For lovers of fonts or those with a mind for a fascinating intrigue (sorry if you’re not the type! – groan) a great story from last week’s Sunday Times about the Doves typeface …

The story begins way back in 1900 when Thomas Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker co-founded the Doves Press. These were the days when creating a font was a manual, physical and painstaking process; drawings were made for each character and an engraving in metal was created for each which would then be pressed into a softer material from which the type would be cast. The whole process would take at least two years making the resultant typeface a very valuable asset.

The Doves font was intended for only the most exclusive books – for example Goethe, Milton and a five-volume English Bible (a copy of which is currently for sales for £10,000 with one London dealer!) – and had a lucrative future ahead of it. Sadly however Cobden-Sanderson and Walker had a major fall-out and after much acrimony agreed in 1909 to pursue their separate interests with the older of the two, Cobden-Sanderson, retaining the rights to the Doves face until his death at which point they would revert to his former business partner.

In reality Cobden-Sanderson had no intention of letting Walker get his hands on his beloved Doves. Over the course of five months he made many nocturnal trips from his house to Hammersmith Bridge and threw the font, piece by leaden piece, into the Thames.  In his book about the history of typography ‘Just my type’, Simon Garfield described Doves as a sort of ‘textual Atlantis’ with ‘the disintegrating typeface stuck firm in the riverbed resisting both dredging ad the digital age.’

Until recently that is! The font has now been recreated digitally by a designer, Robert Green, and is available commercially; Green has also instigated a search on the riverbed for the missing pieces of lead and some of it has been brought to the surface. Cobden-Sanderson is no doubt spinning in his grave at both developments although Walker is probably relieved that his estate may after all get some return on his investment!