Monday, September 1, 2008

More on the Kelmscott Chaucer

'Here ends the Book of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited by F.S. Ellis; ornamented with pictures designed by Sir Edward Burne Jones, and engraved on wood byW.H Hooper. Printed by me William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, Upper Mall, Hammersmith, in the county of Middlesex. Finished on the 8th day of May 1896.'
From the Colophon, Kelmscott Chaucer ( Colophon; Notes at the end of a book on the production details of the book)

The name Kelmscott is after Morris's residence Kelmscott Manor in Gloustershire. Many of the manuscripts of the Chaucer's writings were fragmentary. Morris used the Ellesmere manuscripts (Named after manuscipts owned by the Earl of Ellesmere) which Walter William Skeat was using as the basis for a seven volume edition of Chaucer. These were regarded as the best. This was the text that Morris used.
I have the The World Publishing Facsimile which is slightly smaller than the original. It contains the complete text and all 87 woodcuts by Burne-Jones and the borders ,decorations and initials drawn by William Morris. The decorative frames around the images by Burne-Jones were also done by Morris. It was written in Middle English.A glossary of Chucerian words is included so you can read the text and understand what you are reading. This is a big plus.There is a very interesting introduction with lots of ancillary information.
The Chaucer was the 40th of a total of 53 books that the Kelmscott Press produced between 1891 & 1898. Morris chose Chaucer type which he himself designed. It was not designed specifically for the Kelmscott Chaucer. Morris designed and used three fonts; Golden, Troy and Chaucer.
An all linen paper was specially made for the edition by Joseph Batchelor at his mill near Ashford, Kent. The watermark was a perch with a spray in its mouth. Ink came from the German firm of Jaenecke.
Edward Burne-Jones spent every Sunday on the book’s 87 illustrations, working long hours in fear that Morris might die before the project was finished. His pencil drawings were painted over in Chinese white and Indian ink by R. Catterson-Smith, whose interpretive role is often overlooked. The black and white designs were then transferred to wooden blocks and engraved by William Harcourt Hooper. The individual wood engravings by Hooper took upwards of a week each to complete.
Morris oversaw all aspects of production and the book was printed initially on one press but as the edition expanded a second press was added. The type was set by hand and the text and engravings were printed letterpress.
A correction to my previous post. There were 425 copies produced. The Kelmscott Chaucer was initially to be a 325 volume edition but it was over subscribed prior to publication. The complete edition was 425 paper copies. 48 of these were bound in white pigskin by Thomas J. Cobden-Sanderson of the Doves Bindery (the precursor to the Doves Press). There were 13 copies on vellum. The elaborate stamping took upwards of 6 days per volume to complete. The design was by Morris. (The World Edition cover is a facsimile of the stamped pigskin). The entire edition required 1 year, 10 months & 7 days to complete.
William Morris entered the private press business at the age of 55 and in 8 short years left a legacy in design and fine books that is truly monumental. The press was a break even operation. He died in 1896 less than four months after the Chaucer was published. Eleven more books already in production were finished but the press ultimately died with Morris.

Sources- Introduction to The World Publishing Facsimile, The British Library


Magic Cochin said...

Morris, Burne-Jones, Walter Crane, Chaucer, beautiful intricate block prints, books - how delicious! All my favourite inspiring things.

So pleased to have stumbled into your blog!!!


acornmoon said...

A perfect example of illustration, decoration and lettering, each one a masterpiece in itself, coming together to make a whole. We studied this book at art college, each time I see it I marvel at the creativity, workmanship and vision of all those talents combined, not least the wood engraver.

willow said...

Magnificent work of art. Very interesting post!

Have you seen the film "The Nineth Gate"? It has to do with collectors of rare books.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I hope you don't mind, but I have added your blog to my list of Splendid Locales. I just love it here, and I always learn something new, which is wonderful!

Margaret said...

What a beautiful, beautiful book! The engravings are so gorgeous--I've taken out the facsimile copy in the U of A library numerous times, but I can't even imagine how amazing the original must have been, complete with pigskin binding!

A World Away said...

Thank you everyone for your comments. I've been chasing rainbows....the ones in water that is.

Welcome Celia

Acorn Moon, yes the wood engraver would have laboured for many hours on those decorative borders.

Pamela Terry & Edward thanks for adding me to your blog list.

Willow I have to check out 'The Nineth Gate' Thanks for the tip.

A World Away said...

You are blessed indeed to have access to the U of A library especially the Bruce Peel Special Collections. There are many treasures there and this is a wonderful resource. They have an original William Blake!!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I just noticed your Wind in the Willows header illustration! So perfect!

willow said...

I love, love, love your new "Wind in the Willows" header!! Very charming. :)

A World Away said...

Willow & Pamela Terry & Edward,
Thanks to Charles van Sandwyk for his kind permission to use the image. It is a beauty.

mcccune collection said...

The Kelmscott Chaucer is an outstanding book. If you would like to find out more about this book and see additional illustrations, please visit the McCune Collection website:
It has a number of illustrations from the Kelmscott Chaucer and there are plans to put all the illustrations from the book online at some point.
There are also illustrations from many other rare books including digitalized copies of some of the rare books. There are engravings from 1790 Don Quixote and 1517 Aeneid.