Fonts.com Promo - Dwiggins Fact Check

This may be petty of me, but I feel compelled to publicly set the record straight regarding an error in the W.A. Dwiggins narrative relayed in a Fonts.com email promo that went out yesterday. (If you’re not on their list, and you want to give them clicks, the promo can be viewed online here.)

The item in question is this anecdote about how Dwiggins got his start in type design:

The challenge came from C.H. Griffith, the person responsible for typographic development at Mergenthaler Linotype in the early part of the 20th century. Griffith first learned of Dwiggins from an article he read in the trade press. The article dealt with the current state of the typographic arts, and in it Dwiggins complained that there were no acceptable gothic typefaces available for Linotype composition. Further, Dwiggins stated, there were no good text gothics designed in America. (Franklin and News Gothic were considered display faces.) Upon seeing Dwiggins' article, Griffith sent him a letter which, in essence, said, ”If you think you're so good let's see the gothic you can draw.”

Setting aside the oversimplifications that come from a breezy treatment, the fact of the matter is that it was Harry L. Gage, the Assistant Typographic Director at the time, who responded to Dwiggins’s statement and offered the challenge — not Chauncey H. Griffith.

The Dwiggins statement in question appeared not in an article, but in his book Layout in Advertising, which was published in 1928. A short while after, in a letter dated February 25, 1929, Gage then wrote to Dwiggins:

My dear Dwiggins:
    In a certain recently published work on Advertising, of which I have had the temerity to purchase a number of copies to plant where they would do the most good, there appears a sentence on page 24: — “The typefounders will do a service to advertising if they will provide a Gothic of good design.”
    What do you mean “good design”? And having defined it, would you like to illustrate it? And if so would you like to see it cut for the Linotype?

It was this correspondence that led to the birth of Dwiggins’s Metro for Mergenthaler Linotype. And it was Gage who managed the project for the first several months through conception and initial sketches.

The relationship between C.H. Griffith and Dwiggins formed a bit later that spring, in May 1929, when the decision was made to retain Dwiggins on a more permanent basis as Typographic Consultant to MLCo.

And while the close relationship between CHG and WAD is justly celebrated, I felt that Harry L. Gage should get the credit he deserves here in this oft-told tale of 20th century type-founding.


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