This crime story has all the makings of a wonderful BBC Masterpiece Theatre episode. The real-life tale of passion for typography and revenge began in 1916 when an elderly gentleman walked onto London’s Hammersmith Bridge after midnight and began tossing tiny metal pieces of the font used exclusively by The Doves Press into the Thames River. This destruction of typographic art was perpetrated by printer/bookbinder, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, to keep the font out of the hands of his former business partner, Emery Walker. Both leaders in the Arts and Crafts Movement, Cobden-Sanderson and Walker co-owned the renowned Doves Press, revered for creating exquisite fine arts books set in Doves type. In the contentious process of dissolving their business partnership in 1909, the two men fought bitterly over the rights to the Doves font. Rather than see Walker gain ownership, Cobden-Sanderson laid a plan to make sure that the font could never be used again. Over a period of about six months, the then 76-year-old Cobden-Sanderson set off each night under the cloak of darkness with bits of Doves font hidden in packets and pockets and surreptitiously sprinkled about a ton of the metal slugs and matrices onto the Thames. In all, he made about 170 trips from his bindery to the bridge to avoid arousing the suspicion of passersby.
In this short film by Tom Beal for BBC News Magazine, type designer Robert Green picks up the story a century later and recounts his obsession with recreating Doves accurately and his heroic effort to rescue the sunken metal type.