New W. A. Dwiggins book! Athalinthia stories and pictures

Created by Bruce Kennett

The personal side of Dwiggins. Cool stories, published together for the first time. Tons of never-before-seen art, much in color.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Notes on Page Layout
5 months ago – Sat, Oct 29, 2022 at 02:42:38 PM

Hello Everyone,

The caravan posters have mailed out in October, as originally planned. The deluxes are on schedule. T-shirts will be printed today or Monday. But for the standard edition — the central item of this Athalinthia project — we need to wait for the bindery to catch up on the backlog of work after their terrible bout with Covid.

Given this period of delay, I thought I would post more background information, rather than simply making updates with delivery information. This update considers first how Dwiggins designed the formats for the Athalinthia stories that he himself brought into print, and second, how the varying appearances of those productions influenced my own decisions in laying out the 2023 edition.

Backers familiar with typography and design matters will know this process, but for those of you who are not so conversant with it, I thought it might be interesting for you to see how I arrived at the decisions that determine page size, type size, margins, and related matters.

Nota bene: The reflections and images in this update are NOT in my published afterword. After WAD’s stories had been given their full allotment of space in the 256 total pages of the new book, only 30 pages were available for the afterword. This limitation did not permit me to go into as much detail as I would have liked. So for any who are interested in reading this update, you’ll see content not found elsewhere.

Dwiggins made the original Athalinthia dummy in 1928 as a sales aid in his (unsuccessful) pitches to publishers to get the whole collection of stories into print. The dummy is held in the W. A. Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library.

For the new book (the two-page spread at left), I followed WAD’s design for the 1928 title page (at right) as closely as I could. I chose an illustration from the 1948 edition of “The War Against Waak” to serve as frontispiece; WAD’s 1928 dummy had no frontispiece

What’s with the name Siriling on the 1928 title page? In the early days, Dwiggins felt the book should be named for the lead story, and back then he was calling that story “Siriling.” He changed the name repeatedly over the next couple of decades — from Siriling to Sirriling, Sirralling, Sirraling, Syrilion, and finally Syrillion. If you look closely at his 1928 title page, you’ll see a pencil notation that indicates he’s already decided to add an R to change the name to Sirriling.

At this time Dwiggins was making decorations and illustrations with stencils, many of them in color, but it appears that he intended this collection of Athalinthia stories to be a straightforward production with text and line drawings printed letterpress in black ink only. This would be the most affordable means of production for the houses that he hoped might publish the book: Alfred Knopf, The Limited Editions Club, Harper, or perhaps W. E. Rudge.

Here’s a spread from the 1928 dummy. Fairly tall type page, which Dwiggins parked immediately below the running heads. Line illustrations.

The typeset text seen on page 184 in the dummy actually dates from 1932: it’s a pasted-on clipping from the WAD-designed edition of Balzac’s Droll Stories, published by the Limited Editions Club and set in Janson. Dwiggins originally called for his Athalinthia book to be set in Bulmer type. This choice is a bit curious because while Bulmer was always a favorite of his, in 1928 it was only available in foundry type — Linotype and Monotype did not release their machine-composition versions of Bulmer until the late 1930s. Setting the book by hand with foundry type would have made it much more expensive to produce than if it could be set on the Linotype.

I’d like to make a quick aside: For backers not familiar with type lingo, setting foundry type by hand requires the compositor to select each letter from the case, one at a time, with thumb and fingertips, and put it into a holder called a composing stick to make up a line of type, as opposed to machine composition (a.k.a. hot-metal typesetting) in which a line is composed by typing it on a Linotype machine’s keyboard and subsequently cast as a metal slug the width of a full line of text.

In this photo, a composing stick loaded with a line of type sits atop a case of type. The line in the stick is a quote from Dwiggins: “Ornament is a music of space.” (Note that the compositor must place the type into the stick upside down and backwards-reading!)
Here is one line of machine-set type, cast as a single slug on a Linotype machine. This method of setting type via machine brought production costs down dramatically, affecting especially newspaper selling prices but also those of books. (Not to bog things down with technical detail, but the other principal means of machine composition — the Monotype system — casts the letters one at a time and then assembles them automatically into a complete line. Traditionally, Monotype was used for setting books, and Linotype for newspapers and books.)

In the upper photo, that drawer full of little compartments — often seen in antique stores — where individual letters are stored is called a case or typecase. The letters themselves are called sorts. If you reach into a compartment in the case and discover that you have used up all your available letters for, let’s say, the character e, how do you feel? Out of sorts. [!!] 

