The near-tragic tale of Doves type


Opening page of the Doves Bible, published in five volumes from 1902 to 1904


The Doves typeface is a thing of beauty that almost had a tragic end. It was created for the typesetting of titles published by the Doves Press, founded in Hammersmith, London, in 1900 by TJ Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker. They were associated with William Morris and the Doves Press became a significant player in the Arts and Craft movement.

Doves was the sole typeface used at the press and was based on those used by Nicolas Jenson in the fifteenth century, also incorporating influences from Morris’s Golden Type. Its books were works of art and if you look at the Milton sample here (below), the page design appears to have been designed in line with the Golden Ratio. Among the titles produced at the Doves Press was the Doves Bible, which is considered a masterpiece.

doves-miltonUnfortunately, after nine years the professional relationship between Cobden-Sanderson and Walker soured and they battled for the rights to the typeface as they dissolved their partnership. The agreement they struck was that Cobden-Sanderson would continue to use the typeface for publishing but upon his death the rights to Doves and the ownership of all of its matrices would pass to Walker.

However, Cobden-Sanderson could not bear the thought of Walker getting hold of Doves. In August 1916, he took a stroll to Hammersmith Bridge under cover of darkness with a bag containing as many pieces of the type as he could manage to carry and tipped them into the Thames. By January 1917, after some 170 such night-time trips, the entire Doves punch set had gone into the river and the typeface was gone.

Thankfully, the story did not end there. Doves returned to the world when Swedish designer Torbjörn Olsson created a digital facsimile in 1994.

But the true labour of love came when British designer Robert began work on a refined version in 2013 that would capture the very essence of the original. Such was his dedication to the project that in 2015 he even began scouring the riverbed at Hammersmith Bridge at low tide for the lost Doves matrices.

His efforts were rewarded and he managed to recover around 150 pieces, allowing him to perfect the digital version. His facsimile is available through the foundry Typespec and Doves lives on.

Incidentally, Hammersmith Bridge really is a lovely piece of Victoriana. If you ever find yourself in Hammersmith or Barnes, do check it out.


View over Barnes Bridge in Hammersmith, where Cobden-Sanderson dumped the Doves matrices into the Thames