Reviving the Doves Type – Part I

C.S.I. HAMMERSMITH

In the past two years, the 7th Seal Foundry has been increasingly preoccupied with the tale of the Doves Press and its business partners, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker. Following a rancorous falling-out after the closure of their press, Cobden-Sanderson – a passionate malcontent by nature and a bookbinder by trade – committed a final act of revenge upon his erstwhile colleague by destroying the specially commissioned Doves type, the design of which it had been Walker’s job to oversee. This story of typocide is now reasonably well-known, due in no small part to Simon Garfield, who devoted an entire chapter to it in his surprisingly entertaining read, Just My Type (yes, a populist, laugh-out-loud book about typography really does exist). If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a brief precis of the preceding history from a 1974 article, ‘The Printing Types of the Doves Press’:

“The Doves Press, founded in 1900 in Hammersmith, England, by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker, produced during its seventeen years of operation some of the most notable examples of fine typography of the twentieth century. One distinguishing feature of the Doves Press books was the Doves font of type whose creation was primarily the responsibility of Emery Walker. When Walker withdrew from the partnership of the press in 1909, the two partners agreed that Codben-Sanderson should have the use of the type in the printing of the Doves Press publications until his death. Upon his death, the ownership of the types was to pass to Emery Walker, who was then free to use them for any private or commercial printing endeavors which he desired. However, when the press closed in 1917, Cobden-Sanderson announced in the final publication of the press that the Doves Press font of type had been ‘bequeathed’ to the bed of the River Thames.”

Although it began with disposal of the matrices & punches in the days leading up to Good Friday 1913, the major part of the ‘crime’ was committed in 1916, over a period of around five months. Cobden-Sanderson – who was by now well into his 70s – spent night after night at the press carefully bundling page galleys and cases of type into small paper parcels tied-up with string. During these evenings – when he deemed conditions suitable – he would wander down to Hammersmith Bridge, for the most part carrying the packages, each weighing around 12-15 lbs, in a bookbinder’s toolbox. Standing on the parapet of the bridge, he would wait until a car or omnibus came along, slide the parcels from the box and, synchronised with the sound of the vehicle rattling by to drown out the noise, slip them into the river. By March 1917 and after around 170 ‘missions’, he’d ditched the lot, estimated to be 2,600 lbs of metal – no mean feat for a small, frail old man with only five years left to live.

Cobden-Sanderson subsequently declared that he’d ‘sacrificed’ the type in order to prevent it from being ‘subjected to the use of a machine other than the human hand, in composition, or to a press pulled otherwise by the hand and arm of man or woman.’ In his eyes, the ‘hand and arm of man or woman’ precluded those of Emery Walker and, for that matter, the hands and arms of men and women in ‘printing endeavor(s)’ everywhere. No press, other than his beloved and now defunct Doves, could be bestowed the honour of setting and printing the Doves type. As a physical, useful and – more to the point – commercial entity, it was lost.

Until last year.

Very much obsessed with this tragi-comic, vaguely Situationist and specifically London ‘murder’, it was decided to undertake the task of dredging the victim from the murk and reanimating it. (There is no satisfactory apology to proffer Mr Cobden-Sanderson’s ghost for salvaging the Doves type, only a feeble and selfish excuse: it’s beautiful, people like it, people want to use it).

Various materials were gathered (via Google image search), collated, examined and duly fed into a laborious digital reconditioning process: resized 72 dpi jpegs were interpreted into vector-drawn letterforms; these interpretations were iterated; iterations were redrawn; comparisons were made to newer, better sources; new iterations were drawn; weights and stresses of individual characters were cross-referenced and found wanting; drawings were reiterated all over again. Eventually, a semblance of the original font began to emerge.

Then Torbjörn Olsson’s revival from 1995 was stumbled upon.

Olsson’s copy of the first page of Genesis from the Doves Bible (c. 1995)

The project was abandoned, until Olsson’s version was compared to Percy Tiffin’s original drawings from the Newberry and Wormsley Libraries, reproduced in Marianne Tidcombe’s excellent and exhaustive book, The Doves Press. Spurred on to make studies and scans of original Doves editions at the British Library, by the time a week had passed researching in the Rare Books & Music Reading Room, it was decided that a new revival of the Doves type was an even more worthwhile endeavour.

Designs for the type drawn by Percy Tiffin of Walker & Boutall. Marianne Tidcombe, The Doves Press (British Library/Oak Knoll, 2002)

Credo (Doves Press, 1903). Scanned at The British Library, August 2011.

To be continued

(Since this article was posted in 2011, the revival of The Doves Type™ has been completed & is available to purchase and download at Typespec.co.uk.)

About The 7th Seal Type Foundry: Blog

The 7th Seal Foundry is an independent type design studio.

5 comments

  1. Pingback: “Typography Exists to Honor Content” « the book beautiful

    • Many thanks for mentioning us. As you said yourself,”it is wise to study the mechanics behind (type’s) execution.” After a year of research, involving hours in the British Library and gathering reference from wherever sources can be found, we have de-constructed and re-drawn the Doves Type using several different approaches.

      Finally, we’ve settled on a strategy for its release and are now testing and assessing what needs to be done in order to make it market-ready (e.g. OT programming, naming conventions etc).

      There will be two initial cuts released in quick succession: The first is SS Doves Revival (somewhat delayed, but definitely available by the end of February). It’s a modern update of the type, specifically interpreted for contemporary usage as an all purpose font, with sharper edges and relative uniformity between elements. Bowls, stems, serifs, brackets etc all correspond in a stricter manner than is apparent in the original.

      The second release (hopefully available within the following two months) is called SS Doves Punchcut. This is a more forensic exercise in replicating the original punches, made from studies of surviving printed impressions. It’s a softer and more ‘human’ interpretation, its calligraphic origins being more evident in the many beautiful formal quirks, which are especially noticeable in the lower case characters. If we’ve achieved our objective, it will be a true (or near-as-damn-it) facsimile of the original 16 pt Doves Type. And if this is the case and he’s even slightly mellowed in the last 100-odd years, Mr Cobden-Sanderson may just forgive us for dredging his wonderful achievement out of the murk.

  2. I always thought he had thrown the type into the Thames all in one go. But it took him over one hundred trips – what an old curmudgeon!

  3. Pingback: “Type Exists to Honor Content” | the book beautiful 2

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