The Lost Typeface Recovered From the Thames River

The Lost Typeface Recovered From the Thames River

This is such a wild story. Two men, Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson & Emery Walker, founded the Doves Press in London in 1900. They made a typeface called Doves Roman:

During its short life early last century, the Doves Press printed and bound some of the finest books ever produced in England and its approach to typography and printing subsequently exerted a major influence over book design in Europe and the United States. Many of Cobden-Sanderson’s ideas would, decades later, find expression or adaptation in both Traditionalist and Modernist circles respectively.

The partnership busted up and Cobden-Sanderson eventually took all of the lead type and dumped it in the Thames River. No more typeface.

The thought of ‘his’ typeface being used by anyone else, and in a manner beyond his control, prompted Cobden-Sanderson’s now infamous course of action. Only the Doves Press, run exclusively by him, could be bestowed the honour of printing his type. And so the mission to destroy it, beginning with the punches and matrices on Good Friday 1913, began. On an almost nightly basis from August 1916 the ailing septuagenarian dumped the type into the Thames, wrapped in paper parcels and tied with string; “bequeathed to the river” as he put it in his personal diary. Every piece of this beautiful typeface, more than a ton of metal, was destroyed in a prolonged ritual sacrifice.

Type designer Robert Green, working from printed materials, made a digital facsimile font of Doves Roman. In a bid to improve the font, he set out to find the lead type dumped in the river, aided by Cobden-Sanderson’s diary entries of the type-destroying mission. He found a few of the metal sorts (i.e. pieces of lead type) and with assistance from the Port of London Authority’s diving team, ended up retrieving 151 metal sorts in all, “out of a possible 500,000”.

Here’s a short film about the recovery of the type:

You can testdrive and buy the text and headline typefaces that Green created using the recovered sorts. (via colossal)

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