Salvaging the Doves Press Type

Salvaging the Doves Press Type  |  Robert Green

10 March 2016  |  1800-1930

Lecture Theatre, Parkside Building, Birmingham City University

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The Doves typeface was used to print some of the most famous books of its day and became hugely valuable: then the man who created it hurled it into the River Thames.

dove type

The Doves Type story is one of the most enduring and infamous in typographic history. It is the story of a typeface and a bitter feud between the two partners of Hammersmith’s celebrated Doves Press, Thomas Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker: a feud which led to the protracted disposal of their typeface into London’s River Thames. Starting in 1913 with the initial dumping of the punches and matrices, by  January 1917 an increasingly frail Cobden-Sanderson had made hundreds of clandestine trips to Hammersmith Bridge and systematically thrown 12lb parcels of metal type into the river below.

A century later, Robert Green began his project to revive the Doves Press typeface. Using printed sources as reference, an initial digital version was released in 2013. Dissatisfied with its accuracy, he decided that in order to achieve a faithful facsimile the original Doves Press type needed to be recovered from the Thames. After finding three metal sorts on the riverbed in October 2014, Green organised a salvage operation. Under his direction, a team of divers from the Port of London Authority managed to recover 151 pieces of type: the vast majority of which had remained underwater, relatively undamaged, for ninety-eight years.

Robert Green began a career in design in 1981, leaving school to become a junior in various Soho advertising agencies and 'art studios'. Returning to education in the 1990s after a spell as an antiquarian book restorer, he graduated with a BA in Graphic Design from Central St Martins School of Art before completing a masters at the Royal College of Art in 1998.