April 29

The journal of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson contained for this day in 1900 the following entry: “I have in hand now: (1) Organization of Printing Press. We are in treaty for No. 1 in the Terrace, and propose to install our printing press there. . . . And we have engaged a compositor, J.H. Mason, sent to us with a superlative character by Miss Sheepshanks. . . . He began work last Monday week on Agricola, at the Bindery, in the attic over my room. This has at last set us in motion; we have ordered ‘oddments’ of all ‘sorts’ and an additional fount to keep going, and finally a press and paper. . . .”

Cobden-Sanderson, who had come late to printing, was, according to Ruari McLean writing in Modern Book Design, a “proud and fanatic character, to whom the Book Beautiful was some kind of mystical and magic Ideal!’ He had become interested in establishing a private press through his relationship with William Morris. He was a distinguished amateur binder and Morris had commissioned his work for the Kelmscott Press. In company with the engraver, Emery Walker, Cobden-Sanderson launched his enterprise under the name of the Doves Press. Walker had also collaborated with Morris in the creation of the Golden Type, patterned from the type of the 15th century Venetian printer Nicolas Jenson.

It was Cobden-Sanderson’s desire to produce books which were to be read, as those of Morris were not. To this extent, the Doves Press books were rather austere and without decoration other than calligraphic initials produced by Edward Johnston and Graily Hewitt. They were thus a challenge to the overly decorated Kelmscott Press books. In his essay on the Ideal Book, Cobden-Sanderson wrote that “The whole duty of Typography, as of Calligraphy, is to communicate. . . .”

The great book to issue from the Doves Press was the five volume bible, called by one authority, “one of the noblest books ever made.” It will long stand as the monument to the whole idea represented by the Doves Press.

Leave a Reply