William Addison Dwiggins

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William Addison Dwiggins
Born William Addison Dwiggins
(1880-06-19)June 19, 1880
Martinsville, Ohio
Died December 25, 1956(1956-12-25) (aged 76)
Hingham Center, Massachusetts
Other names W. A. Dwiggins
Occupation Type designer, calligrapher, book designer
Spouse(s) Mabel Hoyle Dwiggins

William Addison Dwiggins (June 19, 1880 Martinsville, Ohio – December 25, 1956 Hingham Center, Massachusetts), was an American type designer, calligrapher, and book designer. He attained prominence as an illustrator and commercial artist, and he brought to the designing of type and books some of the boldness that he displayed in his advertising work.[1][2][3] His work can be described as ornamented and geometric, similar to the Art Moderne and Art Deco styles of the period, using Oriental influences and breaking from the more antiquarian styles of his colleagues and mentors Updike, Cleland and Goudy.[4][5]

Dwiggins is credited with coining the term 'graphic designer' in 1922[6] to describe his various activities in printed communications, like book design, illustration, typography, lettering and calligraphy (his first typeface designs were released much later). The term did not achieve widespread usage until after the Second World War.


Published in 1919, Dwiggins used this parody graph to express his opinion of standards in printing.

Dwiggins began his career in Chicago, working in advertising and lettering. With his colleague Frederic Goudy, he moved east to Hingham, Massachusetts, where he spent the rest of his life. He gained recognition as a lettering artist and wrote much on the graphic arts, notably essays collected in MSS by WAD (1949), and his Layout in Advertising (1928; rev. ed. 1949) remains standard. During the first-half of the twentieth century he also created pamphlets using the pen name "Dr. Puterschein".[7]

His scathing attack on contemporary book designers in An Investigation into the Physical Properties of Books (1919) led to his working with the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Alblabooks, a series of finely conceived and executed trade books followed and did much to increase public interest in book format. Having become bored with advertising work, Dwiggins was perhaps more responsible than any other designer for the marked improvement in book design in the 1920s and 1930s. An additional factor in his transition to book design was a 1922 diagnosis with diabetes, at the time often fatal. He commented "it has revolutionised my whole attack. My back is turned on the more banal kind of advertising...I will produce art on paper and wood after my own heart with no heed to any market."[8]

In 1926, the Chicago Lakeside Press recruited Dwiggins to design a book for the Four American Books Campaign. He said he welcomed the chance to "do something besides waste-basket stuff" which would be "promptly thrown away" and chose the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. The Press considered his fee of $2,000 to be low for an illustrator of his commercial power.[9] Many of Dwiggins' designs used celluloid stencils to create repeating units of decoration.[10]

He and his wife Mabel Hoyle Dwiggins (February 27, 1881 – September 28, 1958) are buried in the Hingham Center Cemetery, Hingham Center, Massachusetts, near their home at 30 Leavitt Street, and Dwiggins' studio at 45 Irving Street. After Dwiggins' wife's death, many of Dwiggins' works and assets passed to his assistant Dorothy Abbe.[11]

A full-length biography of Dwiggins by Bruce Kennett, believed to be the first, will be published in 2017 by the Letterform Archive museum of San Francisco.[12][13][14]


Dwiggins' Metrolite and Metroblack fonts, geometric designs of the style popular in the 1930s. Shown in a Linotype specimen in the revised form that saw commercial release, with the 'M', 'a' and other characters revised to resemble the highly successful Futura.[15]

Dwiggins' interest in lettering led to the Linotype, sensing Dwiggins' talent and knowledge, hiring Dwiggins in March 1929 as a consultant to create a sans-serif typeface, which became Metro, in response to similar type being sold from European foundries such as Erbar, Futura, and Gill Sans, which Dwiggins felt failed in the lower-case.[16][17] Dwiggins went on to have a successful working relationship with Chauncey H. Griffith, Linotype's Director of Typographic Development, and all his typefaces were created for them.[18] His most widely used book typefaces, Electra and Caledonia, were specifically designed for Linotype composition and have a clean spareness.

