[PW] Saying: A disordered desk was a sign of genius. (Request help accessing 1947 and 1950 "Typo Graphic")

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com
Sun Sep 24 05:45:35 PDT 2017

"The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs" (DMP) compiled by Charles Clay
Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro has an entry for the
following saying:

[Begin excerpt]
A messy (cluttered) desk is a sign of intelligence (brilliance,
genius, creativity, productivity, a busy person, etc.).
[End excerpt]

The first DMP citation is dated 1973. My searches indicate that there
is probably a 1947 or 1948 citation for the expression in the subject
line within a periodical called "Typo Graphic" (Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania). Also, there is probably a 1950 citation in "Typo
Graphic". Unfortunately this periodical is difficult to access, and
this message is a request for help to obtain pertinent page scans.

WorldCat lists only five libraries that hold any issues of "Typo
Graphic". Further, some of these libraries do not hold the pertinent
issues. For example, the Newberry Library in Chicago does not have any
issues in 1947 or 1948, and it has an incomplete run in 1950.

The one facility that seems to hold the target issues is the storage
facility of University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. I hope Dennis Lien
will be willing to help. Alternatively, perhaps someone else can
locate the issues in another library.

Here is the information for the first citation.

Year: 1947 or 1948 (year from GB snippets and metadata)
Periodical: Typo Graphic
Article: Well Thanks, Brother (guess based on a snippet)
Publisher: Pittsburgh, Pa.: Edwin H. Stuart (based on catalog metadata)
Quote Page 36 (page number from GB)
Database: Google Books Snippet


[Begin excerpt]
Or, that you're one of those geniuses who have a piled-up desk and you
threw the card in the pile and it got lost. Tolstoi said that a
disordered desk was a sign of genius and we see lots of littered desks
in our rambles around Pittsburgh.
[End excerpt]

Comments: Google Books metadata is sometimes inaccurate and must be
verified with hardcopy or scans.

The text of the quotation is not visible in any snippets of the
volume. Instead, Google Books (GB) displays a different section from
the page containing the target text. (GB refuses to display some
snippets. This refusal might be due to an anti-piracy strategy to
prevent automated extraction, or it might be an error in the GB

One snippet from page 36 (GB) shows part of the phrase "Well Thanks,
Brother" in a large font. Searching for "Well Thanks, Brother"
produces a snippet from a table of contents indicating that the phrase
is an article title.

Searching for "1947" and "1948" in the GB volume above produces
snippets that indicate that the volume does contain issues from 1947
and 1948. There are no matches for "1949" and "1950". There are
matches for "1946", but none show issue headers.

Here is the information for the second citation.

Year: 1950 (year from GB snippets and metadata)
Periodical: Typo Graphic
Article: Odds and Ends, Flotsam and Jetsam (guess based on a snippet)
Publisher: Pittsburgh, Pa.: Edwin H. Stuart (based on catalog metadata)
Quote Page 207 (page number from GB)
Database: Google Books Snippet


[Begin excerpt]
Genius! An artist associated with the design and drafting staff of the
U.S. Steel group located in the Chamber of Commerce Building, had a
sign over his desk saying, "Don't clutter up the exhibit."

And his desk really is an exhibit—everything on it except the kitchen
sink. Oh well, Tolstoi said, "A disordered desk is a sign of genius."
[End excerpt]

The goal is to gather scans showing the quotation and the metadata for
a complete and accurate citation, e.g., issue date, page number,
article title, article author (if possible), periodical title, and

Of course, earlier instances of the adage would be most welcome.

Thanks for any help you can provide.
Garson O'Toole
Quote investigator

More information about the Project-Wombat-Open mailing list