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. 67—Drawings that Sell Goods

In the spring of this year I traveled to Boston to hear Bruce Kennett deliver the annual W.A. Dwiggins Lecture at the Boston Public Library. It was a good talk. Although there were a few mistakes, I learned some new things about Dwiggins. One of them was that Dwiggins had parodied three of his contemporaries in an article he had written (under the name of his alter ego) about illustrations in  advertising. I had read  “Drawings that Sell Goods” by …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 66—Modern Color

Modern Color by Carl Gordon Cutler and Stephen C. Pepper (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1923) is a book that lies at a crucial juncture in the life and career of W.A. Dwiggins. [1] It was published in 1923, the year that Dwiggins made the decision to shift his work from advertising design to book design. [2] It was a time when he was in the midst of his experiments with using wooden stamps to create decorations and other designs; …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 63—The Merrymount Press, W.K. Bixby, and Toile du Jouy

A Letter from Benjamin Franklin on Balloons (St. Louis: Privately printed, 1922). Cover design by W.A. Dwiggins. Printed by The Merrymount Press.
One of Daniel Berkeley Updike’s most faithful clients from the mid-1910s through the end of the 1920s was William K. Bixby, a wealthy St. Louis industrialist, philanthropist, collector, and traveler. He collected art, rare books, manuscripts, and autographed letters. The latter two items were often printed in facsimile form by The Merrymount Press as gifts for Bixby …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 61—W.A. Dwiggins and George F. Trenholm

In several Definitive Dwiggins posts I have investigated the sources where W.A. Dwiggins got his illustration, decoration and lettering ideas. But, as much as he copied other people, other people copied him. One of the most persistent Dwiggins imitators was George F. Trenholm (1886–1958), a contemporary colleague and rival. [1] He is barely remembered today, except as a type designer—and even then his typefaces (such as Cornell and Waverly) are not household names. But before he began designing typefaces …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 62—Medway

In several other Definitive Dwiggins posts I have documented the scut work that W.A. Dwiggins did for Daniel Berkeley Updike and The Merrymount Press. Now I have discovered a similar menial job he did for his close friend Carl Purington Rollins (1880–1960), Printer to Yale University. [1] In Dwiggins’ account books there is this entry for November 6, 1921: “Yale Press trim up word ‘Medway’”. [2]
Medway (Japan Paper Company) paper promotion designed and printed by Carl Purington Rollins (1922). …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 58—Seven Famous Novels of H.G. Wells

Throughout his life W.A. Dwiggins was enthralled by the writings of H.G. Wells (1866–1946). He was constantly looking for opportunities to design and illustrate his tales of fantasy and science fiction. In the two part Bulletin No. I of the Transactions  of the Society of Calligraphers (January 1, 1924), Dwiggins, in the guise of his alter ego Hermann Püterschein, presented studies for book page designs of two books by Wells: When the Sleeper Awakes (Part I) and The …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 55—Mary Elizabeth Church

In 1909 W.A. Dwiggins designed a bookplate for Mary Elizabeth Church, the proprietor of Miss Church’s School for Girls on Beacon Street in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. It is not a significant design visually, but the correspondence surrounding it is of some interest. [1]
The origins of the project are murky. Despite the voluminous correspondence between Dwiggins and Daniel Berkeley Updike that survives, there are no letters from the latter commissioning the bookplate. The commission may have been an …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 53—Harper’s Magazine continued

W.A. Dwiggins’ work for Harper’s Magazine did not end with the appearance of tailpiece no. 7 in the August 1926 issue. In the November 1930 issue a new series of decorative elements—headpieces, tailpieces and column frames—began to appear. They are abstract rather than pictorial or floral like the first series. Although there is no documentation about their origin, I have some speculative ideas about how they came to be.
At the time that Dwiggins was redesigning Harper’s Magazine in 1925 a …
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The Definitive Dwiggins No. 51—What Is the West?

