Collections of Distinction

Dwiggins and Graphic Design

Location: Rare Books Department


Pamphlet cover The William A. Dwiggins Collection includes books, typefaces, broadsides, calligraphy, graphics, furniture, and marionettes designed and created by William Addison Dwiggins (1880–1956), the foremost graphic designer in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Dwiggins, who coined the term “graphic designer,” designed some 300 book covers for the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, and his typefaces Electra and Caledonia are still widely used by designers. His book Layout in Advertising, the first book to address a systematic treatment of the subject, remains a classic in its field.

Boston Public Library is the only repository of Dwiggins’ original works and the collection is almost entirely unique in that all but the books – which Dwiggins designed – are his own original creations, from tools to stencils, carved objects, drawings, and sketches. In addition to graphic design, Dwiggins was a skilled and well-known craftsman and practitioner of the making of marionettes.

The bulk of the collection was given to the library by Dorothy Abbe, Dwiggins’ longtime student and coworker, circa 1969. A 2001 bequest from Abbe brought to the library the remaining material from Dwiggins’ home and studio, as well as Abbe’s own large collection of books and papers relating to photography and to book and type design.

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