The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

Now Newly Imprinted

[KELMSCOTT PRESS] CHAUCER, Geoffrey

the finest book ever printed

[KELMSCOTT PRESS] CHAUCER, Geoffrey The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer Now Newly Imprinted

The Kelmscott Press, 1896.

First edition thus. Folio. Publisher's full white pigskin by the Doves Bindery, binding signed in blind and dated 1897 on the rear pastedown. The covers are elaborately blind stamped and the original metal clasps are intact. All edges gilt on the rough. Ornamental woodcut title, 14 large borders, 18 different frames round the illustrations, 26 initials designed by William Morris and 87 wood cut illustrations designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and engraved by W.H. Hooper. Shoulder and side titles printed in red and the whole printed in two columns in Chaucer type designed by William Morris. A near fine copy, with a trace of wear to the spine ends and raised bands, but notably clean boards. A well preserved example of the monumental book.

One of 425 copies on paper from a total edition of 438, and one of approximately 50 copies commissioned in this binding. Besides the usual binding of holland-backed blue boards, Morris had originally planned for the Chaucer to have four alternative binding designs in full and half pigskin, to be executed by the Doves Bindery and the firm of J. J. Leighton, who had produced most of the vellum bindings for the other Kelmscott Press books. Because of his illness he was only able to complete the present design, modelled after a combination of South German fifteenth-century bindings, with "many of the tools were copied directly from bindings in Morris's library" (Tidcombe, p. 47). The lower cover, whose final design was probably completed by Cobden-Sanderson, is known to be modelled after a fifteenth-century binding in Morris's own library, a 1478 Koberger Bible bound by the Salzburg binder Ulrich Schreier.
Most of the copies were bound and finished in 1896 and 1897; the earlier bindings, of which the present example is one, are stamp-signed in blind on the lower pastedown, later bindings being gold-stamped on the turn-in. Those early examples from the Doves Bindery stamped in the year of publication are preferred.
The Kelmscott Chaucer was most ambitious and magnificent book of the Press, and four years in the making.
Burne-Jones devoted all his Sundays for almost three years to the illustrations for the work, and Morris came to talk with him as he drew. As the artist worked he increased the number of proposed illustrations from 48 to 60 to 72 to 87, Morris accepting each change. Burne-Jones described the finished work as 'a pocket cathedral – it is so full of design,' and 'the finest book ever printed; if W. M. had done nothing else it would be enough.'
'perfect… both in design and in the quality of the printing…the last and the most magnificent, the Kelmscott Chaucer' (Printing and the Mind of Man).

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