Alan Dodson

Printer expert in Caslon types

Alan Dodson, typographer and letterpress printer: born New Malden, Surrey 22 January 1924; married 1954 Margaret Thorp (one son; marriage dissolved), 1984 Elin Phillips; died Malvern, Worcestershire 10 January 2007.

Alan Dodson's fame as a fine letterpress printer spread abroad from his small but unusually well-ordered workshop in Grahamstown during the 1970s. He was in particular known for his painstaking and sensitive use of the types of the 18th-century typefounder William Caslon.

To those of us who also delighted in the work of this greatest of all English typefounders, he became something of a hero when from South Africa he alerted the Sheffield typefounders Stephenson Blake to the fact that they were using faulty matrices to cast in lead type the Caslon 12-point lower-case "n" and the 24-point lower-case "o". For years we had assumed these slightly inconsistent characters were just part of Caslon's eclectic charm, but it was Dodson's gentle but persistent coercion that finally restored these characters to their pristine state.

As he later wrote: The 12-point lower-case "n" unaccountably diminished in size in successive recuts until it finally looked like a wrong fount in the line. I prevailed on the founders to make a new matrix - by whatever means - and the "n" is now closer to the original than for many years. The 24-point "o", which had become thinner and thinner until it no longer matched its fellows, was corrected by the ingenious expedient of casting from an accented-letter matrix, made many years ago and struck from the original 18th-century punches, and then shaving off the accent after casting. One cannot but wonder at the lack of supervision or awareness which allows these obvious faults to remain unchecked and uncorrected through to the production stage.

The authentic tones of Dodson outrage can still be detected in that final sentence.

Alan Dodson was a founder member of the Caslon Club, an organisation so discreet that often even its members are unaware of their enrolment. He wrote fluently and passionately about the history and use of the Caslon types, describing them as

rather like working with a lot of different people: each size has its own character, and over the years one comes to know every letter in every size as an individual with certain qualities which one may be able to exploit, or for which one may have to compensate.

He also had an encyclopaedic knowledge of continental typefaces. His knowledge and enthusiasms grew from his handling and use of the lead types in his workshop, a skill now increasingly rare since the Gutenberg revolution came to an abrupt end some 25 years ago.

Dodson's lifelong love affair with type and typography began just before the Second World War at the Kingston College of Art, where as an adolescent architectural student he discovered letterpress printing, and devoted the rest of his long life to its practice and history. Dodson later described his first job at the Coombe Press in New Malden in 1942, where he worked while he was waiting to be called up into the RAF:

Nearly 60 years later I can still remember the peaceful atmosphere in the composing room on a summer's afternoon, with the sun filtering through the skylight, patterned by the shadows of trees round the building. At times the stillness was unbroken except for the buzz of the occasional fly and the click of type as it went into the stick.

He was demobbed in 1947, and went to Switzerland to work with the renowned Swiss typographer and editor Rudolf Hostettler, where the cleanliness and precision of Swiss design and printing made a powerful impression on him. On his return to England he worked for the Bradford-based printer-publishers Lund Humphries, pioneers in introducing the elements of Swiss typography to England.

In 1954, on the recommendation of Francis Meynell, he succeeded Harry Carter as Head of Layout at Her Majesty's Stationery Office, which at that time was setting worldwide standards for the design and printing of government publications. Here Dodson was responsible for HMSO's official guide, Standards for Authors and Printers. Five years later he went to live in South Africa, where he taught typography at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg and later at Johannesburg Technical College.

In 1985 he returned to England with his second wife, Elin, to live in Malvern, where the orderliness of his small workshop put most other printers to shame, and from which emanated a small but steady stream of some of the most beautifully printed examples of all time of William Caslon's types. A significant collection of these is now in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library, and Dodson's types and equipment have been acquired by Liverpool University.

John Randle, Christopher Dodson and Storm J. Russell

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power