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William Addison Dwiggins, 1880-1956

"It is difficult to give notice only to his calligraphy. As dean of American book arts, Dwiggins for decades deftly juggled visual ideas and techniques with results that transformed the physique of the book … A calligraphic sense permeated most all that he touched—illustration, ornament, typefaces, title pages, and bindings. Dwiggins’s many italics varied from a near-copperplate to a quasi-chancery—all executed with deceptive effortlessness … No matter how formal or casual the subject matter, Dwiggins’s choice of letters endowed it with authority—and subtly with his own identity … Dwiggins worked at every job with a drollery that spared even the most strenuous projects any stuffiness. His calligraphy—often only a word or two on a title page—was always music for the eye, and as American and timeless as Gershwin or Copeland."

--Charles Skaggs

Tales - cover Tales
Edgar Allan Poe
Chicago: The Lakeside Press, 1930

This edition of Poe’s stories was designed and illustrated by W.A. Dwiggins. He wrote in the “Illustrator’s Note”:

"I knew that it was foolish to try to ornament Poe … My idea was to start at the opposite pole and try for bald, graphic annotation— diagrams of people doing the things Poe said they did. If I could contrive ominous shapes here and there—shapes that hinted at strange mental states and let the reader (out of the corner of his eye) glimpse extraordinary dooms impending—that would help."


Dwiggins’ illustrations were printed in shades of gray. The chapter headings are in Dwiggins’ recognizable stenciled style, as is the cover paper. Dwiggins was the first designer to use stencils widely for typographic ornament. The tiny design elements were cut in celluloid or acetate and then combined to decorate bindings and book jackets. The title-page is also shown here. Tales - title page

Printing Papers - boxed book Warren's Standard Printing Papers
S. D. Warren Company
Boston: S. D. Warren Company, c. 1920

This paper sample book contains specimens of various papers made by the S.D. Warren Company, each with an image printed on it using various processes (line cut, halftone, etc.). The individual folders and the case were decorated with stenciled designs by W.A. Dwiggins.

The design from the case reappeared in 1987 on the cover of Fine Print. This journal, published by Sandra Kirshenbaum from 1975-1990, covered all aspects of the book arts. This issue included several articles about Dwiggins.

Dorothy Abbé designed the cover using Dwiggins’ ornaments and his stencil alphabet. Abbé (1909-1999) was a printer, book designer, and photographer, best known as the longtime companion and protégé of W.A. Dwiggins. She lived with and cared for Dwiggins and his wife Mabel from 1947 until 1968, and continued to promote Dwiggins’ life’s work for decades after his death in 1956. From 1947 until 1956, she and Dwiggins operated a joint private press, Püterschein-Hingham.

Fine Print - cover

This invitation to a preview of a memorial exhibition of the work of W.A. Dwiggins sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1957, was designed by Charles E. Skaggs. In it, Dwiggins is described as “calligrapher, type designer, layout artist, illustrator, book designer, mural painter, sculptor, playwright, puppeteer, costume-designer, satirist, thinker, poet in prose.” Invitation

Marionette in Motion - inside pages Marionette in Motion
The Püterschein system diagrammed

described by W.A. Dwiggins
Detroit: Puppetry Imprints, 1939

This work of Dwiggins on the construction of marionettes is written and illustrated by him. The text reproduces his own lettering, including additions which give the pages the look of a private journal.

W.A. Dwiggins made and wrote about marionettes extensively. His work on these puppets has been chronicled by his protégé Dorothy Abbé. Considered by some to be her most important book, The Dwiggins Marionettes: A Complete Experimental Theatre in Miniature, documents the extraordinary basement theater in Dwiggins’ studio, where he carved the marionettes, made sets, and wrote original scripts for the puppet productions.

Sample Design
A sample of Dwiggins' design.

Return to Skaggs Exhibition home | Next Case: Dwiggins & Skaggs' Work

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