In Principio

by The First Chapter of Genesis
Published by The Doves Press, London, 1911
Book dimensions: H 178 x W 130 x D 15mm
Box dimensions: H 241 x W 201 x D 36mm
Sample board #67
Bound in 2024
Private Collection of Sophie Schneideman, UK

About the book:

The Book of Genesis is the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. Its Hebrew name is the same as its first word, Bereshit (‘In the beginning’). Genesis is an account of the creation of the world, the early history of humanity, and the origins of the Jewish people.

The Doves Bindery was established by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson in 1893 at 15 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, London. The name of the bindery, and later the press, was inspired by an old riverside pub called The Dove, that was close to where the bindery was based. Cobden-Sanderson was originally a barrister by profession, but his friendship with William Morris led to him becoming a bookbinder and was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. William Morris’s Kelmscott Press ended in 1898, and Cobden-Sanderson saw this as a void that he could fill. While the Kelmscott Press sought to produce the most beautiful and ornate books, the Doves Press strove for elegance and clarity.

About the binding:

  • A full leather case binding with a false round spine binding, bound in dark blue goatskin.
  • The book has the title, ‘IN PRINCIPIO’ cut into the leather on the spine, backed with Moon gold.
  • There are letters, all Doves Press font, all over the covers, doublures and endpapers. These are applied using a variety of methods including onlays, inlays and embroidered outlines.
  • Edge-to-edge leather doublures in the same colour leather as the cover. There are onlaid and embroidered letters carefully planned to wrap around the edges of the boards.
  • The binding has a clasp to help it to stay closed, made of two brass rods attached to the foredges of the boards and covered in leather. Through this is a moveable brass catch that can be lifted a turned to open and close the binding.
  • The book is housed in a wooden box, also containing words from the book of Genesis, to create the full flow of the design.

Design Description

In pursuit of the clarity and elegance they wished to achieve in their publications, Walker and Cobden-Sanderson designed a distinctive typeface, now known as “Doves Type” in which all their books were set. However in 1909 Walker and Cobden-Sanderson fell into a bitter dispute resulting in the dissolution of their partnership as they could no longer work together, and the business broke up in a contentious dispute over the future use of the Doves type.

As part of the partnership dissolution agreement, all rights to the Doves Type were to pass to Walker upon the death of Cobden-Sanderson. Cobden-Sanderson continued to run Doves Press until 1916, but never came to terms with the fact that their parting agreement meant that ownership of the typeface would go to Walker on Cobden-Sanderson’s death. Cobden-Sanderson couldn’t comprehend his type being used by others, but Walker saw the type as a valuable asset. With that event coming ever closer, at the age of 76 he resolved not to let that happen and decided to destroy the type by secretly throwing it into the Thames off Hammersmith Bridge. Over the course of 170 trips over many months in late 1916 and early 1917, he disposed of 1 ton of type, the Doves Type was gone with no means of making any more.

The design of the book cover is made up of letters from the words in the book of Genesis, along with other letters (all Doves Press font), scattered across the various surfaces as if to appear that they are being thrown, like the type was thrown into the Thames. The endpapers are dip-dyed to give an ombre effect, to signify the watery void flowing up into the light of the plain cream handmade paper, like the creation of the world and the light emerging from the dark.

To find out more about the design process please visit the blog section of my website to read these two parts: ‘The Research, the Design and the Sample Book’, and ‘The Binding’.

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