The Doves Bible
“I must, before I die, create the type for today of ‘The Book Beautiful’ and actualize it – paper, ink, writing, printing, ornament and binding. I will learn to write, to print and to decorate.” T. J. Cobden-Sanderson
At the turn of the 20th Century, T J Cobden-Sanderson (1840-1922) and Emery Walker (1851-1933) founded the Doves Press in Hammersmith, England. Cobden-Sanderson known for his stunning bookbinding also marks his place in typographic history for the act of “bequeathing” the Dove’s types into the River Thames. While the dispute between the ownership of the Dove’s type between Cobden-Sanderson and Walker lead to its reproductive demise, the art of this type set to paper is still to be seen in the handsome Dove’s press books.
The Dove’s type is based on the 15th-century types of Venetian printers, Nicholas Jenson (1420-1480) and Jacobus Rubeus (ca. 1400s). Jenson’s letters are considered the final step in evolving from blackletter to the roman letterform, an improvement in legibility that is credited as a major advancement in the distribution of knowledge. Jenson’s letters are to be the basis for not only for the Dove’s type, but William Morris’s Golden type, and, often cited as one of the best book fonts, American designer Bruce Rogers’ (1870-1957) Centaur type as well.
Rogers’s was working as a free-lance designer and assisting Henry Watson Kent, secretary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the Museum Press from 1913-1916. It was during this period that Rogers designed the Centaur type to which the Museum held certain rights. The Oxford Lectern Bible, designed by Rogers’ in 1935 uses the Centaur type with all the “grandeur of its conception, in its classic severity without ornamentation”. It is the grace of the Centaur letterforms, surrounded by the elegance of unadorned paper – a cappella, that makes the pages of this book a typographic masterpiece.
To truly appreciate an art, it is wise to study the mechanics behind its execution. The art of typography begins with a high degree of study on the working principles of letterforms. The process then continues according to the technology of the time, but begins, as it has for centuries, with the designer’s original drawings. The designer must consider not just the individual letters, but how they fit together to form words, the extra characters, such as ligatures, numbers, fractions that are needed for the individual alphabets and the members of the new types family. Once designed, it is up to the composer, or designer, to layout the type into pages. Here leading, letterspacing, kerning, hierarchy and other design components come together to translate the author’s ideas to the reader.
Books exist to be read. They are vassals for the author’s words. Type is the most important element in this vessel. How the type is designed, how it bites into, or sits on, the paper and the way it is arranged on the page are the components that combine to make it an enjoyable experience for the reader. This art, the art of typography, is often invisible to the reader. That is, if it is done well – for “typography exists to honor content”. 1
1 Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. 3.1rd ed. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, 2005.
Joshua Heller Rare Books, Inc.
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