Found Font Friday 1

Doves type letter "e"

With regard to the surreptitious disposal and triumphant recovery of the Doves Type from London’s Thames River (from an article in typespec magazine): The Doves Type® revival . Not to be confused with my post Font Friday 2, about fonts created from lettering and signs found in the great outdoors.

Raised from the dead: The Doves Type story. 

The Doves Type legend is one of the most enduring in typographic history and probably the most infamous. It’s the story of a typeface and a bitter feud between the two partners of Hammersmith’s celebrated Doves Press, Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker, leading to the protracted disposal of their unique metal type into London’s River Thames. Starting in 1913 with the initial dumping of the punches and matrices, by the end of January 1917 an increasingly frail Cobden-Sanderson had made hundreds of clandestine trips under cover of darkness to Hammersmith Bridge and systematically thrown 12lb parcels of metal type into the murky depths below. As one person so aptly commented on Twitter recently, this notorious tale bears all the hallmarks of a story by Edgar Allan Poe.

One century later and a new chapter has been added with the release of Robert Green’s digital facsimile of the Doves Type, available to buy and download from Typespec. For those who are still unfamiliar with the historical background and the designer’s arduous journey to salvage this beautiful typeface from its watery grave I would urge you to check out the following short BBC News film by Tom Beal, made after the recovery in 2014 of some of the original type from the Thames:



Doves Type: 'Achilles Over the Trench: Iliad xviii'


The original Doves Type was crafted by master punchcutter Edward Prince, based on drawings produced by Percy Tiffin of Nicolas Jenson’s pioneering 15th-century Venetian type. William Morris, founder of the Kelmscott Press, had actually developed his own ‘Golden’ type some years before The Doves Press came into being but Doves is held by experts as being more faithful to the original Venetian letterforms.

The Doves Type was commissioned in 1899 and created solely by Prince in 16 pt; it was used in all of the press’s publications including their iconic edition of the King James Bible. Each Doves Press book was beautifully bound and, notes Green, noticeably “stripped of decorative borders and illustration, the elegantly clear & legible type acting alone as visual siren-song.”


Doves Type figures printed in 1914

Passage of text by Tennyson typeset in Doves Press font


By 1908, despite successful Milton prints & the aforementioned Bible, the Press was in dire financial difficulty. Subscribers began melting away after Walker had effectively left in 1906 as the bitter & acrimonious dispute took hold between the partners. On finally dissolving their partnership in 1909, Cobden-Sanderson began attempts to wriggle out of an earlier promise that, should the partnership cease, Walker would receive a fount of type ‘for his own use’. Walker retaliated, issuing a writ insisting that the Press shut down completely and he receive 50% of remaining assets. In 1909, the Press’s only valuable asset was the type.

A compromise was reached, brokered by their exasperated friend Sir Sydney Cockerell, which allowed Cobden-Sanderson uncontrolled use of the type for as long as he lived, at which time it would pass to Emery Walker, if he did not die first.

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.


Original Doves Press Bible setting


Green’s quest to re-produce the Doves Type in digital form has been a true labour of love, a project he came close to shelving on several occasions due to the paucity of (affordable) source texts and occasional blind alleys he was inadvertently taken down. Much agonising took place over the general approach to the project, deciphering the complex geometries, then individual letterform dilemmas due to ink spread inconsistencies and anomalies in the punches and matrices. The end result isn’t so much a revival as a ‘digital facsimile’ of the original typeface, but most importantly he’s succeeded in doing justice to it.

The first release (2013) in OpenType format was an Imprint weight, complete with ligatures and detailing from the metal predecessor; Green wanted to be as true to the original as possible but there are concessions to modern day requirements in the form of Dollar & Euro currency symbols plus extended latin diacritics which didn’t feature first time around.



Doves Type® Regular, refined after recovery of the original metal type from the Thames, replaces the initial 2013 release, improved in 2016 for contemporary usage. This latest release of the updated Doves Type® contains extended glyph coverage including small caps, together with both lining and tabular figures. Tracking and kerning have also been adjusted for 21st century usage. The original Doves Press type, cut for letterpress with its physical constraints and inherent quirks, contains spacing which would appear uncomfortable to modern eyes in web-based and litho applications.

Go to the font download page for more details and to buy the font(s).

Doves Type® PDF specimenDownload a free Doves Type® PDF specimen (1.5MB).


Click on a thumbnail below to browse a gallery of larger Doves Type images.


Found Font Friday 1

Doves type letter "e"

Printing blocks for a typeface called Doves Type have been discovered in the River Thames, London.

By Rachael Steven from CreativeReview.

