The Type Designs of
William Addison Dwiggins

by Vincent Connare
22 May 2000


This document is a critical look at the major type designs of William Addison Dwiggins (1880-1956).

Individual letterforms and their letter parts will be critiqued and questioned to their relevance in the font or justify their existence in the typeface. Dwiggins' typefaces maybe compared to other typefaces that were used for inspiration or his own critical deviations.


After a successful career as an author, illustrator and book designer William Addison Dwiggins' first attempt at typeface design at the age of 49 years was the release of the Metro typeface family. He was trained in lettering by Frederic W. Goudy at the Frank Holmes School of Illustration in Chicago and used his book design experience as a main focus and goal in all his type designs[1].

In his most successful writing, Layout in Advertising (1928), Dwiggins criticized the trend of the day of sans serif typefaces. He wrote that type founders should provide 'a Gothic of good design' and he mainly put the blame on the capitals.[2] This led to a challenge by Harry L. Gage of the Merganthaler Linotype Company for Dwiggins to design such a typeface.

The typefaces Dwiggins was politely criticizing must have been the sans serifs that began replacing grotesque sans serifs about ten years earlier. The American term 'Gothic' referred to the 19 century German sans-serif typeface style of which Akzidenz-Grotesk (Berthold A.G.) is the best example. In America, the standard design of Gothic typefaces are Morris Fuller Benton's families of grotesque sans serifs Alternate Gothic (1903), Franklin Gothic (1902), Lightline Gothic (1908), Monotone Gothic (1907), and News Gothic (1908). Benton's designs for all these 'Gothics' have very similar characteristics to the German Akzidenz-Grotesk.

Dwiggins' comments were more correctly focusing on the new sans serifs coming out of Germany that were geometrically based and followed the philosophies of the modern design movement. A movement about streamlined pure and geometric design, covering not only type design but print, fashion, music, art and architecture. This modernist philosophy went mildly against Dwiggins' beliefs in craft, his training from Goudy and his work founded in Private Press movement of craft and calligraphy.

Starting with Edward Johnston's London Underground typeface in 1916 a flurry of grotesque, modern and humanist sans serifs emerged from Europe and America. The American and British influences came more from the inspiration of the lettering craft including calligraphy and stone cutting. Both crafts can be seen in Johnston's typeface and his student Eric Gill's Gill Sans (1928)[3]. While the modern sans serifs come from the artistic movement of the time in Germany and Eastern Europe. These designs while at the same time in history have very different lettering and design foundations. W.A. Dwiggins definitely was a modernist but not in the German sense, he was solidly based in calligraphy like his contemporaries Fredrick Goudy, Edward Johnston and Eric Gill, all craftsmen who designed calligraphic-based sans serifs. Unlike these men he reacted, experimented and then embraced the modern idea of streamline shapes and type forms.

Goudy's answer to the sans-serif trend (1922)
Goudy's answer to the sans-serif trend (1922)[4]

Metro (1929-30) Metro No. 2 redesign (1932)

Dwiggins'' approach to the sans serif is most noticeable in the original drawings for a sans serif and the original versions of Metrolite and MetroBlack (1930). In Metro the overall shape of all letters in both the capitals and small letters use the same thickness in the strokes but the original small 'a' 'e' and 'g' have a thin hairline feature. The small 'a' is two story, a traditional calligraphic or serif style unlike most of the European designs of a single story 'a'.

Portion of Dwiggins' original experimental drawings for a sans serif typeface dated March 21, 1929
Portion of Dwiggins' original experimental drawings for a sans serif typeface dated March 21, 1929[5]

In 1932 several characters were redesigned and the type family expanded. These new letters improved the overall harmony and consistency of the typeface. The thin features and the two story 'a' were replaced with a single story 'a' and 'g'. Additionally the diagonal strokes, which were originally designed with square grotesque style endings, were changed to the peaks on the capitals. The capital 'J' was changed to not descend.

When updates were made in 1932, the changes were absent of the thin strokes on the figure '4'. The original capitals 'G' and 'W' show similarities to Goudy's attempt at the sans serif and in their final form are more comfortable and less possible derivatives from Goudy[6].

