Century Old Doves Press Typeface Brought Out of River Thames

Century Old Doves Press Typeface Brought Out of River Thames


Over a century ago, a beautiful and cherished typeface was created by Edward Prince, a master punchcutter. The typeface was used by the two owners of the Doves Press before a financial feud between them caused the typeface to be thrown into the river, bit by bit. Over one century later the typeface has been retrieved, pulled up from the River Thames in London. Now, from the work of a passionate man who spent many years trying to locate and retrieve the typeface, it has been digitally reproduced and can now be downloaded from online.

The story is a long and well-known one. In 1899 a typeface was created which only survived until 1913. Crafted of 15th-century Venetian type and in 16 point font, the typeface was infamously used in all of the publications for Doves Press. They created many books during their time, including the iconic King James Bible, whose edition was solely set apart from other bibles. Each book held the beautiful Venetian font and was bound with traditional and elegant covers, displaying only the font clearly and visibly. Such is why the font became so infamous.

Forward to the year 2010, when designer Robert Green began working on a way to reproduce the font digitally, with years of research, original examples of the font, and historical items from Doves Press. It was a project that he believed would only take months, though he soon found that it would take years. As he began working to revive the typeface he released his reproduction in 2013. However, still unhappy with the missing piece of the puzzle, the actual matrices that held the font, he began working to retrieve them.

Doves PressThe owners of Doves Press were Thomas Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker, whose partnership ran the business well. Though they were successful in selling many books they met financial ruin in 1909, when Walker sold out the business and Cobden-Sanderson dissolved their partnership. Cobden-Sanderson was determined that no one else would get to use the typeface so he tossed it into the River Thames in pieces. His journal notes the 170 trips that he took in secret, each time dropping more of the typeface into the river. Green used the journals where Cobden-Sanderson wrote down of his trips to study where the pieces might have been. Last year, towards the end of the year, he was successful in finding them. He told the press that he only started the search for a personal project that he was doing.

Green said, after finding the pieces in the River Thames, that he was surprised to see that he was pretty spot on in recreating the likeness of the font. His imitation only lacked some issues with curving, as the Doves Press typeface had many tiny curves that were different from Green’s reproduction. After he had retrieved the matrices, he finished his reproduction digitally and it is now available to download on Typespec and other online font stores.

As for the actual pieces, the rusty metal letters that once made the beautiful font on paper, Green is keeping half of them and giving the other half to the Emery Walker Trust, a funny move considering that Cobden-Sanderson kept the pieces from Walker those many years ago. Now that the century-old Doves Press typeface has been brought out of the River Thames, it can be contributed to the present, much like many other things of history.

By Crystal Boulware


The Economist


  1. It is not and never has been an “infamous” typeface. Collins English dictionary: having a bad reputation or notorious. ‘Controversial’, perhaps. Beautiful, certainly!