Also, in modern times all letters are kept in one combined case, which is usually called a California case. But before that, the sorts were kept in two different cases: minuscules (abcdef) were stored in one case, and majuscules (ABCDEF) were in another. While setting type by hand, the compositor needed most often to reach into the case with minuscules, so this case was positioned close at hand for easy access; the compositor only needed to pluck out capital letters once in a while, so that case was parked in a less convenient location that required a longer reach, usually in a position higher above the work surface. This is why we refer to abcde as lowercase letters, and ABCDE as uppercase letters. End of aside.

As I have mentioned before, my intention in publishing the new book has been to follow WAD’s design practices and preferences whenever possible. But which preferences?! What he set out as a model in 1928 looks quite different from the choices he made in 1935, 1948, and thrice in the early 1950s, when individual stories (or fragments) were published in small editions, most of these with color added.

When he failed in his attempts to get the full Athalinthia collection published, Dwiggins put aside that idea and turned his attention to the maelstrom of other projects on his drawing table. By 1929, not only did he have an abundance of book design and illustration work (as one indication of this success, he was awarded the AIGA Gold Medal in that year), but Mergenthaler Linotype was bringing him on board as a type designer, and he was about to discover the compelling world of marionettes. He had lots going on. However, in the back of his mind he kept alive the notion that his stories might appear in print, perhaps one at a time, even if having them all together was not a possibility.

The first opportunity came from George Macy at the Limited Editions Club, who was preparing a second volume of his graphic-arts publication The Dolphin for 1935. Librarian Philip Hofer was writing a long article about Dwiggins’s work for this book, thus giving a perfect entrée for one of the Athalinthia stories to be included. “The Drums of Kalkapan” was the first Athalinthia story to appear in print, in the form of a small insert bound into the larger volume of The Dolphin. The story was printed in black and red on sixteen pages of translucent mulberry paper; Dwiggins hand-lettered the entire text in the half-uncial style that he would later refine and develop as his Winchester English type design for Linotype (never released commercially).

The “Kalkapan” story was bound into the larger volume of “The Dolphin II” (Limited Editions Club, 1935).

Meanwhile, throughout the 1930s and ’40s WAD was still thinking about Athalinthia:

Title page sketches from 1938 and 1945 indicate Knopf as the potential publisher. (Note changes in spelling of title.)
More title page sketches, these from 1948 and 1949. By now Dwiggins is figuring he will publish them on his own, seemingly one story at a time, although oddly, there’s no mention in these sketches of the Püterschein-Hingham publishing entity that he and Dorothy Abbe (his assistant from 1947–56) had started in 1947.

The War Against Waak was the first of the Athalinthia stories to be published by Dwiggins and Abbe, and the second title issued under their Püterschein-Hingham imprint. This slender hardcover book was printed by Abbe in 1948 on her 8 x 12 Chandler & Price press, with the text composed by hand in Bulmer foundry type.

The 1948 Püterschein-Hingham edition of “Waak” has generous margins, small type, and lots of leading (white space) between the lines. The running heads at the top have a folio (page number) on one side, and story title on the other side.

The trim size of Waak is identical to that of the 1928 book: 5-3/4” wide x 7-1/2” tall (15 x 19 cm). Given that Dwiggins (and later Abbe) employed these dimensions on numerous occasions, I decided to continue that practice for the 2023 book. This was an ideal size for Dorothy’s press, as a 4-page signature opened out would just fit on her press, enabling her to print two pages at a time. This trim size also allowed me to print the full 2023 book in eight 32-page signatures on 25x38 stock. Very efficient use of equipment in both cases.

The next story to appear was The Glistening Hill, published by Püterschein-Hingham in 1950. This time the text was set in Winchester English, a type of Dwiggins’s own design. He used his Kalkapan half-uncial lettering of 1935 as a basis and developed an entire typeface from it, although ultimately Linotype chose not to bring Winchester into production. However, in a gesture of great kindness, Linotype did cast individual sorts of type in 12-point size that Dwiggins and Abbe could use for their own hand composition and letterpress printing. The Glistening Hill was made with the same trim size as the 1928 dummy and Waak. Again, printed and bound by Abbe as a slender hardcover book.

“The Glistening Hill” has generous side and foot margins, but less at the head of the page, and a larger type size. There are no running heads to announce the title of the story — although in a sense, none are needed, since this book contains only the one story. The folios have become a decorative element: they are set in roman numerals and appear on the outer sides of the text block.

