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[KELMSCOTT PRESS]. CHAUCER, Geoffrey (c. 1340s–1400). The Works…now newly imprinted. Edited by F.S. Ellis. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896.

Folio (425 x 288 mm). Chaucer and Troy types, printed in black and red, woodcut title, borders and initials by C.E. Keates, W.H. Hooper and W. Spielmeyer after William Morris, 87 woodcut illustrations by W.H. Hooper after Edward Burne–Jones, with printed notice by Morris tipped to rear pastedown (a little spotting at top margin at the beginning). Original blue holland–backed boards, printed spine label (some splitting along joints, heal partially repaired, few tiny chips to label, corners gently rubbed); custom folding box gilt (light edgewear).

LIMITED EDITION, ONE OF 425 COPIES ON PAPER OF A TOTAL EDITION OF 438.

The Kelmscott Chaucer “is the most important… [and] perhaps the most famous book of the modern private press movement, and the culmination of William Morris’ endeavor” (Artist & the Book). It is the supreme achievement of the forty–year artistic collaboration between Morris and Burne–Jones and is “THE FINEST BOOK SINCE GUTENBERG” (Franklin).

Morris’ vision began in the 1850s when Morris and Burne–Jones were both undergraduates at Oxford, but it wasn’t until June of 1891 that production began and the preparation was announced to subscribers in December 1892, the actual printing did not begin until August 1894, and the book was only issued to subscribers in June 1896. When the production commenced in 1894, Burne–Jones had already hailed the work in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton as “a pocket cathedral–it is so full of design” and in an address given to the Bibliographical Society, Morris reiterates this architectural description for this work but a cathedral was not the only kind of building he had in mind: “A book quite unornamented can look actually and positively beautiful, and not merely un–ugly, if it be, so as to say, architecturally good… Now, then let us see what this architectural arrangement claims of us. First, the pages must be clear and easy to read; which they can hardly be unless, secondly, the type is well designed; and thirdly, whether the margins be small or big, they must be in due proportion to the page of the letter”.

Morris would spend years exploring the full possibilities of rich design including the various formats in which the books would be printed but preferred his final work, The Chaucer, in its stately size to all others: “[The] big folio [which] lies quiet and majestic on the table, waiting kindly till you please to come to it, so that your mind is free to enjoy the literature which its beauty enshrines”.

Artist & the Book, p. 36; Cave, Private Press pp. 103–112; Franklin Private Presses, p. 192; Peterson A40.

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