Off the London Bridge

March 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

In an article on why ugly fonts may be more effective (an ironic inevitability), I came across this brief story:

“The utilitarian nature of fonts means that the good ones get used a lot and as a result seem commonplace rather than wondrous. How clever the Edwardian bookbinder Thomas Cobden-Sanderson was when, in order to prevent his beloved Doves Type (designed by Emery Walker and used to set the exquisite Doves Press Bible in 1902) from being squandered on lesser books after his death, he threw all of the hand-cut type off the Hammersmith Bridge into the Thames River. Now the fabled Doves Type seems not just beautiful, but also precious because of its rarity.”

I’m amazed by that kind of letting go. I can’t even throw away a scrap of paper on which I’ve scribbled or a first draft from which I’ve long since moved on. Yet this artist sacrifices to preserve, destroys to create rarity (often an attribute of beauty), lets go to retain. It’s a love story in itself, a love for the very thing the bookbinder tossed off the bridge.

Hammersmith Bridge by Ewa Wnek Webb

I wonder if he ever had any regrets. I wonder if it was always worth it?


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§ 4 Responses to Off the London Bridge

  • Jesse says:

    This is a most interesting topic. There are those who are pack rats – for the simple pleasure of storing but never again interacting. There are others who wrap the day’s catch in the world’s greatest opus. How do we find that fearless way forward?

  • Well put, Jesse. And it’s hard enough to do with tangible things, let alone intangible ones.

  • hmunro says:

    Lovely, thought-provoking post. Although I bristled at first at the idea of that beautiful letterform being lost to the river, I realized that Cobden-Sanderson’s act of destruction was actually a way of preserving the legacy he had created.

    Beautiful post, wonderful blog … keep writing!

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