The tale of Doves type is one of passion and obsession from two men; Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, a 20th-century bookbinder and Robert Green, a 21st-century designer.
Cobden-Sanderson was striving to produce the perfect book, perfect in every way. He partnered with Emery Walker to start a private press called Doves Press based in Hammersmith London (a part of the world which also saw influences from Eric Gill, of Gill Sans, and Edward Johnson, of London Underground fame).
Commissioned by Cobden-Sanderson and Walker in 1899, the original Doves Press type was created by master punchcutter Edward Prince, based on drawings by Percy Tiffin of Nicolas Jenson’s 15th-century Venetian type.
Only available in 16pt, every Doves Press book was set in this, including an iconic edition of the King James Bible (a copy of which might set you back £10,000). Doves Press books were stripped of adornment and took a very contemporary approach by putting the type first, often using just the type alone.
Despite the successful print of this Bible and other works including Milton, the foundry was in financial trouble in 1908. Well before this, however, the partners had fallen out. Despite an agreement that both Walker and Cobden-Sanderson would both have access to a copy of the font, the latter refused to allow ‘his’ type to be used by anyone else. A compromise in 1909 saw a deal for Cobden-Sanderson to have the exclusive use until his death and rights after this to be transferred to Walker.
But although the type was the companies only remaining asset, Cobden-Sanderson was still unsatisfied and between 1913 and 1916 he surreptitiously dumped every piece of lead into the Thames.
The Doves Type was lost to the water Britains capital.
A century later, in steps our second obsessive. Robert Green. Reading about and seeing samples of Doves Type in art college began his passion for this carefully crafted font. In 2013 Green created a digital facsimile from examples of the presses work. He describes the arduous hours he took creating the digital version, replicating Cobden-Sanderson’s care and attention to detail.
Not satisfied, with relying on the impressions of the type on paper, Green looked to the diaries of Cobden-Sanderson for clues as to where on Hammersmith bridge the dumping took place and armed with a little sleuth like knowledge started to explore the river. Searching for small matchstick lengths of lead, perhaps 2 matchsticks wide is no small task.
In 2014 Green found 3 pieces himself before employing professional divers who recovered 147 more. Armed with this recovered metal, Green improved The Doves Type and rereleased a 2016 version.
Radio 4 had a documentary on the types history and Green’s rediscovery (that put this on my radar) which I can recommend if you’ve any interest in these kinds of things.
You can grab that over at TypeSepc for £40.
It’s a compact dense font that’s ideal for blocks of text. It wouldn’t have looked amiss on the tesis branding I looked at the other day but perhaps wouldn’t be the first choice for a Silicon Valley start-up.