The following list of his typefaces is thought to be complete.[19] Dwiggins was unfortunate to enter the genre of type design in a period for new metal type designs that encompassed successively the Great Depression and Second World War, and so many of his designs did not progress beyond experimental castings.[20][21]

  • Metro series
    • Metrolite + Metroblack (1930, Linotype)
    • Metrothin + Metromedium (1931, Linotype)
    • Metrolite No.2 + Metroblack No.2 (1932, Linotype)
    • Metrolite No.2 Italic + Lining Metrothin + Lining Metromedium (1935, Linotype)
    • Metromedium No.2 Italic + Metroblack No.2 Italic (1937, Linotype)
    • Metrolight No.4 Italic + Metrothin No.4 Italic (Linotype)

The Metro series was redesigned on entering production, with several characters changed to better echo the then-popular Futura. This formed the Metro No. 2 series. Some revivals return to Dwiggins' original design choices or offer them as alternates.[22]

Electra in metal type with its original oblique. A more conventional italic was later added.
A set of initials designed by Dwiggins for the Plimpton Press.[32]

Other fonts have been created after his death inspired by Dwiggins' lettering projects, although these were not authorised by Dwiggins in his lifetime.[33][34][35][36]

A trick used by Dwiggins to create dynamic-looking letter shapes was to design letters so the curves on the inside of the letter do not match those on the outside. This intentional irregularity was inspired by the difficulty of carving marionettes for his puppet theatre. It has since been used by other serif font designers such as Martin Majoor.

Dwiggins' "How is one to assess" text used in a Linotype specimen of Caslon.

Besides Dwiggins' type design, a text written by Dwiggins in Layout in Advertising on choosing a font, beginning "Why do the pace-makers in the art of printing rave over a specific face of type? What do they see in it?", has been used by many font designers as a filler text, similar to Quousque tandem or lorem ipsum.[37]


Marionettes by Dwiggins
Marionettes by Dwiggins
Marionettes by Dwiggins at the Boston Public Library

Dwiggins' love of wood carving led to his creation of a marionette theatre in a garage at 5 Irving Street, which was behind his home at 30 Leavitt Street in Hingham, Massachusetts. He also created a puppet group named the Püterschein Authority. In 1933 he performed his first show there, "The Mystery of the Blind Beggarman." Dwiggins built his second theatre under his studio at 45 Irving Street. Further productions of the Püterschein Authority included "Prelude to Eden," "Brother Jeromy," "Millennium 1," and "The Princess Primrose of Shahaban in Persia." Most of his marionettes were twelve inches tall.[38] The marionettes were donated to the three-room Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library in 1967.[39]


A page decoration created by Dwiggins in 1914.

In 1957, a year after his death, Bookbuilders of Boston, an organization of book publishing professionals that Dwiggins helped to establish, renamed their highest award the W.A. Dwiggins Award.


LA DERNIÈRE MOBILISATION (1915). Story in The Fabulist and in The Best Short Stories of 1915.

Books illustrated or designed[edit]

  • William Addison Dwiggins: Stencilled Ornament and Illustration (By Dorothy Abbe), Princeton Architectural Press, 2015 (ISBN 978-1616893750)
  • Beau Brummell, Virginia Woolf (Rimington & Hooper, 1930)
  • The Complete Angler, Izaak Walton (Merrymount Press, 1928)
  • Hingham, Old and New, (Hingham Tercentenary Committee, 1935)
  • A History of Russian Literature, from the Earliest Times to the Death of Dostoyevsky, Prince D.S. Mirsky (Alfred A. Knopf, 1927)
  • The Lone Striker, Robert Frost (Alfred A. Knopf, 1933)
  • Paraphs, Hermann Püterschein (Alfred A Knopf for the Society of Calligraphers, 1928)
  • The Time Machine: An Invention, H. G. Wells (Random House, 1931)
  • The Witch Wolf: An Uncle Remus Story, Joel Chandler Harris (Bacon & Brown, 1921)


