Academic journal article Printing History

Jacobs, Dwiggins, and the Short Life of Linotype Charter

Academic journal article Printing History

Jacobs, Dwiggins, and the Short Life of Linotype Charter

Article excerpt

The typographer William Addison Dwiggins and the printer Samuel Aiwaz Jacobs collaborated once. Beginning in 1934, Jacobs was the proprietor of the Golden Eagle Press in Mt. Vernon, New York. Jacobs was a compositor by trade and a Linotype operator who over the years had carved a reputation for himself as a book designer as well. Jacobs also published under his Golden Eagle imprint and in 1946 used typefaces designed by Dwiggins--notably the experimental Charter font--on an exquisite Golden Eagle edition of the Song-Stories of Aucassin and Nicolete. In the process, Jacobs infringed upon Mergenthaler Linotype's licensing authority. A vigorous quarrel ensued between Jacobs and Chauncey H. Griffith, the vice president for typographic design at Mergenthaler Linotype, concerning the licensing infringement that had possibly occurred. This prompted a rarified typographic firestorm that has been easy to forget by even the graphic arts community. The incident, however, reverberated within the printing industry at the time.

Both Dwiggins and Jacobs had risen to graphic arts and printing prominence during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1946, Dwiggins was an eminent book and type designer, long under contract to the Mergenthaler Linotype company. His distinction has endured in the history of graphic design. That of Jacobs has not. Jacobs's own book designs and typography were once widely admired and repeatedly honored. He had clients among the poets and fiction writers of high-bohemian Greenwich Village and, first at Polytype Press on West 8th Street in Manhattan and subsequently at Golden Eagle Press in suburban Mt. Vernon, he was a favored printer of early literary modernists. He had the distinction of handling all of the poetry and most of the prose of E. E. Cummings. Cummings called Jacobs, who was Assyrian (or Iranian) by birth, his personal "Persian typesetter."

S. A. Jacobs began his work life in 1915 as a Linotype operator at Manhattan's Persian-American Courier, and he served the Assyrian community of greater New York City into the 1920s. (1) Jacobs's work in the ethnic community opened a multilingual niche market for the establishment of Polytype Press in Greenwich Village. Jacobs and Polytype catered to the typographical needs of the abundant literati there as well. In this artistic environment, Jacobs befriended the likes of Marianne Moore, Glenway Wescott, Hart Crane, and (through the publisher Thomas Seltzer) E. E. Cummings. His innovative approaches, first at Polytype and subsequently at Golden Eagle Press, placed his work among an elite group of modernist, limited-edition operations. Over the years, the American Institute of Graphic Arts selected a dozen of his books among its annual "Fifty Best Books of the Year." Even with the reception of numerous awards, Jacobs was always best known for his work on behalf of Cummings, beginning with Tulips and Chimneys (1923). That relationship peaked in the mid-1930s with the publication of Cummings's Russian travel narrative, Eimi, and his signature poetry collection, No Thanks, both of which Jacobs designed.

Jacobs's experience with linguistic diversity helped him cope with eccentric literary techniques. Modernist writing, especially poetry, often featured visually arresting page appearance. Typesetting and page composition were fundamentally important to visual poets such as Cummings. Innovative typography emphasized san serif typefaces perhaps set bold or in lowercase in unbalanced page layouts. Print composition challenged bourgeois culture by shocking it with its appearance. Innovative texts were hard to read, and also hard to print, but Jacobs's compositional skills, however, had earned him a certain recognition.

Printing historians have overlooked Jacobs, Polytype, and the Golden Eagle Press, and this is odd. Jacobs spent a great deal of time enhancing Cummings's fame, but the considerable respect for the work of Jacobs should not be deemed as just the result of the reflected glory from his association with E. …

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