Kelmscott Chaucer

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Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400). The Works. Hammersmith, London: The Kelmscott Press, 1896. (10365) 

William Morris’s (1834–1896) Kelmscott Press vellum edition of Chaucer’s Works is a book in which typography, illustration, ornament, page design, and printing are conceived and executed at the highest level. He insisted that the book’s illustrations harmonize with the style of typography, here a smaller version of the Morris-designed typeface “Troy”. This visual unity is exemplified by the use of wood-engraved illustrations and ornaments which could be printed in relief simultaneously with the text type on the same paper and with the same ink.

Morris chose Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898) to design the eighty-seven large illustrations. Morris designed the wood-engraved initials, the fourteen different full-page borders, and the eighteen different ornamental frames. Upon completion, Burne-Jones declared that the Chaucer was the finest book ever printed.

This great book had a further distinction: it was the copy inscribed by William Morris to his life-long friend, the artist Edward Burne-Jones, on 25 September 1896, just nine days before Morris’s death on 3 October 1896.

A recollection of Decherd Turner on the occasion of acquiring this book: "Charlotte and Colin Franklin have been closely associated with the activities of Bridwell Library ever since that memorable day in the fall of 1974 when Rabbi & Mrs. Levi Olan, Mr. Ben Weinreb of London, and I motored to the Franklin’s home near Oxford for lunch. In the afternoon I purchased the Kelmscott Chaucer printed on vellum. We had never met before, and thus Mr. Franklin had no mental picture of Bridwell Library’s interests. He suggested that he would deliver it himself, and on Sunday, 17 November 1974, he arrived at the Dallas airport with the vellum Chaucer in a tin trunk (which I still have).

The security system at Bridwell was quite primitive in those days. When locked for Sundays, the only way for staff to enter the building was by a back door on the loading dock. I asked Mr. Franklin to wait until I could enter the building and unlock the front door from the inside. My reason for this delay? I just could not accept the idea of receiving a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer printed on vellum via the back door!" 

Kelmscott Chaucer