River Thames Brings Up the Doves Press Typeface

Doves Press

At the end of last year, the infamous Doves Press typeface was brought up from the River Thames. It had seemed its final resting place would be the river, but the work of one passionate man, Robert Green brought about its revival. Now after finishing the reproduction that he started in 2010 the Doves Press typeface has been digitally reproduced and is available for download. Anyone can experience the beauty of the century old, 16 point font.

The legend of the Doves Press typeface is an important part of history. Partners Emery Walker and James Cobden-Sanderson ran the Doves Press, for which they used a beautifully crafted Venetian-style font created by master punchcutter, Edward Prince. In 1899 they began using it in all of their printed publications. Each publication was unique from the publications of other press houses. Their books held only the beautiful font inside, with strong binding and crafted covers. Many books, including an iconic version of the King James version of the Bible, were printed this way. Though the business did well, it unfortunately met financial ruin less than a decade later. Walker insisted that Doves Press be closed and Cobden-Sanderson dissolved the partnership and liquidated everything, except for the matrices which held the font.

In a bitter effort to keep anyone else from using the font, Cobden-Sanderson laid the pieces to rest at the bottom of the River Thames. His journal held the details in which he supposedly made 170 trips to the river, dropping in the typeface of Doves Press piece by piece. He wrote in his journal his express wishes that the typeface never be used by a machine or anything other than the hand of a man or woman. The pieces of the Doves Press typeface laid under mud and the remains of an old bridge, until late last year.

Robert Green began working to retrieve the pieces from the river in the year 2010. In his personal project he worked to reproduce the typeface of Doves Press in a digital version, using old books and other historical items. He was mostly successful in creating a replica but was unsatisfied with the fact that he did not have the physical pieces. 2010 began his search for the buried pieces, a search that he believed would only take him a few months. However, replicating the Doves Press typeface has actually taken him a few years.

In his success of retrieving the metal matrices from the bottom of River Thames, he has now finished the tiny curves and fine detail that was missing from his reproduction. The digital replication of the Doves Press font is now complete and can be downloaded from online font sources such as Typespec. The physical pieces that remain are being divided up. Green told a reporter that he is keeping half of the pieces and giving the other half to the Emery Walker Trust, a move that is undermining of Cobden-Sanderson’s attempt to keep the typeface from Walker and others.

Altogether 150 pieces of the Doves Press typeface were retrieved from the River Thames. After four years of passionate work to recreate the font, Robert Green was successful. He told sources that it took him that long to find just a few pieces but once he found a few it only took him about 20 minutes to find the rest. His four years of work was originally intended to contribute to a personal project. However, it has now revived the Doves Press typeface for use by anyone.

By Crystal Boulware


The Economist

One Response to "River Thames Brings Up the Doves Press Typeface"

  1. Jen Pfalz   February 19, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Fascinating story!

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