The Doves Bible, Bound by a Celebrated Social Activist who Trained With Cobden-Sanderson, then Taught Bookbinding to the Underprivileged in Chicago


(Hammersmith: Doves Press, 1903-05). 340 x 230 mm. (13 3/8 x 9"). Five volumes. ONE OF 500 COPIES.

SUPERB DARK GREEN MOROCCO BY ELLEN GATES STARR (stamp-signed "E. G. S." and dated 1906 on rear turn-in), covers blind-tooled in four "window panes" with stair-step cornerpieces framing a panel semé with circle-and-dot tools giving a floral effect, raised bands, spine compartments with blind-tooled frame, gilt titling, gilt-framed pastedowns, top edge gilt, the other edges gilded on the rough. Elegant initial letters in red throughout by Edward Johnston, including an "I" running the length of the page to open Genesis ("In the beginning"). Tidcombe DP-6; Herbert 2139; Rumball-Petre 150; Tomkinson, p. 54; "A Century for the Century" 4. Spines slightly and uniformly darkened, small wormhole at foot of one joint, the usual faint offsetting onto flyleaves from turn-ins, three volumes with isolated mild marginal foxing (affecting only the tail edge of the leaf, and scarcely noticeable), but A FINE AND VERY ATTRACTIVE COPY, the text clean, smooth, and bright, and the bindings lustrous and showing virtually no signs of use.

This is the only folio Cobden-Sanderson printed, is typographically one of the most beautiful of all modern books, and is offered here in a binding by one of Cobden-Sanderson's most accomplished pupils, Ellen Gates Starr, who was an important social activist in Chicago, apart from her life in the book world. According to Tidcombe, Starr (1859-1940) was "one of the best known of all Cobden Sanderson's pupils" and the one who, more than any other, "shared his high ideals, refusing to sell her bindings or to teach until she felt she was fully proficient." She trained at the Doves Bindery from 1897-98, and returned for a period in 1899, afterwards establishing a bindery at Hull House, the Chicago settlement house she had co-founded with her school friend, reformer Jane Addams. She trained both women and men in bookbinding, and taught courses on the history of art. Above all, this master craftswoman "devoted her life to the betterment of the poor, and the protection of working girls and immigrants." Her bindings are not commonly seen: together, ABPC and RBH locate just four, and since all four are single volumes, it may well be that the present set represents the largest undertaking by our binder. With the Ashendene Dante and the Kelmscott Chaucer, the Doves Bible is considered one of the three great English private press books. Cobden-Sanderson expressed hope in his journal that this impressive production might serve "plainly, monumentally, for a nation's masterpiece, for a nation's guidance, consolation and hope." It is one of the few English books of the 20th century that could qualify for such lofty service. The fine calligraphic initials here by Edward Johnston, as in the splendid opening to Genesis, are a perfect example of the consonant combination of calligraphy and typography. Herbert says that the present work is "regarded as the most beautifully printed Bible of the century," and Rumball-Petre says it is "one of the typographical masterpieces of all time." According to Tidcombe, the foxing, especially in volume I, was "the one real disaster to occur at the Doves Press," and was the result of what Cobden-Sanderson described as "a misadventure in the drying of the sheets." In a letter to a customer who had inquired about the stains, he wrote, "I am grieved that it is as it is, & that there should be a flaw where perfection was aimed at. I can only pray that the flaw may be accepted as part & parcel of our general infirmity and be forgiven." Fortunately, the foxing is a great deal less serious than usual in the present copy, affecting the tail margins only, and happily the very striking opening page of Genesis, so often afflicted by foxing, is spotless. The bindings here are not only attractive and appropriate in their design (the rigorously regular covers might reflect a well-ordered universe, with each of the cover panels containing heavenly stars), but they are also carefully executed so as to retain virtually all of the original margins.

Keywords: Doves Bindery