785 Sarah Dillon born in Guilford County, North Carolina; paternal great-grandmother of WAD.

March 16 …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 101—Martinsville, Ohio

“Welcome to Martinsville” sign on eastern outskirts of town. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2006).
Clinton County. Detail from Topographical Map of Clinton, Fayette, Greene, Pickaway, and Ross Counties (1872).
Martinsville, Ohio. Detail from Map of Clinton County, Ohio by H.E. Walling (1859).
Martinsville, Ohio—the town where W.A. Dwiggins was born in 1880—is in Clark Township, Clinton County. It lies nearly due south of Wilmington, the county seat. In 1889, Henry Howe described it thusly:
Martinsville, on the M. & C. Railroad, …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 90—W.A. Dwiggins’ Ancestry, Part III: Moses and Eva Dwiggins

Moses Dwiggins at age 14 (1866). Photograph by Joe Wolfe (Wilmington, Ohio). Courtesy Special Collections, Boston Public Library.
W.A. Dwiggins’ parents were Moses F. and Eva S. Dwiggins.
Moses Frazier Dwiggins was born April 25, 1852 in Clinton County. Like his younger brother James, he worked on the family farm for several years after reaching manhood. [1] And, like his father Zimri, he taught school for a brief period. Clara Dwiggins, wife of Moses’ cousin Charles E. Dwiggins, wrote that “He taught school for …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 100—The New Vienna Whiskey War

In the winter of 1873-1874, Dr. Dio Lewis of Boston sparked a series of temperance crusades in the center of Ohio. He lectured on temperance in Hillsboro on December 22 and in Washington Court House three days later. His first lecture “which came down like an electric cloud” fired up Mrs. Eliza J. Thompson who, with seventy-five women from the Hillsboro Presbyterian Church, began the First Crusade on Christmas Eve. That evening, and for several days thereafter, they gathered in prayer at …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 85—W.A. Dwiggins’ Ancestry, Part II: Benjamin Y. and Sarah Siegfried

W.A. Dwiggins’ maternal grandparents were Baptists, the Rev. B.Y. Siegfried and his wife Sarah.
Rev. Benjamin Y. Siegfried. From Proceedings of the Seventy-Sixth Anniversary of the Ohio Baptist Convention (Columbus, Ohio: Press of Myers Bros., 1901), p. 33.
Rev. Benjamin Y. Siegfried (c.1868–1871). Photograph by G. Wm. White (Chillicothe, Ohio). Courtesy of Special Collections, Boston Public Library.
The pastor of the First Baptist Church in Wilmington in 1878 was the circuit-riding Rev. Benjamin Young Siegfried. He was born September 25, 1816 in …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 83—W.A. Dwiggins’ Ancestry, Part I: Zimri and Phoebe Dwiggins

Zimri Dwiggins (c.1886). Photograph by East End Studios, Stigleman & Son, Richmond, Indiana). Courtesy Special Collections, Boston Public Library.
W.A. Dwiggins’ paternal grandparents were Zimri and Phoebe Dwiggins. [1] Zimri was born July 20, 1827 in Wilmington, Ohio, the county seat of Clinton County, situated midway between Columbus and Cincinnati. [2] “As a young man,” recalled the Wilmington News-Journal, Zimri “taught school in winter and farmed in the summer, and as an older man he devoted himself to farming….” In 1859 he owned …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 80—The Society of Calligraphers

The first Society of Calligraphers was formed by Edward Johnston (1872–1944), Eric Gill (1882–1940), Percy Smith (1882–1948), and others in 1907, but by 1910 it had dissolved—possibly due to accusations by Johnston of plagiarism regarding Smith’s portfolio Lettering and Writing (London: B.T. Batsford, 1908). Eventually it was replaced by the London-based Society of Scribes and Illuminators in 1921. Between then and the early 1970s a handful of other groups devoted to the propagation of calligraphy were established: in 1935 the short-lived Cursive Group in …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 56—New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design

Front page of the Graphic Arts Section, Part Three of the Boston Evening Transcript (August 29, 1922). Design by George Trenholm.
W.A. Dwiggins has held an anomalous position within design history. His varied work as an advertising designer, book designer, and type designer is often praised but rarely shown in design history surveys. Instead, he is included principally as the coiner of the phrase “graphic design.” It is an assertion that I debunked several years ago, though it still persists. …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 81—Who Coined the Term “Graphic Design”?

