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15 things you didn’t know about the Doves Press & its Type


he Doves Press was founded in 1900 in Hammersmith, London, by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, with Emery Walker joining him the same year as his partner. During almost seventeen years of operation the Press produced some of the finest examples of twentieth century typography, the distinguishing and most celebrated feature of its books being a specially devised fount of type. Much wrangling over the fate of the type followed a prolonged falling-out between the two men, culminating in the partnership being dissolved in 1909. Their mutual friend Sydney Cockerell stepped in to mediate and the matter of the type was settled, the subsequent agreement stating that Codben-Sanderson should have use of it for printing Doves Press publications until his death, whereupon ownership would transfer to Emery Walker. However, when the Press closed in 1917, an epitaph appeared in its final publication announcing that Cobden-Sanderson had ‘bequeathed’ the Doves Press Fount of Type to the bed of the River Thames. 

After releasing his digital facsimile font of the Doves type in 2013, Robert Green decided to try and find the lost metal fount disposed of by Cobden-Sanderson between 1916-17. In 2014, aided by a diving team from the Port of London Authority, Green recovered 151 of the sorts that Cobden-Sanderson had thrown over Hammersmith Bridge from their resting place on the riverbed.

Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson 

1. The Doves Press, established in 1900 by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, was partly inspired by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, which ceased operating after Morris’s death in 1896. 

The Doves Press was also conceived as a reaction against Kelmscott. Cobden-Sanderson’s main criticism of Morris’s endeavour? ‘I cannot get beyond the typography. The thing intended to be conveyed will ever be “intended to be conveyed”, and never will be conveyed!’.

Although Morris’s friend, Cobden-Sanderson was alone in Arts & Crafts circles in criticising him. He was frequently rather scathing, being especially disparaging of Morris’s obsession with the Medieval past: ‘Men of today, who affect the forms of other times, have their eyes wholly or partially closed.’

Doves Type

Eric Gill Inscription

2. In fact William Morris, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, Emery Walker and another Doves Press contributor, calligrapher Edward Johnston, all lived within a few hundred meters of each other in Hammersmith, London. 

Both William Morris and Emery Walker had been Cobden-Sanderson’s tenants at some point. In 1893, William Morris briefly rented rooms for his Kelmscott Press that Cobden-Sanderson sublet to him at 15 Upper Mall, while for a period throughout their dispute over the type, Walker continued operating part of his photo-engraving business at photo-engraving business at 13 Upper Mall, also leased from Cobden-Sanderson.

In 1903, when the Cobden-Sanderson’s moved to 24 Upper Mall (next door to William Morris’s former home, Kelmscott House) Walker moved a few doors down from where he had lived at 3 Hammersmith Terrace (next door to the Doves Press premises at number 1) into Cobden-Sanderson’s old rented house at No. 7. This left number 3 free for the newly-wed Edward Johnston to move into.

Finally – if that’s not complicated enough – from 1905, Eric Gill lived within a stone’s throw away in Hammersmith’s Black Lion Lane. Eric Gill carved the print-ready woodblocks for many of the calligraphic titles that Edward Johnston had designed for the Doves Press. 

At the turn of the 20th century, three streets in West London decided the course of English typography.

William Morris

3. Having been made Hon. Secretary of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1888, it was Cobden-Sanderson who had given the Society its name, and consequently labelled a whole movement.

4. Six talks were given at the Society’s first exhibition, two on the book arts. On 15 November and Emery Walker spoke on ‘Letterpress Printing and Illustration’, and on 22 November T. J. Cobden-Sanderson lectured on ‘Bookbinding’. In attendance that evening were George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde — who wrote a glowing review for the Pall Mall Gazette — and William Morris.

It was the public exposition of the principles of good typography by Walker which awakened William Morris’s dormant enthusiasm for printing, setting off a chain of events that lead to Monotype, American Typefounders and others reviving historical printing types like Baskerville, Bembo, Blado and Garamond. ‘The evening of 15 November was, therefore, an unexpectedly momentous occasion: many historians have argued that the modern revival of fine printing can be dated precisely from Walker’s lecture’ says Morris expert William S. Peterson.

5. Both William Morris’s Golden type and the Doves type were based on the same enlargements of historical types that Walker had made from books owned by William Morris; Nicholas Jenson’s 1476 edition of Pliny’s Natural History & Aretenius’s History of Florence, printed the same year by Jacobus Rubeus.

Both types are considered to be ‘Jensons’. Morris’s fattened-up, ‘gothicised’ Golden Type — containing serifs taken from Black Letter forms — became the model for Venetian founts of the late 19th century, including the American Type Founders/Phinney Jenson and those of subsequent private presses, including Vale’s Roman and Essex House Press’ Endeavour.

However after 1900, the slimmed down Doves became the benchmark for Venetian style types, inspiring many including the Dolphin, Cranach and Brook types (in slimness at least). That is, until the arrival in 1915 of the greatest of all 20th century Venetians, Bruce Rogers’ Centaur. 

