A couple of years ago, I published a post about the lost Doves typeface and one man’s efforts to recover it. Some of the type has been recovered from the Thames and you can buy the reconstructed typeface online – it is indeed, a beautiful piece of work.
BuzzFeed has an article about the search for the typeface and the designer who’s reconstructed the modern version. It’s the story of an obsession that has touched the lives of two men a century apart.
Typographer Tobias Frere-Jones says that to devote your life to type, more than anything else you need to be very, very patient. For him, this career was the rare intersection of two others he couldn’t choose between: writing and painting, equal parts logical and emotional. He says that everyone is affected by type, even if they’re not consciously aware of it. He tells me over email that the shapes and rhythm of a typeface create a personality that can underscore (or undermine) the text it carries. “It’s a lot like what costume designers do in films, dressing the characters in ways that quietly tell us about their personality.”
Making a typeface is about the balance of relationships — move a bit here and you mess up a thing there — and occasionally the stories of their makers are eerily similar. In 2014, the ampersand in Hoefler & Frere-Jones — the foundry most famous for creating Gotham, the bold typeface used on Shepard Fairey’s Barack Obama/Hope campaign — was removed from the sign on the office door, along with Frere-Jones.
Friends fall out in business all the time; bands split and hearts break as regularly as the tide. But is there something in the obsessive designer’s personality that makes it more of a thing? Cobden-Sanderson and Walker, Hoefler and Frere-Jones: These stories echo each other in weird ways, but they’re unusual. Author and printmaker Audrey Niffenegger tells me that while type is very emotional — “like music or math, if you know what you’re looking at, it can be sublime” — its makers aren’t, and it rarely goes wrong like these two cases have.
“That’s why these stories are so compelling,” she says. “It’s as though the nice neighbour suddenly axe-murdered his wife.”