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