Between early 1907 and the end of 1912 W.A. Dwiggins did roughly 75 jobs for either G. Schirmer or its affiliate the Boston Music Co. through The Merrymount Press and its proprietor Daniel Berkeley Updike. [1] The great majority were done in 1909, including the subject of this post: From the West: Symphonic Poem for the Organ (Op. 60) by Edwin H. Lemare (New York: G. Schirmer and Boston: Boston Music Co., 1909).
From the West: Symphonic Poem for the …
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The Definitive Dwiggins No. 50—Harpers Magazine

Cover of the June 1925 issue of Harpers Magazine.
W.A. Dwiggins worked in a wide range of graphic design sub-disciplines. One that is often overlooked is periodical design. Over the course of his career he redesigned mastheads or entire formats for a wide range of magazines, house organs and journals: The Alghieri (1911), Advertising & Selling (1912), Happyland (1913), The New England Printer (1914), The Cornhill Booklet (1914), Granite Marble & Bronze (1917), The Modern Priscilla (1918), The Lever Standard (1920), The …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 52—Paulus Franck

Schatzkammer, Allerhand Versalien Lateinisch  vnnd Teutsch allen Cantzleyen Schreibstuben Notarien vnd denen so sich des zierlichen schreibens  befleissigen zudienst  und Wohlgefallen von neüen in Druckh also verferttiget  is the longwinded title of the 1601 writing manual by Paulus Franck of Nuremberg. The book is best known for Franck’s astoundingly intricate set of large fraktur initials (see below). [1]
Ornamental fraktur F by Paulus Franck (1601).
But my interest in Franck’s manual is not in the decorative fraktur capitals, but in …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 49—Political Satire in 1896

Richard Sheaff, the inveterate ephemera collector, has a small section on his Sheaff: Ephemera website devoted to Salt River ephemera, most of it from the collection of Ron Schieber. He says that the phrase “Up Salt River” was used in the 19th century to refer to political defeat. Going up Salt River meant the wrong way on a tributary to an isolated and irrelevant headwaters. The expression apparently originated in the 1832 election in which Henry Clay was …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 48—Eugene Field

Eugene Field. From Field Flowers: A Small Bunch of the Most Fragrant of Blossoms Gathered from the Broad Acres of Eugene Field’s Farm of Love (Chicago: The Monument Committee, 1896).
Eugene Field (1850–1895) was one of the leading literary figures of the late 19th century in America. He was known for his bibliophilic writings as well as for his verse for children. From 1881 until his death he was a columnist for the Chicago Daily News which morphed into the …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 47—Cambridge, Ohio

Although W.A. Dwiggins was neither born there nor spent the most years of his childhood there, the town most closely associated with his early life is Cambridge, Ohio. [1] Cambridge is located due south of Cleveland and due east of Columbus in rolling hill country. It is the seat of Guernsey County. In the 1890s, when Dwiggins lived there, two railroad lines (the Baltimore & Ohio and the Cleveland & Marietta) ran through town, testifying to its importance. …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 44—A Short Note on Notes

“Proper Prefaces” from Ordinary and Canon of the Mass… (New York: H.W. Gray Co., 1913). Printed by The Merrymount Press. Musical notation by W.A. Dwiggins.
Ordinary and Canon of the Mass: Together with the Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion and the Holy Chant by Rev. Maurice W. Britton and Charles Winfred Douglas (New York: H.W. Gray Co., 1913), despite being a slim book of 76 pages, took three years to complete. The book was …
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The Definitive Dwiggins no. 46—Addendum on Maynard Co.

My friend Alex Jay (of the excellent website The Tenth Letter) sent me some microfilm images of Maynard advertisements by W.A. Dwiggins in the The Boston Herald that he got from a newspaper archive called Genealogy Bank. They do seem less scratchy and shadowy. But what is most important is that they are whole pages that provide a good indication of the environment in which the Dwiggins’ Maynard advertisements operated.
Below is the same “Pearl Necklaces” advertisement on back-to-back days in …
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