  1. ^ Shaw, Paul. "Font Features - William Addison Dwiggins". Linotype. Retrieved 20 March 2017. 
  2. ^ "W.A. Dwiggins". ADC Hall of Fame. ADC. Retrieved 20 March 2017. 
  3. ^ Shaw, Paul. "William Addison Dwiggins: Jack of All Trades, Master of More than One". Linotype. Retrieved 26 December 2015. 
  4. ^ Dennis P. Doordan (1995). Design History: An Anthology. MIT Press. pp. 28–42. ISBN 978-0-262-54076-6. 
  5. ^ Abbe, Dorothy. William Addison Dwiggins: Stencilled Ornament and Illustration. ISBN 9781616894634. 
  6. ^ Livingston, Alan and Isabella., 'Dictionary of graphic design and designers'. London: Thames and Hudson, 1992
  7. ^ Gonzales Crisp, Denise (2009). "Discourse This! Designers and Alternative Critical Writing". Design and Culture. 1 (1). 
  8. ^ Heller, Stephen. Design Literacy. pp. 207–210. 
  9. ^ Benton, Megan (2000). Beauty and the Book: Fine Editions and Cultural Distinction in America. Yale University Press. pp. 130–131. ISBN 9780300082135. 
  10. ^ Tracy, Walter. Letters of Credit. pp. 173–193. 
  11. ^ Heller, Stephen. "Recalling W.A. Dwiggins' Studio". Print Magazine. Retrieved 20 March 2017. 
  12. ^ "W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design". Kickstarter. Letterform Archive. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  13. ^ Papazian, Hrant H.; Coles, Stephen. ""W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design"". Typedrawers. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  14. ^ Kennett, Bruce. "W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design (prospectus)" (PDF). Letterform Archive. Retrieved 27 September 2017. 
  15. ^ The Legibility of Type. Brooklyn: Mergenthaler Linotype Company. 1935. Retrieved 29 April 2016. 
  16. ^ Shaw, Paul. "The Evolution of Metro and its Reimagination as Metro Nova". Typographica. Retrieved 21 December 2016. 
  17. ^ Shaw, Paul. "Typographic Sanity". Blue Pencil. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  18. ^ Shaw, Paul. "The Definitive Dwiggins no. 15—The Origins of Metro". Blue Pencil. Retrieved 15 December 2016. 
  19. ^ MacGrew, Mac, American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century, Oak Knoll Books, New Castle Delaware, 1993, ISBN 0-938768-34-4, p. 335.
  20. ^ Wardle, Tiffany. "The Experimental Type Designs of William Addison Dwiggins". Type Culture. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  21. ^ Giamo, Cara. "The Lost Typefaces of W.A. Dwiggins". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 27 September 2017. 
  22. ^ "Monotype Metro Nova" (PDF). Fonts.com. Monotype. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  23. ^ Parkinson, Jim. "Parkinson Electra". MyFonts. Linotype. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  24. ^ "Adobe Electra". MyFonts. Adobe. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  25. ^ "Electra Linotype". MyFonts. Linotype. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  26. ^ "Caravan (Electra ornaments series)". MyFonts. Adobe. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  27. ^ "Caravan". MyFonts. Linotype. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  28. ^ Ross, David Jonathan. "Turnip (unofficial Hingham revival)". Font Bureau. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  29. ^ Sorkin, Eben. "Turnip review". Typographica. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  30. ^ Spiece, Jim. "ITC New Winchester". MyFonts. ITC. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  31. ^ "Eldorado revival". Font Bureau. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  32. ^ David Consuegra (10 October 2011). Classic Typefaces: American Type and Type Designers. Allworth Press. pp. 1693–4. ISBN 978-1-62153-582-9. 
  33. ^ Desmond, Matt. "Dwiggins Deco". MyFonts. MADType. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  34. ^ 'koeiekat'. "Dwiggins Initials KK". 1001fonts. 'koeiekat'. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  35. ^ Kegler, Richard. "P22 Dwiggins". MyFonts. IHOF. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  36. ^ Rakowski, David. "Dwiggins 48 (Plimpton initials digitisation)". Will-Harris. Intecsas. Retrieved 2 September 2015. 
  37. ^ Dwiggins, William Addison (1948). Layout in Advertising. Harper. p. 19. 
  38. ^ The Dwiggins Marionettes: A Complete Experimental Theatre in Miniature, Dorothy Abbe (Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1964)
  39. ^ American Puppetry: Collections, History and Performance, edited by Phyllis T. Dircks, "The Dwiggins Marionettes at the Boston Public Library," Roberta Zonghi, pp 196-202
  40. ^ Dwiggins, William Addison. "WAD to RR: A Letter about Designing Type". Archive.org. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]