Next . . . Back in the 1930s Edna Beilenson (a partner in the Peter Pauper Press) established a collaborative of women who were important in the printing world. The ranks of its accomplished members included Dorothy Abbe, Ann Blumenthal (Spiral Press), Emily Connor (Marchbanks Press), Mabel Dwiggins, Margaret Evans (Overbrook Press), Bertha Goudy (Village Press), Jane Grabhorn, and Suzette Zurcher (Pocahontas Press). They called themselves The Distaff Side and banded together to publish three titles between 1937 and 1950. These books included contributions from each of the members, plus guest artists; the printed signatures from these many sources were then gathered and bound together to form a single volume. Their third book (1950) was called A Children’s Sampler; this included an eight-page fragment of WAD’s “Bronabejjia” story, designed and illustrated by Dwiggins, with printing, hand-composition (once more in Bulmer), and tinting of the illustrations provided by Abbe. In this case the page size of 7-1/4” x 9-3/4” was dictated by The Distaff Side’s format for the whole book.

This layout for The Distaff Side provides extremely large margins, and lots of space between the lines. The running heads list the story name, and folios immediately below the text block are set as widely spaced arabic numerals.

The last of the Athalinthia stories was another “Bronabejjia” fragment published by Dwiggins and Abbe in the form of a proposal, sent to friends of Püterschein-Hingham in 1951 as a “scheme for a book.” This consisted of eight leaves, printed one side only, and stapled together. A very modest — one could say casual — production. This book, which was described as Athalinthia VI, was never produced.

Text in this proposal was hand-set in 14-point Bulmer and printed letterpress by Abbe. As usual, Dwiggins provided the illustrations and decorations, but this time these were reproduced in a new medium with which Abbe had been experimenting: silkscreen printing. You can see on the page below that Abbe used split-fountain technique, combining inks of different colors to reproduce WAD’s design for a tree.

The proposal for “Athalinthia VI” was in horizontal/landscape format, with no running heads and no folios.

That ends the Athalinthia material produced by Dwiggins, from which I sought guidance for my own layout of the 2023 edition. (Remember, I wanted this to be his book, as much as possible, with my own contributions as recessive as I could make them. I’ve always seen myself acting as his agent, across the gulf of time, working to complete what he dreamed of doing in 1928.)

I'm not sure how this update format works, and worry that there may be space limitations, so I'm going to stop this here, and will continue in Part II to show how I reproduced and evaluated Dwiggins’s varying formats to come up with the final design for our new book. See you there!

Posters mail out tomorrow
5 months ago – Thu, Oct 27, 2022 at 07:50:28 AM

Dear Community,

Caravan posters are mailing out tomorrow to all people who ordered them, but only to US addresses. They will ship in a stout tube via first class mail, from Lewiston, Maine, so everyone should have them toward the weekend or early next week.

Backers who live outside the US will receive their posters packed with books. We still do not have a ship date for standard books due to delays at the bindery — I'm hoping late November or early December.

Those who ordered a deluxe (US residents included) will have a poster packed in the box along with the book. Those will ship in December, February, and April, depending on where your book is in the queue.

A handful of you who ordered deluxes added postage for posters, so you will be getting posters in this initial mailing.

My apologies that this turned out to be so complicated. Here I was thinking how nice it would be to give everyone a poster with a book, but the media mail regulations sure put a twist into that!


The Music of Language
5 months ago – Sat, Oct 22, 2022 at 03:01:13 PM

Marinthia . . . Altalonia . . . Ytralania . . . Eltralinea . . . Athalinthia

Will Dwiggins grew up in a musical family. Daily life included much appreciation for literature, visual arts, history, and craft, but music was a constant presence. Will’s mother was a gifted singer and musician; she often served as principal organist for her church, and was equally talented as a pianist. For a time she was a featured singer in Indiana’s Matinee Musicale, a double quartet of women’s voices that performed on tours in the American Midwest. His father played the flute.

During his high school years in Cambridge, Ohio, Will enjoyed being in the school band; as an adult, in Hingham, Massachusetts, he continued his love of music, although in the form of listening rather than performing — most often the compositions of Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc, Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel. Given the quirkiness and sprightly energy of Dwiggins’s artwork, it seems exactly right to me that Satie was his favorite composer.

Dwiggins also loved language, and spent his adult life both writing and reading. From high school until the final years of his life, he wrote articles and reviews for newspapers and magazines, and essays about subjects that ranged from technical printing topics to general culture and visual arts. His book Layout in Advertising was published by Harper in 1928, and issued in a second edition in 1946; it continues to be a valued resource for anyone engaged in the act of combining words and images. One of his short stories was chosen for inclusion in Houghton Mifflin’s Best Short Stories of 1915, and he continued to work in this genre, beyond what he created for Athalinthia; Knopf published a collection of his short stories called Paraphs in 1928. After he began working with marionettes in the early 1930s, Dwiggins wrote four complete stage plays with casts ranging from three and four characters to seventeen and twenty-two! In his leisure time he enjoyed history and science books most often. He also adored reading aloud, everything from The Omnibus of Crime to Winnie-the-Pooh.

