Nearly a century after all 2,600 pounds of it were cast into the murky water of London’s River Thames, what remains of the lost Doves Press type was recovered by divers late last year. Worn from decades beneath the Hammersmith Bridge, the lead type was still immediately recognizable by its distinctive cut, a sharp update of a Venetian serif. In a consistent 16 point, the type had defined the meticulously printed books of the press since its founding in 1900, when partners Thomas Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker adhered to a simple, elegant style that celebrated quality over ornamentation.
Their partnership collapsed bitterly in 1909. Between late 1916 and January 1917, an elderly Cobden-Sanderson made about 170 secret trips during which, as he put it in his journals, he “bequeathed” their collaborative brand’s type to the riverbed. Before its consignment to the waters, he’d written: “It is my wish that the Doves Press type shall never be subjected to the use of a machine other than the human hand, in composition, or to a press pulled otherwise than by the hand and arm of man or woman.” His actions seemingly ensured that the type had lived and died with the press that commissioned it back in 1899 from celebrated punchcutter Edward Prince.
That was the end of Doves Press type, until designer Robert Green decided in 2010 to attempt a digital revival through researching original examples, archives, and historic material related to the press. He released the result of those endeavors in 2013. But when it came to updating the type last year, one piece of its story remained missing — the letters and matrices buried in the silt.
“The whole project didn’t start with any particular intent aside from an exercise for me to perhaps revive the type and use it on a personal project,” Green told Hyperallergic over the phone. “I thought the whole project was going to take me three, four, or five months, and it’s taken me four years in the end. It was like the last piece of the jigsaw, and that’s the important thing I suppose.”
Through Cobden-Sanderson’s journals, Marianne Tidcombe’s authoritative publication on the Doves Press, and his own observations of where a man might stand unnoticed by bridge traffic above, Green narrowed down the resting place of the type. After getting in touch with Port of London Authority, which has a salvage team, they directed him to the low tide tables to investigate the site himself first. Once down at the shore, which is, he said, “covered in masonry and metal and bolts and just general debris of the original bridge, it’s all solidified on the riverbed,” it only took him 20 minutes to find three pieces of type in the mud. “I then realized exactly where the type would have been thrown — there’s like a great big crater in the riverbed — and [the salvage team] found it in exactly the spot where I thought it was,” he said.
The 150 recovered pieces of the type didn’t change much about what he knew after his extensive research, such as the size and that it was cut exceptionally precisely, along with details like the lowercase F being kerned. “What it made me realize was four years of work had paid off, because my type was pretty spot on aside from a few really tiny increments on curves,” he said. After altering these curves and some spacing, the final version of his Doves Press type digital facsimile was released in December.
As for the old metal letters, with their broad Xs capped on four corners with serifs, the lowercase Ys with their long, straight tails, Green is giving half to the Emery Walker Trust, finally returning posthumously part of the press to Walker. Green is holding onto the other half, and though he has no plans to ever sell his share of the type, he may reunite it with the the other half of the set for special occasions. He added: “The half that I’m keeping, they’re sacred objects to me now.”
The updated digital facsimile of the Doves Press type is available at Typespec.
Special Edition: 🖌️Artists’ Signatures ✍️
In this special edition, we investigate what artists’ signatures actually mean, and the fascinating results reveal the multifaceted history of this curious phenomenon.
What Is a Signature in the Internet Age?
As a cryptographic unit for record-keeping, an NFT can be seen as analogous to a signature or an autograph.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
The Meaning of Ancient Greek and Roman Artisan Signatures
What did a signature mean in the ancient world, and how much can we trust what they seem to tell us?
Michelangelo’s Signature and the Myth of Genius
Michelangelo served as a stellar example for future artists who sought status and economic independence.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
Uncovering the Photographer Behind Arshile Gorky’s Most Famous Painting
As we pursue photographer Hovhannes Avedaghayan a fascinating picture begins to emerge of him and the world of which he was part.
100 Years of Artist Signatures in a Detroit Club
The beams in Detroit’s Scarab Club act as a guest book of sorts, carrying a wealth of stories and history, including signatures by Diego Rivera, Marcel Duchamp, Margaret Bourke-White, Isamu Noguchi, and others.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
The Myth of Agency Around Artists’ Signatures
In an art world built on shifting sands, artists’ signatures become symbols of agency for some, and relics of the past for others.
The Women Artists Commemorated on an NYC Sidewalk
The signatures of Rosa Bonheur, Mary Cassatt, and six other historical women artists are engraved on a small stretch of sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Met Museum Repatriates 15 Objects to India
The sculptures were all at one point sold by the disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.
Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova Placed on Russian “Wanted” List
Tolokonnikova has long been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin’s regime.
3-D print ’em, please!
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