Emery Walker & the Doves Press
A collaboration of pragmatism and perfectionism
Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, often credited with having coined the term 'arts and crafts’, established the Doves Bindery in 1893 at 15 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, London.
The Kelmscott Press ended in 1898, Cobden-Sanderson saw this as a void that he could fill. The Doves Press began in 1900, based at No.1 Hammersmith Terrace. This time Walker agreed to a partnership although, perhaps cautiously, he pleaded insufficient funds to contribute to the Press’s financing, so money was provided instead by Cobden-Sanderson’s wife, Annie.
'The Book Beautiful'
With their clean typography and spacious setting, the Doves Press books strongly contrasted with those of Morris. For a typeface they returned to Renaissance Italian books, but with the intention, however, of producing a set of letters that looked lighter on the page than their sources. The aesthetic vision was largely Cobden–Sanderson’s, who believed in ‘The Book Beautiful’. Exteriors were stark white vellum with gold spine lettering; inside there were no illustrations.
The Doves type was in just one size, but occasionally relief was provided by Edward Johnston’s ornamental letters, which were sometimes drawn by hand on every copy. Viewed purely on the level of the book arts, the Doves Press was a success, two high points being its 1902 edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost – described by one commentator as the best there had ever been or was ever likely to be – and The English Bible, published in five volumes between 1902 and 1905.
However, from as early as 1902, Cobden-Sanderson wanted to end the partnership. He had hoped that he and Walker would work daily side by side, Cobden-Sanderson proofreading while Walker inspected every sheet that came off the press. But Walker always had another company to run, and his evenings were filled with committees for various organisations, many concerned with the Arts & Crafts Movement. In an unsent letter, Cobden-Sanderson accused his partner of being ‘never on the spot, save occasionally for five minutes at a time’. He also objected to Walker’s interference in design and textual matters, which he saw as his preserve. Walker had even criticised – ‘It will never do’ – the famous long letter ‘I’ that begins the Book of Genesis in the Doves Bible (above).
In 1906 Cobden-Sanderson suggested that the completion of the Bible was a good time to end the partnership. The sticking point was the type. It had been agreed that Walker was entitled to have a set of the metal letters, and any new castings (the type mouldings). However, Cobden-Sanderson had invested the Doves type with a spiritual as well as aesthetic significance, and now found the idea of anyone else using it, particularly Walker, unbearable.
Walker was offered cash in compensation, but refused to budge on the original agreement. By 1908 Walker was claiming half of everything connected to the Press. After early sold-out editions, sales were falling, and Walker wanted to close it down. In December 1908 he was barred entry to the premises.
It looked like a compromise had been reached. The older Cobden-Sanderson would have use of the type during his lifetime, after which it would revert to Walker. But the more Cobden-Sanderson thought about this, the more intolerable the prospect became. So, at dead of night and under cover of darkness, this eccentric, elderly gentleman made an estimated 170 trips by foot to Hammersmith Bridge and tipped all of the type, weighing over a ton, into the Thames. First the punches and matrices, then the metal type, secretly dumped into the river.