In comparing Goudy's approach to the sans serif, his rounder calligraphic shape dominates all his work. Dwiggins' Metro shows the influence of Goudy calligraphic letterform but his unique sharp shapes are the dominant feature.

Dwiggins' humanistic sans serif is much more successful than Goudy's Sans Serif since Dwiggins created forms that were based in the grotesque sans serif style but added the pen influence and interesting angular joins. Goudy never broke free of the ornamentation in calligraphy and his attempt is more based in a calligraphic form adapted to a grotesque style and not a grotesque font with a calligraphic influence based.

I was originally attracted to Metro by its peculiar features. Many other sans serifs are following such a geometric pattern that their subtleness is hard to impress. I found Metro's angular and peaked capital 'A', 'M', 'N', 'V' and 'W' (redesigned) refreshing compared to the other sans serifs in use during the late twentieth century. While typefaces such as Univers, Syntax, Frutiger, Helvetica, and Meta suffer from over use and have a Germanic or Swiss geometric structure, Metro has a warm and subtle craft quality that is closer to the human hand. Other pen-based features are the small ascender's strokes that end at a slight angle mimicking the pen angle. The swash in the capital 'Q' is also a stroke not made by the ruler or technical pen with origins in the broad pen or brush. The small 'f' ascender tapers as if painted but not engineered.

Metro never gained much popularity in comparison to Renner's Futura, Gill Sans or even contemporary designs such as Erik Spiekermann's Meta. Largely this could be due to poor timing or business marketing but I would suggest that in a time where digital computer software allows many to revive or copy any existing design there has been no major revivals of Metro and this lack of interest could be that this letterform is not a favourite of many. Some could see its quirks, as inconsistencies and this could be the reason many do not favour Metro. But I would prefer the humanist look of many of the letterforms in Metro and I prefer the calligraphy left in both Metro and Johnston's Underground compared to more popular designs or the changes the Monotype production staff made to regularised Gill Sans from its original design.


'If you don't get your type warm it will be just a smooth, commonplace, third-rate piece of good machine technique - no use at all for setting down warm human ideas - just a box full of rivets... By jickity, I'd like to make a type that fitted 1935 all right enough, but I'd like to make it warm - so full of blood and personality that it would jump at you.' From Dwiggins' fictional argument over the modern age of steel and speed[7].


Electra (1935)

Dwiggins turned his attention to his first original book typeface in 1935. Electra is an original work that Dwiggins claimed was to reflect the modern machine age, be electric with sparks and flicks of metal flying free[8]. The thin baseline serifs and its heavier top serifs and terminals retain historical forms. These heavy and triangular top serifs are evident in both his teacher Frederick Goudy and Simon-Pierre Fournier le jeune's work. Dwiggins had respect for oriental design, French and Spanish type and ornamentation so it would be fair to assume this had an affect on his overall work[9].

Simon-Pierre Fournier le jeune's 192 point type
Simon-Pierre Fournier le jeune's 192 point type[10]

Electra italic is more correctly a sloped roman font. Here Dwiggins breaks away from italic tradition and his calligraphic tradition and doing what should be seen as a modernist approach of providing a rational solution to a contemporary problem. Dwiggins decided to only slope the roman by being inspired by Stanley Morrison's writings in the article 'Toward and Ideal Type'. The sloped roman was not well accepted and Dwiggins designed a more traditional italic titled cursive in 1944[11].

Some of the Dwiggins' angular style shows in the 'fi', 'fl', 'ff' and 'ffl'. The pen stroke and flag on the small 'f' is absent from the solo 'f' (necessary because of the lack of kerning in the machines) but waves out over the small 'i' or connects to the 'f' or 'l'. Dwiggins also expressed a rational reason for the flat transition on the tops of the small letters 'b', 'd', 'h', 'n' 'm' 'p' and 'q'. He stated after his drawing of his next and most successful typeface Caledonia, that these strokes making sharp angles add 'snap' to the modern face design.[12]

The Linotype digital version of Electra shows more clearly the sharp difference between the stems and the thin carved curves but unfortunately is not the correct weight. The letterpress 14 pt is noticeably heavier possibly to avoid any breakage in these thin curves.