Writing the Athalinthia stories gave Dwiggins a unique opportunity to be something of a composer in his own right. What were all the places to be called in these tales? Towns, mountain ranges, oceans, rivers. And what names would people have? How would they sound, and how would this further evoke the feeling of faraway and exotic places? He delighted in this process of invention, and gave a lot of time and reflection to his choices. In addition to what you will encounter in the printed stories, I wanted to share with you in this update, a sampling of his efforts to choose exactly the right names. The sheets of paper shown below are from the Athalinthia files of the W. A. Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library. They show clearly how willing he was to lavish extensive time to get things just right — as he did on so many of his artistic pursuits.

(I apologize for the image quality — they are snapshots I made in the reading room of the rare book department, where I had no control over the lighting.)

Just as he did in his own time, I encourage you to read these names aloud, so that you can hear them as well as see them on the page.

Finally, I’d like to show you a delightful morsel from 1952. This has nothing to do with Athalinthia, but it’s another WAD creation tied to music. Dwiggins cut the four woodblocks for this Petrouchka image in 1921, but never printed them. Decades later his assistant, Dorothy Abbe, suggested that they issue this broadside as a part of their Püterschein-Hingham publishing efforts. Dwiggins then “typeset” all the music notation himself, by cutting and combining celluloid stencils to make that complex series of notes and staves. His final paste-up (see detail below) was then made into a photo-engraving so that Abbe could print it alongside the four-color woodblock image.

5 months ago – Fri, Oct 14, 2022 at 07:57:32 AM

For most of you, “printed with stochastic screens” is a mysterious and arcane term. In this update I’ll explain why I have chosen this exacting path for the printing of our book.

Stochastic screening at left, compared with conventional printing at right. (Image found on-line in a stamp-collecting chat group.)

The usual way to print “full color” (shown at right in the image above) is to build a picture with four passes of transparent ink, using four sets of halftone screens. These are called halftones because their patterns of dots enable the expression of tones that are partway between white (no ink at all, just unprinted paper) and full dark (solid ink, either black or some other color, laid down with no paper showing at all). Remember, ink can only be itself — all dark, or not there at all — so on its own it is incapable of expressing values in between white and full dark.

The halftone screens consist of ordered patterns of dots. You have probably noticed these dots in newspaper pictures, since newsprint paper requires a more coarse pattern that is visible to the naked eye. These dots are set up on a grid, so they form a fixed pattern like the holes in a pegboard. To reproduce dark areas, big fat dots aligned on that grid actually overlap one another. For the lightest areas, there are tiny dots with lots of white space between them.

Various-sized dots of the four transparent inks combine to make a full-color image (lower left)

This example from Atlas Screen Supply shows the four individual color halftones along the top. Each of these is printed onto the paper via a separate ink unit on the four-color offset press. The resulting combination is shown lower left. The dots and transparent inks do a pretty good job, don’t they?!

The enlargement at lower right shows you the dots themselves. Where you see green dots, that’s actually transparent cyan (blue) dots on top of yellow, their hues combining to create the green you perceive. Similarly, the dots of scarlet color are actually transparent magenta dots, with some yellow coming through the magenta ink; when you back away from the picture, the scarlet dots and surrounding yellow merge to present the illusion of the butterfly’s orange wing color.

These CMYK dots work well for the general printing of color images, as long as you do not need fine detail. These days, most color images are printed with screens that are made on a grid of 150 or 200 dots per inch. A few printing companies will use 300-line screens, but that is more demanding of precision, cleanliness, and careful attention during printing, especially in the darker portions of the image — the shadows and three-quarter tones — where detail and image contrast can be lost if the screen is too fine.

If you wish to preserve fine detail in an image, how do you get around this? Well, that’s where stochastic screening comes in. Here’s an example from Czech printer Hi-Fi Tisk:

If you back up from your screen and squint, you’ll see that the images are similar, but what a difference at close range!

Stochastic screening employs random clusters of extremely tiny dots. All dots are the same size, so if there is a dark area, many dots are piled up on top of one another. Stochastic process demands a lot of the printer — the shop must be maintained like a NASA clean room, and continuous vigilance is required on the part of the press crew. However, stochastic also brings two big rewards:
• fine detail that is impossible to capture with conventional screens
• an increased vividness and gamut in the color laid down

Add to this the performance qualities of Penmor’s Komori press: it uses special UV inks that dry much faster and leave more color on the surface of printed sheet, rather than the ink soaking down into the structure of the paper. This is especially important on the Mohawk Superfine and Finch Fine used in our book, which are high-quality uncoated sheets.

