E. McKnight Kauffer was born in Montana in 1890. He moved to Europe in 1913 and worked mostly in England. His first commissions included posters for the London Underground. He was a member of the London Group and subsequently joined Wyndham Lewis' X Group. A Kauffer "Retrospective Exhibition of Posters" generated Roger Fry's "Commerce and Art" which was published by the Hogarth Press in 1925. Before engaging directly with the Woolfs at the Hogarth Press, Kauffer worked for Gerard Meynell's Westminster Press and Francis Meynell's Penguin Press. He also developed relationships with T.S. Eliot and Harold Monro (The Poetry Bookshop). He illustrated books for publishers Nonesuch, Faber and Gwyer, Cassell, and printers Curwen Press. Eliot credited Kauffer with not only "powers as an artist [but also] the gift of sympathy and understanding which made him a good illustrator" (qtd in Willson Gordon, 188).
In 1928, Kauffer designed a new logo for the Hogarth Press. Kauffer had previously created logos for the Arts League of Service, the quarterly Art and Letters and the Phoenix Theatre. He also began designing covers for the press in the same year, beginning with George Ryland's Words and Poetry. Subsequent covers included Leonard Woolf's Quack, Quack! in 1935, R.M. Fox's Smoky Crusade in 1937, Libby Benedict's Refugees in 1938 and H.T.Hopkinson's The Man Below in 1939. Kauffer also undertook cover work for Knopf, Harcourt Brace, Harper Brothers, Random House and Pantheon Books (Willson Gordon 201).
Later work included commissions for Shell-Mex BP Ltd and representation on the Council for Art and Industry. Kauffer is recognized as an early leader in the fields of graphic design and industrial design.
McKnight Kauffer's wife was textile designer Marion Dorn. He died in New York City in 1954.
Willson Gordon, Elizabeth. "Kauffer, Art, Markets and the Hogarth Press." in Southworth (ed.) Leonard and Virginia Woolf, the Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.