Sunday, May 22, 2011

Monogram Morphology

Designs for Letters and Monograms, the 1903 book by the John B. Wiggins Company of Chicago has to be one of the classics on monogram design. It is an 8" wide landscape format book with beautifully engraved pages of monograms, alphabet designs and instructions on how to produce script engraving. I found a copy of this little book a few years ago at one of my favorite Northwest bookstores. It reminds me there are no ugly letters, just differently-abled ones that need a bit of coaxing at times. The key to designing a well-constructed monogram is to explore—styles, combinations of styles, size, position, shapes and weights. Great monograms can be remarkably sophisticated motifs with flowing lines or conversely they can be bold and simplistic. The letters could be inside a shape, reversed out of a shape or merely suggest a shape, but they should act as a defined unit or device. When designing a monogram, experiment with interlacing or weaving letters around one another, flopping them or even fitting them snugly together like puzzle pieces. Several years ago, Design Sponge offered up some helpful guidelines for constructing monograms which were published in 1927 by Elizabeth and Curtiss Sprague in their book How to Design Monograms.

+ Start by writing down the letters in both lower case and capitals.
+ See if any combinations of letters immediately suggest a happy shape or arrangement.
+ Look for strokes which are common in two of the letters (such as how both capital R and D have similarly curved sides).
+ If two of the same letter are present, consider making one a mirror image of the other.
+ Feel free to take unlimited liberties in the distortion of letters in the design process, but remember that the result should be legible.
+ A monogram will usually form a symmetrical outside shape of some sort, such as oval or diamond, but irregular forms can be quite nice as well.

:: From the Letterology Archives


  1. Jennifer, this is an amazing find! My grandmother's maiden name is Wiggins, and her family founded the John B. Wiggins Co.

    Do you happen to have any hard copies of this material? I would LOVE to surprise the family at Christmas with some stationary/books/cards, whatever you have by Wiggins Engraving.

  2. Hi Ian,
    I think I can help you out, but please contact me at



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