Not to be confused with my blog post Found Font Friday 2.

Image taken by Sam Armstrong, courtesy of The Sunday Times. Scroll to the bottom to see a short video by the BBC on the type’s recovery.

In 1916, the Doves Type was seemingly lost forever after it was thrown into the River Thames. More than 100 years later, and after spending three years making a digital version, designer Robert Green has recovered 150 pieces from their watery grave…

The Doves Type was commissioned by Thomas Cobden-Sanderson as a bespoke typeface for the Doves Press, the London printing company he co-founded with Emery Walker in 1900. A modern take on a Venetian serif, it took two years to create and was used in all of the Press’s publications, including books of verse by Shakespeare and Milton and the Doves Bible, which featured drop caps by Edward Johnstone.

After falling out with Walker, however – their partnership was legally dissolved in 1909, after the business encountered financial troubles – Cobden-Sanderson spent nine months tipping 2,600lb of it into the Thames in secret, ensuring that if he couldn’t use it, nor could anyone else. Disguised by darkness, he made around 170 trips to the Hammersmith Bridge to tip small parcels into the water at night, the splashes concealed by passing traffic, before announcing that it had been “bequeathed’ to the Thames.

Green’s updated digital Doves font, available at

Several designers have attempted to revive Doves Type over the years, including Walker himself, but most interpretations were either incomplete or not made publicly available. In 2010, Robert Green decided to create his own ‘digital facsimile’ after unsuccessfully trying to source a usable version.

Green worked for over three years on his digital Doves font, researching samples from Marianne Tidbcombe’s book on the Doves Press, material from the British Library’s archives and sourcing rare Doves ephemera (you can read our article on his process here). The initial version was released in November 2013, after which he spent several months adjusting the weight and in late 2014, he decided to try and find the original type.

“I decided I couldn’t rest until I’d found some, or at least looked for it,” says Green. “I had spent a lot of time reading Cobden-Sanderson’s journal and Marianne Tidcombe’s research, and there was a lot of information about where he’d thrown it from.

“I started looking into whether lead degrades in water, trying to find out why fisherman use lead weights and researching the composition of lead type, as I didn’t really know anything about the chemistry of it and wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to start looking for something that had rotted away. When I realised there was a possibility that it might not have been carried away by the tide and could still be in a decent state, I thought it had to be worth a look,” he explains.

Image taken by Sam Armstrong, courtesy of The Sunday Times

Keen to find out how he might go about recovering the type, Green contacted the Port of London Authority, which suggested he scan the riverbank himself before paying for professional divers to comb the area.

“I was able to pinpoint where he would have stood to within a five metre radius [based on Tidcombe’s work and Cobden-Sanderson’s journal] – he would have been trying to be surreptitious, as he didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing, and would have had his back turned to his house and Emery Walker’s in a spot concealed from passing traffic. I went on to the foreshore when the tide was out, looked around the riverbed and found three pieces within 20 minutes.”

Surprised as he was to find the type so easily, Green says he was probably the first person to really look for it. “I had always read that it had never been found, so assumed loads of people had gone to look for it but actually, I don’t think anyone had ever bothered,” he adds. Upon his discovery, he called the Port Authority again, which carried out a two-day dive and eventually recovered 150 pieces.

It’s an impressive haul and the type is in remarkably good condition – perhaps, Green says, because the surrounding riverbed is dotted with rocks and masonry, helping to ensure it wasn’t buried too deeply in deep sand or silt. Sadly, however, it’s not a full alphabet, and Green suspects he’ll never find one as the remaining type is believed to be encased in concrete.

“That section of the Hammersmith Bridge was bombed three times by the IRA, first in 1939 … and most recently in 2000,” says Green. “[As a result] it has been repaired a few times, and some of the concrete from the abutment must have flowed in to the riverbed and entombed the rest of the type. What we found was whatever must have escaped both the explosions and the repairs,” he adds.

Since finding the characters, Green has made some minor adjustments to his Doves Type (mostly refining spacing and curves) but says he finally feels the project is complete. “When I started, I didn’t think I’d take it this far, but now I feel like we’ve come to the end of the story.

“I’m not sure how Cobden-Sanderson would feel about the digital revival but then, the digital font isn’t the same thing as metal type. It’s only my image of his work and doesn’t have all the same quirks and inconsistencies,” he adds.

Half of the recovered Doves Type will be donated to the Emery Walker Trust on a permanent loan and Green says he is keeping the rest, with no plans to sell. “It’s too precious. I feel very attached to it now I’ve retraced Cobden-Sanderson’s steps and stood on that very same spot of the bridge,” he says.

Doves Type is available at