Three and a half years ago I wrote two posts about the origins of the term “graphic design” that debunked the commonly held view that W.A. Dwiggins deserved credit for it: “Graphic Design:” A brief terminological history (June 4, 2014) and  “Graphic Design:” more on the terminology of a profession (June 8, 2014). In them I traced the first use of the term to the California School of Arts and Crafts in 1921, one year before Dwiggins used …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 71—Metaphlap-Jerbiam

Metaphlap-Jerbiam “Celebration” (Fiddlestrummings) (1916). Illustration by Hermann Püterschein (pseud. W.A. Dwiggins); calligraphy by W.A. Dwiggins.
Another peculiar bit of Dwigginsiana is Metaphlap-Jerbiam “Celebration” (Fiddlestrummings) (1916), a satirical poem written out calligraphically and illustrated by Dwiggins (in the guise of Hermann Püterschein). It consists of a single sheet of coarse, irregularly-shaped tan paper printed in black. Jerbiam in the title indicates that the poem is the work of John J. Phillips, Jr., who used the pseudonym J.J. Jerbiam in Vague, the magazine that …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 72—More about Vague

Among the many items in the 2001 W.A. Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library is a single undated sheet headed “MAXIMS and AXIOMS.” It is signed on the reverse by Hermann Püterschein (the alter ego of W.A. Dwiggins) and there is a pencil note that says “Page from the Notebook of a Modernist.” [1] The text suggests that the sheet is related to Vague no. 7, the satirical magazine that Dwiggins (in the guise of Püterschein), John J. Phillips, Jr., and …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 69—Vague

Vague no. 7 (1915) is probably the strangest project that W.A. Dwiggins ever worked on. It is a hilarious satire of the avant-garde art and literature of its time with a few jabs at advertising along the way. But, true to its name, it is not easy to recognize all of its allusions or to understand all of its jokes.
Vague no. 7 front with belly-band (1915). Design by W.A. Dwiggins.
Vague was published in the spring of 1915 by J.J. …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 74—Addendum to Two Parodies of Bruce Rogers’ Printer’s Device

My blog post The Definitive Dwiggins no. 70—Two Parodies of Bruce Rogers’ Printer’s Device needs to be amended. When I wrote it I was looking for background information on the history of Bruce Rogers’ device with Father Time hacking at a thistle. I was unable to find an answer online as to its origins and so ordered a used copy of B.R. Marks & Remarks (New York: The Typophiles, 1946) in the hope that it might provide an answer. …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 77—The Unitarian Laymen’s League

The Unitarian Laymen’s League was established on April 11, 1919 to provide fellowship to men and support Unitarianism. Within a year the League’s publications began to sport a seal by W.A. Dwiggins. [1] He had been hired by a former client, the Rev. Charles E. Park (1873–1962), minister at First Church in Boston and one of the leading figures in the new organization. The connection between the two men went back fifteen years to Dwiggins’ arrival in Hingham, Massachusetts.
In …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 75—Eternal Rome

In 1918 Carl Purington Rollins (1880–1960) sold the equipment of his Montague Press to Yale University and became the manager of the manufacturing department of the Yale University Press and the university’s printing office. Two years later he was appointed Printer to Yale University, a position he held until 1948. [1] Rollins was responsible for overseeing the production of all of the printed ephemera (e.g. invitations to events, bookplates for the library, diplomas, etc.) that the university needed.
From the very …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 70—Two Parodies of Bruce Rogers’ Printer’s Device

Parody of Bruce Rogers device by W.A. Dwiggins. From Barnacles from Many Bottoms Scraped and Gathered for B.R. edited by Paul Bennett (New York: The Typophiles, 1935).
For Barnacles from Many Bottoms Scraped and Gathered for BR (New York: The Typophiles, 1935), a festschrift in honor of the 65th birthday of Bruce Rogers (1870–1957), W.A. Dwiggins contributed a four-page signature with the drawing above and the following explanation:
IL TEMPO PASSA—H.P. [Hermann Püterschein] reports: “A singular change has taken place in the …
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