December 9

Oz Cooper the fine Chicago artist and type designer, wrote on December 9, 1927, to Richard N. McArthur, then advertising manager of the typefoundry, Barnhart Brothers & Spindler: “Dwiggins should be seduced, and I was thinking that I might write him some day and try to get him interested. Not with any definite proposal, you know. Just to get a groundwork laid. Whatever you think. There will be no hurry.”

Cooper had been in a class in lettering with Will Dwiggins at the Chicago School of Illustration at the turn of the century. The instructor was Frederic W. Goudy. McArthur called them the Great Three of American lettering. “In Chicago,” he wrote, “the Cooper style loomed boldly above everything else; in Boston a most intriguing style, having the flavor of the Old French, of which Dwiggins was the father; in Rome, where, in 1932 we addressed to Cooper a post card: ‘Surrounded by Goudy old styles!’ ”

Dwiggins finally did get around to designing a type in 1929, after Barnhart Brothers & Spindler had gone the way of all the other American typefoundries and had been acquired by American Type Founders Company. The explosion of interest in the Bauhaus-inspired sans serif types which was then taking place was instrumental in help ing to bring about what was to be a long term relationship between himself and the Mergenthaler Linotype Company.

In his great book, Layout in Advertising, published in 1928, Dwiggins had written: “Gothic in its various manifestations has little to commend it except simplicity. It is not overly legible, it has no grace. Gothic capitals are indispensable, but there are no good Gothic capitals. The typefounders will do a service to advertising if they will provide a Gothic of good design.”

Harry L. Gage, Linotype’s assistant typographic director, picked up this statement and forthwith issued WAD a challenge which resulted in his first type—a sans serif called Metro, still widely used, particularly in newspaper offices. It is probably fitting that Dwiggins designed his first type for use on a typesetting machine as his particular skill in type design was in the production of book types, which require a sublimation of the artistic ego since they are primarily intended to insure rapid comprehension of the printed word by the reader.

Dwiggins’ best known type is Caledonia, completed in 1939 and now considered to be one of the really fine types cut in the last fifty years. A contemporary approach to the popular old Scotch Roman, with touches of Bulmer and Bodoni, Caledonia’s popularity continues to grow.

In addition to several other book types, Dwiggins produced a number of decorative units for slug composition, which represent the most interesting ornamental material ever produced for the typesetting machine and which serve to keep alive that whimsical Dwiggins’ touch in typographical decoration.

Leave a Reply