William Dwiggins (1880 -1956) – Typographer and all-rounder

William Addison Dwiggins was an American type designer and typographer. He was well rounded and was loved for his prolific work as an illustrator, book designer, type designer, playwright (puppets) and author.

Dwiggins was born in Martinsville, Ohio, in 1880, he had studied East in Chicago, and then he moved to Boston. Between 1917-1918, he became the acting director of the Harvard University Press. He also worked for the Yale University Press, designing jackets, endpapers, bindings and posters.

Dwiggins was known for his “Metro” series of typefaces, the first designed specifically for newspaper headlines. He produced that in 1929 when he won the gold medal of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

The series comprised of four weights: Metroblack, a husky, virile letter; Metromedium, a less bold, yet colourful, eye gripping face; Metrolite, the typographic synonym for daintiness; and Metrothin, a typographic delight of inimitable grace and delicacy.

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He brought Metro out in 1929 that contributed to him winning the gold medal for the Institute of Graphic Arts. Electra in 1935, Caledonia in 1939 and Eldorado in 1953. Caledonia was one of the most widely used book typefaces in America.

He created the typefaces Caledonia and Electra types explicitly used for books. Caledonia became the preferred type for the printing of every sort: Books and periodicals, as well as a variety of commercial and advertising work – Caledonia was a supremely legible type.

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Electra Specifications

Dwiggins presented Electra typeface in 1937. It featured no sharp contrast between thick and thin strokes. The italic of Electra is more accurately an oblique roman and is quite readable. It is a thin face, more delicate than Caledonia. Both the caps and lowercase feature rather sharp cut serifs. The serifs are equal at both sides of the main stems of caps and lowercase. The serif at the bottom of the lowercase has an upward facing inclination. The lowercase j features a sharpened descender that turns slightly left.

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Graphic Designer

He created the original logo for General Motors and is said to be the one who coined the term “graphic designer” – before this, graphic designers had been called “commercial artists”. He did this to distinguish his production from that of the private presses.

Look and Feel of Books

Dwiggins designed dozens of typefaces and was the author of books on advertising layout and typography. He established the ‘look and feel of more than 350 books for Alfred A. Knopf Books from 1926-1956. He preferred to keep his symbols and illustrations set apart from the flow of type.

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He also was an illustrator for children’s books. His drawings for Poe Tales and Stevenson Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are excellent for the sparing use of colour, as his black and white illustrations attest to this.

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The above is an example of his Metro and Electra typefaces.

Calligrapher

Dwiggins was a skilled calligrapher. His hand-lettered title pages, running head, picture caption books have a beautiful, individualised touch.

His binding has paper covers in warm, soft shades, with high calico backs, fine gold lettering, and vibrant decoration.

He also contributed to producing professional manuals for his industry. He wrote “Layout in advertising”, a desk manual outlining approaches to layout problems. All the illustrations he drew himself instead of using existing advertisements.

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