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One man's obsession with rediscovering a lost typeface

The Doves Press was one of a number of private printing presses operating at the start of the 20th Century.

The press was established by TJ Cobden-Sanderson, with Emery Walker joining later as partner. The pair commissioned Edward Prince to punch cut the single-sized 16 pt text that was used in all the Doves Press publications.

Walker had previously worked with William Morris but the spartan aesthetic of the Doves Press publications were in contrast to the ornately illustrated books of Morris. Paradise Lost and a five-volume Bible were among the publications which used a "type for today".

The only decoration in the books were capitals created by Edward Johnston and Graily Hewitt. Johnston went on to design the typeface that is still used on the London Underground.


Designer Robert Green first encountered the Doves Press type at art college but it was in 2010 that he began an interest which, he says, became an "obsession".

There were 40 books and 96 pieces of Doves Press ephemera printed and Mr Green tried to obtain as many examples as he could in order to reproduce the text in a digital form.

Hours and hours of study and countless reiterations of the letter saw him create his first version of the Doves Type in 2013. But Mr Green thought there was room for improvement and he continued to refine it.

A prolonged dispute began between Cobden-Sanderson and Walker began in 1906 and Cobden-Sanderson attempted to end the partnership.

After the partnership had been formally dissolved in 1909, Walker was promised a 'fount of type' for his own use but Cobden-Sanderson was worried that the type could be sold and used on a mechanised press.

'Bequeathed to the Thames'

In 1913, unknown to Walker, Cobden-Sanderson threw the Press punches and matrices into the River Thames. He waited three years before he began to dispose of the type night after night at the same spot from a bridge over the Thames.

It was only in 1917 when Cobden-Sanderson announced he had "bequeathed" the type to the river that the truth began to emerge.

Cobden-Sanderson died in 1922, his widow Anne was then sued by Walker and had to pay £700 for the loss of the type.

After working on a revised digital facsimile Robert Green decided that he would try and find some of the original metal type. Using the sources available, including Cobden-Sanderson's published journals, Mr Green worked out where he thought the type was thrown from the bridge into the Thames.

At low tide, and with a mudlarkers licence, he scoured the Thames foreshore and found three pieces of the original type.

Due to the dangerous nature of the Thames currents and tides a team of professional divers from the Port of London Authority then spent two days looking for more type and a total of 150 pieces were recovered.

Concrete which was used to make bridge repairs has covered the remainder of the type.

Respect for the type

Mr Green has decided to loan half of the type he had found to the Emery Walker Trust.

The type will be on display at Walker's house, which is preserved as it was in his lifetime, for the public to view. Mr Green says that he is sympathetic with Cobden-Sanderson but Walker "did get messed about" and it is a "nice end to the story".

The typeface used for the text in this video is Doves Type which is now available commercially. Mr Green hopes people "respect" the type and use it for print.

BBC News went to meet Robert Green and hear more about the origins of his obsession with reclaiming the lost type from its watery resting place.

Video Journalist: Tom Beal

Emery Walker still courtesy of the Emery Walker Trust. Emery Walker's house at No 7 Hammersmith Terrace is open from March until June, prior to refurbishment.

Cobden-Sanderson portrait by William Rothenstein

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