Before the times of digitalised fonts, literature was produced using the Johannes Gutenberg method of movable type. The business of printing and binding was considered highly creative, requiring strength in craftsmanship and skill. T.J. Cobden-Sanderson was a man who understood the necessity of purity and authenticity in creating beautiful work. He designed Doves Type accordingly—a clear, simple text with the occasional careful flourish, inspired by Nicolas Jenson’s Roman type. He was deliberate when choosing the texts that would be printed in Doves Type as he felt his type would give the words physical beauty and that the words, all strung together, had to carry their own musicality off the page. A perfect creation of symmetrical brilliance.
Emory Walker shared his partner’s sentiments on design and creativity. From 1901 to 1908, the pair produced some of the greatest treasures of printed text, including the five-volume English Bible. Their partnership turned sour when the effects of the Industrial Revolution were beginning to be realised. When their business dissolved, there was disagreement as to what would happen with the text. Walker wanted Doves Type to be released for commercial use, but Cobden-Sanderson objected intensely and took deep offense.
Although frustrated with Walker, Cobden-Sanderson’s true resentment resided in the technological changes that were transforming the printing industry. He felt the Industrial Revolution had put an expiration date on his creative achievements and thus reacted by executing a calculated destruction of his own work. Cobden-Sanderson began throwing the tiny copper bits off Hammersmith Bridge. He acted discreetly, under the cloak of night aware of the fact that his actions were illegal. Before long, the entire collection of Dove Type was at the bottom of the River Thames.
Nearly a century later, some of the copper pieces have been recovered thanks to the effort and financial backing of Robert Green, a designer and Dove Type enthusiast. After studying the type for years, he wondered if any of it could be resurrected from the river. His dedication to the cause paid off in November of 2014 when some of the copper pieces were recovered.
The return of the beautiful type invites questions concerning the preservation of creative design. Does mass production always result in the devaluation of creative work? Has the advancement of technology destroyed an aspect of creative development? Cobden-Sanderson seemed to think so. While his passion may have boarded insanity, his devotion to the craft is one to be admired.