Polymath Published

The Letterform Archive launches its new publishing programme this month with a monograph of the work of W. A. Dwiggins—snag yourself a copy while you can...

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W. A. Dwiggins drawing letters, ca. 1941. Photograph by Robert Yarnall Richie. Collection of Letterform Archive.

If you're not yet familiar with the Letterform Archive, you're in for a treat—the San Francisco-based non-profit institution holds a collection of over 40,000 items relating to lettering, typography and graphic design, from books and pamphlets to sketches, ephemera and artworks. Alongside their existing programme of events and workshops, the Archive recently announced plans to launch a design-focused publishing programme, which kicks off with the publication of W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design, a groundbreaking new book exploring the work of pioneering American designer.

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W. A. Dwiggins-designed slipcase for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (New York: Random House, 1929). Collection of Letterform Archive.

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W. A. Dwiggins, diagram for advertisement, S. D. Warren paper, ca. 1924. Collection of Letterform Archive.

One of the founding fathers of American graphic design, Dwiggins was a man of many talents. His work in the first half of the twentieth century spanned calligraphy, type design, illustration, private press publishing, advertising and book design, and his hands-on approach often led him to think beyond the page; Dwiggins also experimented with kite-making, puppetry, set design and furniture throughout his career. 

Surprisingly, Dwiggins' work has never previously been the subject of a detailed monograph. W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design will be the first such book to be published; at 480 pages and with over 1200 images, it will offer an incredibly detailed examination and celebration of his work and career. Its author, the graphic designer and teacher Bruce Kennett, has collected the work of Dwiggins since 1972, and the book represents the culmination of fourteen years of research, photography and writing. 

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W. A. Dwiggins, detail from Extracts from an Investigation into the Physical Properties of Books, as They are at Present Published, Undertaken by the Society of Calligraphers. (Boston: W. A. Dwiggins and L. B Siegfried, 1919). Collection of Letterform Archive.

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Sample spread from W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design, featuring Dwigginsdesigned title page spread from H. G. Wells, The Time Machine.

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W. A. Dwiggins, cover for H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (New York: Random House, 1931). Collection of Letterform Archive.

The Letterform Archive is funding the publication of W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design via Kickstarter, in a campaign that reached its initial funding goal in only two days. In response, they have recently added a new 'stretch goal' to their fundraising efforts, expanding the project to encompass the high-fidelity digitisation of their Dwiggins archive, making his beautiful, witty and diverse work accessible to a worldwide audience. You can reserve your copy, and contribute to the cause, over on their campaign page—but be quick, as the project's deadline of 29 April is fast approaching.


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W. A. Dwiggins, detail of stationery for the Society of Calligraphers, ca. 1922. Collection of Letterform Archive.

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W. A. Dwiggins, study (one of six) for George R. Macy Company mailing label, late 1930s. Collection of Letterform Archive.