The small 'f' has the prominent flag top of the 'f' (possible now that letterforms can extend beyond their width), the small 'r' top, 'g' left right ear and small 'a' all show signs of this brush like flag feature. The vast contrast of thick upper serifs and thin Didot style lower serifs and very thin flat top of the curved portions in primary the 'm' and 'n' are prominent Dwiggins' design features and are preserved in the digital font . This odd imbalance of top and lower strokes adds a bit of a hop in visual rhythm in both versions of the design.

Linotype Electra 36-point digital
Linotype Electra 36-point digital [13]

Caledonia (1939)

The Mergenthaler Linotype Company at the end of the 1930s asked Dwiggins to do an update to their version of the popular book typeface Scotch Roman. [14] The version of Scotch Roman in use in America (ATF and Linotype) was criticized for its heavy capitals and uneven colour. Linotype wanted to solve this issue. The best accepted version of Scotch Roman is the 1920 version produced by Miller & Company, which is absent of the weight issue. [15]

Dwiggins expressed that the faults in Scotch Roman were changes caused by many recuttings[16]. He went on to blame nineteenth-century designer's methods of using compass and mechanical draughtsmanship removing the original 'woodiness' and 'sweating away the fat' then making it no longer Scotch.[17]

Dwiggins studied Baskerville, Bodoni, and Didot and produced blending tests of these faces and Scotch in the early creation stage. He felt this method wasn't exactly what was needed since Linotype wanted a unique modern design.[18]

He then turned to a type designed by William Martin for William Bulmer in 1790[19] and used this as a base for the final Caledonia. Caledonia is the ancient name for Scotland and was named because the origin of the project was for a Scotch Roman typeface.[20] The Martin face is said to be between Baskerville and the Didots so this was the hybrid Dwiggins was looking for.[21]

In his final letterpress version and in the large display sizes Dwiggins' care in shape is obvious where he slightly slopes the small letter's stems. The ascenders start out thinner than they end up at the top. In reverse the right stem of the small 'n' flares slightly out. This is a balancing act to visually stabilize the letterform. If Dwiggins designed these stems perfectly straight they would be lifeless and void of Dwiggins' original intention to maintain the 'liveliness of action' of the Bulmer face.[22] The current Linotype digital version has stripped Caledonia of its life by both the misinterpretation of the entire design and the straightening of stems. All small letters have visually straight Didot style serifs on the bottom while the capitals show intentional cupping in the serif form.

Dwiggins is very concerned and almost obsessed with what happens to the transitions in curves at small sizes, especially the tops of the small letters 'n, h, m' at the x-height. In Caledonia he adds extreme sharp features to the transitions at the tops of the curves as they move into the right stems of the small 'h', 'm', 'n', and the left of the small 'u'. The top or bottom of these curves are very round, thin and open in a modern face style but when it swells into the stem the transition is almost a sharp point.

The small 'a' has a uniquely heavy right bottom terminal, which seems like a filled in version of the Martin's 'a' terminal but with sculptural Dwiggins' flare. While the small 'e' is almost too quiet and too round. This mixing is a way Dwiggins adds hop and interest without making the type too busy or peculiar. Other characters like the small 'o' are quiet and neutrally round.

Caledonia is primarily a book typeface and Linotype sold an optional version of the ascenders and descenders that were longer than the shorter standard ones added to increase readability in book text sizes.[23]

The two options of long or short ascenders and descenders
The two options of long or short ascenders and descenders[24]

In 1982 Linotype released a typeface titled New Caledonia. This typeface seems to my eye to be an attempt to correct some of the regularisations and mistakes put into Caledonia during years of commercial production. The Linotype digital Caledonia has very straight stems on the ascenders. Another mistake is all small letters have cupped serifs that were not present in the original letterpress version. New Caledonia put back the Ditot style flat serifs on the bottoms of the small letters and retained the cups on the capitals as Dwiggins intended. The subtle pinch in the transition of the small 'n', 'm', 'h' and 'u' was better represented and overall this New Caledonia is a better example of the original idea Dwiggins had in mind.

Falcon (1944, released 1961)

Falcon was the last Dwiggins typeface released by Linotype after his death. While Falcon was a released work it could also be called an experimental project since its design was a change to the way Dwiggins normally designed his typefaces.

