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The Kelmscott Chaucer

an Exhibition

June 1, 2012 - June 2, 2012

curated by
Timothy Murray


The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. [Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896].

William Morris (1834–1896), poet, social reformer, and a leading figure in the Pre–Raphaelite movement, founded the Kelmscott Press in 1891. Named for the Kelmscott Manor House, about thirty miles from Oxford, where he lived, the Kelmscott Press issued a total of 65 volumes between the years 1891 and 1898. Deeply influenced by the beauty and quality of fifteenth–century books, Morris emulated them at the Kelmscott Press. His greatest achievement was The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, printed in 1896 and limited to 425 copies.

The Kelmscott Chaucer was printed in two columns on handmade paper with specially designed large gothic type in red and black, with 87 woodcut illustrations and 116 full–page plates after designs by Sir Edward Burne–Jones, and numerous woodcut borders and initial letters designed for this work by William Morris. William Morris was particularly concerned that his books be conceived as a total unity so that the paper, ink, type and decorative motifs had a uniform and complementary style.

William Morris’ work had an enormous and beneficial effect on the printers of his time. He led the way back to using unified typography, and he reinstated the book illustrated by one artist and conforming to an overall design. His passion for perfect craftsmanship, his attention to detail, and his success in focusing attention on the craft of printing are his most enduring legacies. The Kelmscott Chaucer is an outstanding example of nineteenth-century book production and one of the most lavishly decorated typographic works of the post-medieval era.

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