Destroyed typeface, thrown into the Thames a century ago, gets a second life

“On dark evenings in late 1916, a frail 76-year-old man could often be seen shuffling furtively between The Dove, a pub in west London, and the green and gold turrets of Hammersmith Bridge,” The Economist reports. “Passers-by paid no attention, for there was nothing about Thomas Cobden-Sanderson’s nightly walks to suggest that he was undertaking a peculiar and criminal act of destruction.”

“Between August 1916 and January 1917 Cobden-Sanderson, a printer and bookbinder, dropped more than a tonne of metal printing type from the west side of the bridge. He made around 170 trips in all from his bindery beside the pub, a distance of about half a mile, and always after dusk,” The Economist reports. “At the start he hurled whole pages of type into the river; later he threw it like bird seed from his pockets. Then he found a small wooden box with a sliding lid, for which he made a handle out of tape—perfect for sprinkling the pieces into the water, and not too suspicious to bystanders.”

“Those tiny metal slugs belonged to a font of type used exclusively by the Doves Press, a printer of fine books that Cobden-Sanderson had co-founded 16 years earlier. The type was not his to destroy, so he concealed his trips from his friends and family and dropped his packages only when passing traffic would drown out the splash,” The Economist reports. “In part it was personal animosity that inspired this unusual crime. Cobden-Sanderson wanted to keep the type from Emery Walker, his former friend and business partner, with whom he was feuding. In part it was passion for his craft. It pained him to imagine the type one day used in books other than those he had so carefully printed and imbued with near-religious significance. But it was also a loathing of the technological change that had transformed the world during his lifetime. He abhorred mechanical industry, and only by consigning the type to the Thames, he wrote in his diary, could he guarantee it would never be used in ‘a press pulled otherwise than by the hand and arm of man.'”

The Economist reports, “A hundred years later and a few miles across the city, lines of Doves type flash onto the touchscreen of an iPhone. Robert Green scrolls through the text with his finger. ‘It’s eccentric,’ he says. ‘The more you look at it the stranger you realise it is.’ Mr Green has stared at it longer than most. For three years he has been crafting a digital reproduction of the famous face—the first fully usable Doves font since the original metal pieces were swallowed by the Thames. In search of perfect curves and precise serifs, he reckons he has redrawn it at least 120 times. ‘I’m not really sure why I started. In the end it took over my life.'”

Much more in the full article here.

10 Comments

  1. Nice font. One my favorite new fonts for book typography is Adobe Text. I don’t know why, but I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. You have to be a typographer to feel the passion we sometimes feel towards a typeface. Crazy, but true. I can understand where this guy was coming from.

  2. The Dove was always one of my favourite pubs when I lived in London. They kept a particularly fine pint of Fullers ESB—still do, in fact.

    I would never have guessed that The Dove was home to such nefarious activity: the story behind this typeface is a fascinating piece of history from my home town of which I was totally unaware.

    =:~)

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.