Coated papers are made with kaolin clay mixed into the paper fibers. They are the typical (often glossy) sheet used in most photo and art books. The clay helps to keep the ink sitting up on the top surface of the sheet, rather than the ink soaking down into the physical structure of the paper. As a result, colors are more contrasty and vivid. However, the “hand” or feeling of the paper as you hold the book, is not so friendly as the feeling of uncoated paper; typeset text is also usually easier to read on uncoated paper.

The trade-off used to be that uncoated paper was lovely for reading text, but color reproduction was muted. Metaphorically, the uncoated paper was like a kitchen sponge that would absorb the ink and thus reduce how much color you would see when light bounced from the top surface of the paper back to your eye. By contrast, reproductions printed on a clay-coated sheet would be brighter and more intense, akin to what you see when you dip a dry rock in water. But again the trade-off: clay-coated papers usually feel more technical and hard, not so soft and inviting to the fingers as uncoated papers.

Penmor’s UV press now gives us the best of both worlds: uncoated paper for the ideal reading surface, but better color reproduction.

One more set of examples about stochastic will help to explain why I have asked Penmor to use this exacting process. (In their case, they use Kodak’s Staccato screening system.) I am grateful for their willingness to do this extra-demanding work — apparently I am one of only a handful of their clients who take advantage of this — but they are happy to do it and proud of their craftsmanship. The following pictures are from W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design, my biography of Dwiggins, which Penmor printed in 2017 using the same stochastic screens.

Opened up, the book measures 11 x 18 inches (28 x 46 cm).

In the late 1940s Dwiggins designed a new format for the World Book Encyclopedia, and this is shown in the upper-right corner of the left page. The picture printed in the biography is only 3 x 2 inches (7.5 x 5 cm). With conventional color printing, you would never be able to see fine detail in a such a small picture. Yet here, with stochastic screening, the infinitesimal type on those encyclopedia pages is still readable!

A brass line gauge laid down on the page gives you a sense of the scale of this picture.
All type on the encyclopedia page is readable, and the tonal subtleties in the maps have been preserved.

This is the great gift of stochastic. It is far more challenging to print with this system than it is to print conventionally, but the rewards justify it. Through this effort, you will be able to see the finest details in Dwiggins’s artwork throughout the book, and in the afterword — where smaller pictures were needed, to reduce overall page count in that section — you’ll be able to use a magnifier to see additional detail.

Thanks for reading this.

Schedule notes
5 months ago – Fri, Oct 14, 2022 at 07:24:04 AM

As always, I want to be fully transparent with all of you about what’s happening. We are all in this together.

T-SHIRTS  For the few of you who ordered the green-and-blue Athalinthia shirts, those are currently in process at the company in Dwiggins’s home town of Cambridge, Ohio. I don’t have a ship date yet, but will let you know once I have that.

POSTERS  These will ship out to US addresses later this month. We are waiting for the mailing tubes to arrive. If you live in the US and ordered both a book and a poster, the poster will come to you via first class mail; the book(s) will ship separately, later on, sent by media mail (which I chose to keep shipping fees lower) in good, stout packaging. Please note that international orders for books will have posters included in the shipping box, so in those cases posters to you will not go out ahead of time. Same with the deluxes — posters will be packed with the deluxe book in a shipping box, unless you added separate postage in your pledge for the poster to be sent separately.

STANDARD  Some further discouraging news for the standard edition. Not only has Superior been suffering from a major Covid outbreak . . . now their Smyth sewing machine has broken and needs a part, which must come from Italy. When I have some idea of schedule from them, I'll report on that, but I fear it is looking like December and not November for us to have those books to send out. In these strange times, we just have to flow with what is. 

DELUXE  Meanwhile, Gray will be working on the deluxes and the first batch of 25 copies should be ready to send in December, as originally planned. As a further nod to Dwiggins (although a hidden one), I asked Michael Babcock to set the author names that will appear on the spine; Michael made those on his Linotype machine, using Dwiggins’s Metrolite type. So when Gray stamps the spine in gold foil, those names will be made directly from Linotype slugs cast in WAD’s own type, made in the technology for which Metro was originally intended. And of course the central portion of the spine is all WAD’s hand-lettering. 

SHIPPING/ADDRESSES/CHARGES/DETAILS  Please remember that I am one person, trying to juggle the myriad details of this project. My home turf is book design and calligraphy, not Excel and CSV spreadsheets. If you find that something is amiss with your order, please be in touch and I'll do what I can to remedy it. Thanks for your patience and understanding.