At Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum Arts and Crafts Museum

Doves Press

‘I must, before I die, create the type for “Beautiful Book” and actualise it, writing, printing, ornament and binding. I will learn to write, to print and to decorate.’

This was the intention of T J Cobden-Sanderson who set up the Doves Press with Emery Walker in 1901.

The only surviving piece of Doves Press type, a Christmas greeting from Mary Grace Walker in 1900 Cobden-Sanderson was a friend of William Morris, and he was encouraged by William Morris’s wife, Jane, to become a bookbinder. He set up the Doves Bindery in 1893  which was named after the nearby Doves Tavern in Hammersmith. The bindery bound many of the Kelmscott Press books. The Doves Press was founded in 1901 and was a joint venture between the bookbinder T J Cobden Sanderson and Emery Walker.

Cobden-Sanderson, like many Arts & Crafts designers, was disturbed by industrialisation in the workplace.  He believed that creativity, imagination and contentment were more important than profit, and his businesses reflected his ideals.  Workers at both Both the Doves Bindery and the Doves Press benefited from comparatively high wages in the sector, had a 48 hour week, and enjoyed 14 days paid holiday a year, as well as paid time off at Christmas and bank holidays. 

Walker managed the technical side of the business, and Cobden-Sanderson chose the books and had the final say in their design. Walker, Cobden-Sanderson and Sydney Cockerell created a new typeface for the Press based on Nicolas Jenson’s Roman type. Doves Press books look very different to most private press books of their time. The clear typeface and the lack of decoration give the books a very simple and austere look. The only decoration came from the calligraphers Edward Johnston and Graily Hewitt, who designed the capitals and sometimes added flourishes in ink to the printed books.  Although most of the Doves Press books were simply bound in vellum, many of the bindings produced by the Doves Bindery were very ornate and elaborate.

The masterpiece of the Press was their five volume Bible, completed in 1905. It was set by hand and printed on a hand press, with the only decoration being printed red initial letters by Johnston. But while the books were successful, the partnership between Walker and Cobden-Sanderson soon became unworkable. It was dissolved in 1908, but the two men continued to argue about what would happen to the type. Walker was keen that it should be used commercially, but Cobden-Sanderson disagreed, and also failed to acknowledge Walker’s role in the Press.

In 1909 they drew up an agreement about the type. Cobden-Sanderson was allowed to continue to use it, and ownership would go to whoever outlived the other. But Cobden-Sanderson broke the agreement with a dramatic gesture. In 1916 he began to throw bits of the type into the Thames at Hammersmith Bridge. Only one specimen remains, a block created for a Christmas greeting in 1900 which remained with Walker and is now preserved in the Emery Walker Library.

Why not explore some of the Doves Press books in the Emery Walker Library in the Virtual Library?

Emery Walker AD 1