Dwiggins claimed that Falcon 'hit the middle ground between mechanical exactitude and the flow and variety of the written hand'.[25] With this comment he must have been reflecting on his method of production where he used a mechanical experimental process and then included his own hand in drawing. He started by cutting experimental stencil letters in celluloid at 24 point of short and long stems and some curve shapes, sort of a counter-counter punch technique. He then constructed letters from these stencils and through enlargements created patterns in cardboard that were used to create his precise pencil drawings. Sample type was cut and adjustments were made for weight and then the final font was created.[26]

The most striking feature of Falcon is its solid text colour. This is not to say it is heavy but that it has strength mostly credited to the triangular top serif on the ascending stroke of the small 'b, d, k, l, m, n, i, p and r'. Dwiggins balances the added weight of the triangles with additional calligraphic brackets on some of the serifs.

Title from 1961 Falcon promotional poster
Title from 1961 Falcon promotional poster [27]

The italic is a lively cursive form where he again uses the backwards-moving swash on the small 'v', 'w', and 'y' a calligraphic flair he used early in his career in his experimental design Charter (1937). He adds individual character to the capital 'Q' with an extreme version of a Didot tail and plays with the angles of the serifs on the capital 'T' adding liveliness to a traditional old style design. The capital 'A' with a top serif and the overall look of the capital 'M', seem more common in his contemporary Goudy's types than any of his designs.

Eldorado (1953)

Eldorado is a Spanish inspired typeface modelled on letters by Don Geronimo Gil of Madrid dated about 1787. Dwiggins was attempting to model the face's weight and colour on Bookman, Garamond, and Century Schoolbook. The design started in 1942 but was slowed down from release due to restrictions on metals during the war years. [28]

Eldorado's Spanish style is most noticeable in the italic forms. Dwiggins uses an unconventional calligraphic capital 'Y' in the roman and adds a calligraphic quiff to the top of the capital 'A'. Dwiggins restrains himself from over ornamentation in the roman design and he seems uncomfortable with the old style forms in the capitals. His choice of a Didot style capital 'Q' tail seems out of place. The roman small letters are more successful and have a nice solid weight. The top serifs in the ascenders of both the roman and italic curve back and are reminiscent of sixteenth-century Spanish italic type.[29]

The typeface is decorated with curls on the italic capitals in the 'G', 'T' and the lively 'Q'. The italic 'U' retains a calligraphic right extender on the bottom.

Conclusions about William Addison Dwiggins' type designs

William Addison Dwiggins was a liberally minded man with traditional roots. His work always looks at a problem then he liberally experiments to find the solution. In Dwiggins' writings he never expressed a belief of copying designs (as could be argued of many of the types produced by others during his lifetime) but using them as base models and unlike his contemporaries he used the style as his base and added his Dwiggins' modern flare. He worked with shape and abstract ideas and put these ideas into practice in his designs. He could never be criticized for an over use of calligraphy in his type designs.

Dwiggins experimented in several of his typefaces with increasing readability. His design Hingham (1937-43) was an unreleased experimental newspaper typeface designed for increasing readability by decreasing the extent of the ascenders and desenders.[30]

Dwiggins again experimented with ascenders and descenders lengths by eliminating some of them in Winchester Uncial (1944), which was a typeface aimed at making the English language more readable.[31] The Winchester typefaces were used by Dwiggins and his partner Dorothy Abbe at the Püterschein-Hingham Press.

Dwiggins made several attempts at designing an alternate form of the standard italic font. In Electra he designed a sloped roman then a cursive italic and in 1937 he produced a new font Charter that was an upright cursive.[32] This cursive was used in a limited edition book with Electra capitals.

The weight of Dwiggins' typefaces is always sturdy. It is never spindly and frail. There seems to be a difference in all digital versions of Dwiggins' typefaces when compared to their letterpress ancestors. The overall text colour appears lighter than the original Linotype samples when the typefaces were first released. This lack of weight takes away from the hop and liveliness of the original design and I believe this is at the core of Dwiggins' work, without this hop or bounce to the overall rhythm these digital versions are only shells of the Dwiggins' design without its blood, heart and soul.

In total Dwiggins designed 36 fonts one of which is a series of ornaments called Caravan Decorations[33](1941) and has been released digitally by Linotype as Caravan No. 1-4.

