In Principio By The Doves Press Part One: The Research, the Design and the Sample Book

It is a long while since I have taken the time to sit down and write a blog post. I was pretty good up to the start of 2023 but as soon as I let one slip (and the editing of the associated photographs), it then seems like a mammoth task to get going again. So, I have decided to start back with the project I am currently working on, therefore the images are in theory at the top of my downloads folder, which I am hoping might jump start my desire to work backwards and fill in some gaps…

The book I am currently working on is a copy of the Doves Press publication of, ‘In Principio’. The Doves Press was a private press based in Hammersmith, London. During nearly seventeen years of operation, the Doves Press produced notable examples of twentieth-century typography. A distinguishing feature of its books was a specially-devised typeface, known variously as the Doves Roman, the Doves Press Fount of Type, or simply the Doves Type.

The print run of this book was limited to only 200 copies on paper with a further 12 copies printed on vellum. This single section book was printed in red and black on handmade Batchelor laid pattern paper, watermarked with two doves and had never been bound before. Many of the copies printed were never sold and therefore never bound. Many private presses bound only those copies intended for patrons of the press, binding others as orders were received. In keeping with an unbound copy, this was uncut, and no holes had been made to accommodate stitching, these procedures would have been executed during the binding process. It was a real honour to be asked to bind this book.

The original cover of those books that were bound was simple but beautiful full leather binding in goatskin with a gold tooled title on the front board, gilt text block edges and tiny raised bands on the spine.

~ The original binding for the sets of sheets that were bound

The title of the book, “In Principio” means: ‘at or in the beginning or at first’ and contains the first chapter from the authorised version of the Book of Genesis. It was printed by Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker on the three hundredth anniversary of its first publication in 1611.

A single section book provides certain challenges for a bookbinder. There are many ways that structures can be implemented to bind thin books, and a few have come my way recently so I was able to draw on some previous projects for guidance. In 2021 I was commissioned to bind a small single-section miniature book called Patience. The original binding of this book was a simple card cover, which I changed for a new card cover and then bound this into an outer case, with a half-round dowel making up the spine of the binding.

~ Aerial view of the sample book for ‘In Principio’, read on to find out how it was made

THE STORY BEHIND THE DOVES PRESS

The story behind the Doves Press is an interesting one. 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.

The Doves Press was founded by Cobden-Sanderson sometime before 1900, based at No.1 Hammersmith Terrace. He asked the entrepreneur Emery Walker, an English engraver, photographer and printer to join him in partnership in the press. Walker agreed to a partnership although he claimed he had insufficient funds to contribute to the Press’s financing, so money was provided instead by Cobden-Sanderson’s wife, Annie.

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. Cobden-Sanderson commissioned the typeface, which was drawn under Walker’s supervision. The Press produced all its books using a single size of this type, between 1900 and 1916, with some of the signature works of the Doves Press being the English Bible (1902-1905) and Paradise Lost (1902).

By 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. Instead of letting this happen, Cobden-Sanderson decided to destroy the matrices (the moulds for making more punches) and punches on Good Friday, 21 March 1913, when he threw them into the River Thames off Hammersmith Bridge in London, a short walk from the Press. Without the matrices, no more punches could be made.

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 following his own 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. As recorded in Cobden-Sanderson’s journals, he began the destruction of the type itself three years after throwing the matrices and punches away, beginning on 31 August 1916 at midnight. 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.

During some online research ahead of this project I stumbled across a great website, Typespec, about The Doves Type. In 2010 designer Robert Green became fascinated with the story and the typeface at its heart, and not only began a process of digital recreation, but also set out to recover the individual pieces of type from the banks of the Thames – to date he has recovered 150 pieces.

In October 2014 Robert Green obtained a mudlark licence from The Society of Thames Mudlarks, a modern organisation founded in 1980 which has a special licence issued by the Port of London Authority for its members to search the Thames mud for treasure and historical artefacts and report their finds to the Museum of London. It is not permitted to take artefacts or objects from the riverbed or foreshore of the Thames without a legitimate permit to do so. In order to dig, scrape or collect from the surface you must hold a permit.

On his first search, after only 20 minutes at low tide under Hammersmith Bridge he found three pieces: a lowercase v, i & e. They had probably moved no more than a few meters in almost 100 years! The Port of London Authority diving salvage team was subsequently booked for Monday November 10th 2014 to attempt to recover more. In the end, after two days diving, a total of 150 pieces were recovered, a few with broken off faces. It’s unlikely any more will be found; the bulk of the type is almost certainly entombed under concrete following structural repairs to the bridge’s foundations in 2000, believed to have been caused by an IRA bomb.

Using the salvaged pieces from the riverbed of the Thames, along with printed archive material, Robert Green has painstakingly recreated and released a facsimile font of the lost Doves Type. With all of this information in mind, I felt I wanted to pay homage to the typeface in the design of my binding.

THE BOOK OF GENESIS

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. It opens with the story of creation. God, a spirit hovering over an empty, watery void, creates the world by speaking into the darkness and calling into being light, sky, land, vegetation, and living creatures over the course of six days.

THE BOOK DESIGN AND SAMPLE BOOK

I decided to try dip-dyeing paper using Ecoline Liquid Watercolour, to create an ombre effect and give the appearance of the watery void flowing up into the light of the plain cream handmade paper. I had a good match for the handmade paper of the text block in my drawers which was probably made around the same time that In Principio was published, left over from a previous binding commission. I watered down some of the liquid watercolour paint and tested the dip-dyeing of the paper. I let each layer dry before dipping it less far in the following time to build up the colour onto the paper.

