The life of a book collector might appear, on the face of it, to be a rather humdrum occupation; although we know very differently! The joys, triumphs, and despairs of such a pursuit are not the ‘quiet pleasures of the antiquarian’ such as revelling in the sight, feel, smell, or a beloved volume. Instead, the passions of the book collector are pushed and pulled in relation to the most exciting of stories. From the finding of the last copy of a book where every other edition is destroyed, or perhaps the discovery of an actual handwritten note, or a hand-printed book, or some other sign of direct contact with the monument of history.
In this way, the Dove’s Press of Thomas James Cobden Sanderson and engraver Emery Walker is truly one of the most exciting stories in fine press history to date. At the end of the nineteenth century, Cobden-Sanderson and Walker employed the noted type punch-cutter of the day, Edward Prince, to create The Doves Type, a single sized 16pt serif Roman-style type, to rival that of the Kelmscott Press (owned by William Morris). The Kelmscott, itself a bastion of Morris’s Arts & Craft’s Movement, brought ornate illustrations, woodcuts, and elaborate sensuality to the page – this was anathema to Cobden Sanderson, who sought to produce fine works that were almost minimalist, austere, and with as little ornamentation as possible. To say the least, there was bad blood between the two ‘sides’ of the fine press world, and thanks to their creative tension the history of fine press publishers has never been the same since.
Which is where the story takes a fascinating turn. After producing, by hand, some of the best typographic and printing artworks ever seen, the press fell on hard times and the two prime figures, Emery and Cobden-Sanderson, each wanted to take Doves (and its unique type) in a different direction. Emery Walker wanted to cut costs and move towards mechanised printing, while Cobden-Sanderson would not allow ‘his’ font type to be used on any press that was not ‘hand cranked or pulled!’ Instead, in a fit of artistic pique that surely beats all others, he threw the entire Doves type case into the Thames, there to lie forever as he closed the Press.
Forever, however, is not as long as it used to be – with the artist-curator Robert Green recently creating a facsimile of the original Doves Type, based on actual metal type recovered from the mud of the Thames River, as well as examination of Doves Press books.
Thanks to this amazing story, the original works of the Doves Press (1899-1917) are of a very high demand. Their magnum opus – the entire English Bible (1903) -- with its unique type, can fetch upwards of $10,000.
Thankfully though, there are also other less expensive options for the collector, for example; The Tragedie of Julius Caesar (1913), hand printed and hand bound in a custom linen slipcase for easily $1750!
,. William Morris: An Address before Hammersmith Society. Doves Press (1901). 315 copies, 15 printed on vellum
Tennyson, Alfred. Seven Poems and Two Translations. Doves Press (1902). 325 copies on handmade paper
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays. Doves Press (1906). 300 copies + 25 on vellum
Carlyle, Thomas. Sartor Resartus. Doves Press (1907). 315 copies, 15 on vellum
Ruskin, John. Unto this Last. Doves Press (1907). 312 copies on handmade paper
,. Catalogue Raisonne of Books Printed and Published at the Doves Press. Doves Press (1908). 300 copies on handmade paper
Winship, George Parker. William Caxton, A Paper Read at the Meeting of the Club of Odd Volumes. Doves Press (1909). 300 copies on handmade paper
Saint Francis of Assisi,. Laudes Creaturarum. Doves Press (1910). 262 copies on handmade paper
Cobden-Sanderson, T J. The City Planned. Doves Press (1911). c. 300 copies on handmade paper
Cobden-Sanderson, T J. Shakespearian Punctuation. Doves Press (1912). c. 300 copies on handmade paper
Shakespeare, William. Venus and Adonis. Doves Press (1912). 200 copies on limp vellum
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedie of Julius Caesar. Doves Press (1913). 200 copies on handmade paper
Cobden-Sanderson, T J. The New Science Museum. Doves Press (1914). c. 300 copies on handmade paper