William Addison Dwiggins died on Christmas day 1956.

Linotype Caravan No. 1 of 4 (digital)
Linotype Caravan No. 1 of 4 (digital) [34]


1. Blumenthal, Joseph. The Printed Book in America. London. The Scolar Press Limited, 1977. p. 88.

2. Carter, Sebastian, 'William Addison Dwiggins' in Twentieth Century type designers. London. Lund Humphries. 1995. p. 67.

3. Tracy, Walter. The Typographic Scene. London. Gordon Fraser Limited. 1988. p. 30.

4. McGrew, Mac. American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century. Delaware. Oak Knoll. 1993. p. 168.

5. Lawson, Alexander, Anatomy of a Typeface. Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. 1990. p. 331.

6. McGrew. p. 217.

7. Carter. p. 67-69.

8. Shaw, Paul. Tradition and Innovation: 'The Design Work of William Addison Dwiggins' in Design Issues, Vol. I, No. 2

9. Mergenthaler Linotype Company, Falcon typeface specimen. New York: Mergenthaler Linotype Company, c. 1961.

10. Fournier, Simon-Pierre le jeune, Modeles de Caracteres. Paris, 1742.

11. McGrew. p. 127.

12. Carter. p. 69.

13. The Linotype library, Electra, Linotype Font Explorer.

14. Lawson, p. 246.

15. Lawson, p. 249.

16. Linotype and Machinery Limited, Caladonia type specimen. London : Linotype and Machinery Limited, c. 1953.

17. Caledonia type specimen

18. Caledonia type specimen

19. Blumenthal, p. 92.

20. Lawson, p. 251.

21. Lawson, pp. 214-215.

22. Blumenthal, p. 92.

23. Caledonia type specimen.

24. Caledonia type specimen.

25. McGrew, p. 137.

26. Dwiggins, William Addison, WAD to RR a letter about designing type. Cambridge, MA, Harvard College Library, 1940.

27. Merganthaler Linotype Company, Falcon type specimen. New York: Merganthaler Linotype Company. c. 1961.

28. Dwiggins, William Addison, Eldorado type specimen. New York: Merganthaler Linotype Company, 1953.

29. Thomas, Henry. Typography of the Spanish XVI century. London, Ernest Benn Ltd, 1926. Plate 32.

30. McGrew, pp. 180-181.

31. McGrew, p. 335.

32. McGrew, p. 83.

33. Blumenthal, p. 92.

34. TheLinotype typeface library. Caravan Borders No. 1,


Blumenthal, Joseph, The Printed Book in America. London: The Scolar Press Limited, 1977.

Bruckner, D.J.R., Frederic Goudy. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990.

Burke, Christopher, Paul Renner: The Art of Typography. London: Hyphen Press, 1998.

Carter, Sebastian, 'William Addison Dwiggins', Twentieth Century type designers. London: Lund Humphries, 1995.

Dwiggins, William Addison, WAD to RR a letter about designing type. Cambridge, MA: Harvard College Library, 1940.

Fournier, Simon-Pierre le jeune. Modeles de Caracteres. Paris, 1742.

Lawson, Alexander, Anatomy of a Typeface. Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. 1990.

McGrew, Mac, American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century. Delaware: Oak Knoll, 1993.

Shaw, Paul. Tradition and Innovation: 'The Design Work of William Addison Dwiggins' in Design Issues, Vol. I, Nº 2.

Thomas, Henry, Typography of the Spanish XVI century. London: Ernest Benn Ltd, 1926.

Tracy, Walter, Letters of Credit. London: Gordon Fraser Limited, 1986.

Tracy, Walter, The Typographic Scene. London: Gordon Fraser Limited, 1988.

Bibliography - Typeface samples and promotional materials

Merganthaler Linotype Company, Falcon type specimen. New York: Merganthaler Linotype Company. c. 1961.

The Linotype library, Linotype Font Explorer., May 20, 2000.

Linotype and Machinery Limited, Caladonia type specimen. London: Linotype and Machinery Limited, c. 1953.

This text is copyright 2000 by Vincent Connare. All rights reserved.

This page was created on 01 November, 2000