Then again, perhaps the Doves type’s reputation lasted a while even after Centaur appeared; ‘No other founts that I know instinct with such restrained and magnificent beauty. It is a great type this Doves Press fount’ wrote A.W. Pollard in 1925. High praise indeed. Pollard was Bruce Rogers’ greatest backer and advocate – in 1916 he secured the American typographer & type designer a position at the Cambridge University Press.

Edward Prince

6. Emery Walker worked on creating both the Golden & Doves typefaces, enlisting the same man, Edward Prince, to cut the punches. Prince cut types for the entire Private Press movement, as well as many for Miller & Richard typefounders (later absorbed by Stephenson Blake). Considered the finest punchcutter in England, Prince died in 1923 just as the Lanston Monotype Company had begun its extensive program of type revivals, all of which were cut using the relatively new Pantograph technology under its new director of typography, Stanley Morison.

7. Preparations for the Doves Press began in 1899. Percy Tiffin, draftsman at Walker’s photo-engraving company, Walker and Boutall, had produced drawings for the type under Walker’s instruction. Some of it had even been cut, but Emery Walker was not officially partner in the Press until 1900. Perhaps he should have continued as he did in the 1890s, when he had declined the offer of a partnership in Kelmscott from William Morris, claiming to have had ‘some sense of proportion’.

8. Emery Walker later produced two well known books with Bruce Rogers; an edition Albrecht Dürer’s Of the Just Shaping of Letters, (1917) and Homer’s Odyssey, (1932) famously translated by T.E. Shaw, otherwise known as T.E. Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia. The two had begun a life-long friendship in 1904 while Walker was still at the Doves Press. Rogers had admired Walker because of his work with Morris and reviving Jenson again – but differently – with T.J. Cobden-Sanderson. 

Walker, apart from being an enormous influence on 20th century typography himself, had worked with Britain’s three most influential typographer/printers during his lifetime: Morris, Cobden-Sanderson and American ex-pat Bruce Rogers, plus Europe’s greatest calligrapher, Edward Johnston.

Johnston Initials for Doves Bible

9. T.J. Cobden-Sanderson was godfather to the great 20th century philosopher, Bertrand Russell.

10. T.J. Cobden-Sanderson was married to Annie Cobden-Sanderson who, through a small inheritance from her father, reforming politician Richard Cobden, funded the Doves Press throughout its entire existence. Annie worked for Independent Labour Party and was a leading suffragette. Arrested in 1906, George Bernard Shaw wrote a letter of protest to the Times and she was released on the strength of it the following month. When she was arrested again petitioning the Prime Minister’s residence in Downing Street in 1909, it is said that the young Winston Churchill used his influence to secure her release.

11. Walker attempted, unsuccessfully, to have the type re-cast in the 1920s. Most of the punches had been cut once again but, said Walker, ‘many of them are not definite and require alteration’. In his 1923 statement for a writ brought against Annie Cobden-Sanderson for loss of the type, he said, ‘My contention is that supposing by a miracle the type could have been recast exactly similar to the original Doves, the reputation which had accrued to the latter could not be transferred to any copy.’

12. Cobden-Sanderson had decided to destroy the type in 1909. He threw the punches & matrices over Hammersmith Bridge in March 1913, but waited until 1916 to get rid of the type. He started secretly taking it down to the bridge in August 1916 and had finally disposed of it all by late January 1917, eight years after making his initial decision.

Doves metal type

13. The current owners of 15 Upper Mall have said that during the 1980s there was much interest in a theory that their house was the true location of the lost Doves punches. Convinced of this, an academic reportedly from the Museum of London spent a few days one summer digging up their garden in search of the relics. But his team found nothing, returned the garden to its original state and were never heard from again.


Other types notably thrown into water: 

Some of the Fell types ended up in an Oxford lock at the turn of the century, the University Press offering a £1 reward for the identity of the culprit; Charles Ricketts threw punches and matrices belonging to the Vale types into the Thames in 1903; Pissaro’s Brook fount also ended up in water, this time the English Channel (or la Manche to our French readers), thrown in by Esther, his widow and partner in the Eragny Press; piles of 16th century type appeared on the riverbed of the Saône in Lyon during the 19th century – it’s thought thrown from the windows of print shops overlooking the river by compositors too lazy to return it to its cases; finally, small heaps of type regularly appear under Blackfriars Bridge, near London’s old printing district Fleet Street, most likely chucked off of the bridge for the same reason.

Miller & Richard Old Style Antique

15. There exists a small sample of type which was not thrown into the Thames. Walker retained some sorts from the first tranches of type received from the Miller & Richard foundry in 1900, which he’d set in a Christmas message to his wife Mary Grace. The message reads: ‘May this last Christmas of the Century prove the best kept unto the last for thee.  M. G. W.  Christmas 1900’. The type can still be seen in the Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum, England.

Digital Doves

Digital Doves

Emery Walker

@Robert Green, 2015.

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