'The finest book since Gutenberg'—rare example of the oversized Kelmscott Chaucer, designed by William Morris
Rare and important book: The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, now newly imprinted, edited by F. S. Ellis. First edition thus, limited issue: one of 425 copies on handmade paper (of a total edition of 438, with 13 on vellum). Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896. Hardcover bound in full white leather, with gilt-titled spine in seven compartments and all edges gilt, plus matching quarter-leather slipcase, 12 x 17, 554 pages. Book condition: VG+/None in a VG case, with mild staining and darkening to spine.
Founded in 1891 by William Morris and Emery Walker, the Kelmscott Press sought to replicate the style of 15th-century printing and started the contemporary fine press movement, focusing on the craft and design of bookmaking. The 'Kelmscott Chaucer' is regarded as the short-lived press's magnum opus, and is often cited as one of the most beautiful printed books in existence. Writing in The Private Presses (pg. 43), Colin Franklin observes: 'From first appearance, the Chaucer gained a name as the finest book since Gutenberg. It has held its place near the head of the polls ever since...The terms which critics used in the eighteen-nineties to welcome it simply show us what an impression Morris's printing made upon late Victorian bookmen.'
A collaborative effort between William Morris and his longtime friend Edward Burne-Jones, the 'Kelmscott Chaucer' features 87 woodcut illustrations by Burne-Jones; Morris designed the frames, borders, and initials which surround the illustrations, while also developing the type and layout of the impressive volume. Writing in 1894, more than two years into their work, Burne-Jones commented on the project in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton: 'Indeed when the book is done, if we live to finish it, it will be like a pocket cathedral—so full of design and I think Morris the greatest master of ornament in the world.' A rare and spectacular example of a beautiful, pioneering fine press book.