I devised a way of hanging the sheets onto my angle poise lamps whilst they were drying so any excess ink could drip off the bottom into a plastic tray covered with a sheet of kitchen towel. I did the dip-dyeing over the course of a few days to allow for sufficient drying time.

As the pages were a bit cockled following the dip-dyeing, I chose to back them onto a sheet of heavyweight paper, Canson Mi-Teintes 160gsm in dark blue. This was glued using PVA applied with a roller and then pressed in a nipping press between two sheets of blotting paper whilst it dried. I first worked on the sample, in this case I chose to make up a sample book to test out the structure I wished to use.

The outer ombre card sleeve was scored and folded at the spine edge, allowing enough space for the single section, plus a few extra coloured sheets folded around it, to sit inside it snugly. I chose other colours of plain and patterned blue paper to wrap the single-section text block in, with the idea of creating a graduating appearance inside the laminated ombre cover.

I sewed them together then pierced the sheets of paper with thin slots so that the next page colour could be seen through. Some of these slots were backed with gold.

The useful thing about working on samples ahead of the actual work is you get a chance to play around with ideas. After making up the set of pages in the laminated inner cover and looking at it I felt it seemed too busy with the different blue papers. Instead, I decided to alter the design a bit and add a folded red sheet to match the red ink used in the text block.

I also decided that the Doves Type lettering I wished to use on the cover would look good extended onto the doublures and endpapers. The concept of the design evolved and came from taking words found in the first chapter of Genesis and working them across the front cover, through the inside faces of the book and then onto the back board, all in gold. To compliment the fact that the type was all thrown into the Thames, I decided to place them in a random scattered fashion using letters of differing size. 

The book would also be housed in a box so the words and lettering were chosen to be placed as follows:

  • The inside of the box lid to read: ‘IN THE BEGINNING’
  • The front cover of the book: ‘GOD created the Heauen,’
  • The front doublure; ‘and the Earth.’
  • The front endpaper: ‘first day second day’
  • The back endpaper: ‘third day fourth day’
  • The back doublure: ‘fift day sixth day’
  • The back cover of the book: ‘1 2 3 4 5 6 seuenth day
  • The bottom tray/liner of the box: ‘WHICH GOD CREATED AND MADE’
  • The spine: ‘IN PRINCIPIO’

I made up the outer case of this sample book by attaching two laminated a bevelled boards to a piece of half-round dowel using linen as a hinge. I then embroidered the title of the book onto the spine piece of leather and stuck it to the case. I worked out where the placement of the gold cut-out letters on the boards would be, altering the font size of each. These were cut out using a scalpel with a 10A blade. I was really careful to pierce them out and try to keep the cut-out letter as well as the void so that I could potentially use these letters elsewhere on the binding (two for the price of one cut-out!). 

As small, thin books can be tricky when it comes to the boards staying closed, I decided to try attaching a clasp to this binding. I cut two pieces of brass tubing, and strapped them to the edges of the boards at the central point using a layer of linen wrapped from the front face around to the back, and then a layer of thin leather on the top. The linen and leather were recessed into the boards and levelled out.

The leather for the front and back boards had some letters embroidered onto it using this red thread, and also gold leaf stuck behind the cut-out letters. These leather panels were stuck onto the case. I cut the leather turn-ins at the position where the clasp was attached, so that the leather could turn in flush with the top and the bottom of the brass tube.

Letters were also cut though the inner ombre card sleeve, as visible in the bottom right and left images. The card sleeve was sewn to a piece of thin leather, that would form the inner board joints when stuck into the case. The text block was then stuck into the case using this leather strip, with the leather joints carefully mitred to slot into the turn-ins on the inner boards. The inner boards were infilled, sanded, then lined with a a layer of Zerkall before being sanded again. I was then able to stick down the edge-to-edge leather doublures I had created.

For the clasp, I bent a piece of thick wire into a rounded shape at one end, with the two parallel lengths the correct width so that it would slot in and out of the two brass tubes, keeping the boards closed by the right amount. It was pointed out to me that if I made one of the sides longer (so it looked a bit like a walking stick), I could potentially create a swivelling clasp that could lift and pivot to allow for the book to open and close. All this without the brass rod being able to be taken out completely to try and avoid it getting lost in the future.

Earlier in this post I mentioned trying to be really careful with piercing out the leather for the gold letters so I could retain the cut-out piece. In the below right image you can see that I tested out painting the edges of these letters with red paint (with a tiny brush!) and then sticking them to the covers as onlays – a great extra touch.

Here’s a glimpse of how the sample book was looking at this stage. I added extra red letters onto the inner card cover within the book, cut from paper.

The two final things to work on was to secure the amended brass clasp in position, and to fill in the centres of the letters that needed it (for example: d, a and o).

Part two of this blog post explains in a bit more detail how the binding of the actual commission book went, based on the steps I went through to create this sample book, which is number 67 in my collection of sample boards and books!

2 thoughts on “In Principio By The Doves Press Part One: The Research, the Design and the Sample Book

  1. Lovely. Thank you so much. When an undergrad at Cambridge I took a bookbinding course from a Mr. Butcher of the Cambridge University library.

    We met on, as I recall, Tuesday evenings in a 15thC house around the corner from the Mill Inn
    pub on Mill Lane.

    I wasn’t much of a book-binder though I enjoyed it and have collected fine press books for years.

    Thank you for keeping the Art alive and so beautifully!

    All the best

    Iain Benson (Prof.)
    Sydney Australia

    1. Many thanks for your comments. It is wonderful to hear that you dabbled in bookbinding yourself and still collect fine press books.
      I am also pleased to hear that this write up on my blog has been appreciated so far away as Australia!
      Best wishes from Somerset in the UK, Hannah

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