MORRIS, William, 1834-1896
The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, now newly imprinted.
A fine copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer, recognised as the finest book printed since the Gutenberg Bible.
Hammersmith : Kelmscott Press, 1896. Folio, bound in full rich tan morocco, with raised beveled panels to front and rear boards, blind-stamped in a diamond pattern, borders and dentelles also stamped in blind, leather inlay gilt-lettered with “Chaucer’s Works”, spine with five raised bands and contrasting morocco title label stamped in gilt, compartments containing vertical lines stamped in blind, marbled endpapers. Loosely enclosed, the original linen spine, with remnants of original paper label reading “Chaucer’s Works”; bookplate of Jean Hersholt, with his signature. Measures 426 × 291 mm (untrimmed), pp [4 – preliminary blanks], ii, , 554, [2 blanks], pale toning to edges of blank preliminary and terminal leaves, foxing to the margins of pp 282 – 284, otherwise clean, 87 woodcut illustrations after Sir Edward Burne-Jones, redrawn by Robert Catterson-Smith and cut by William Harcourt Hooper, woodcut title-page, 86 other large woodcut illustrations, 14 variously repeated woodcut borders, 18 variously repeated woodcut frames around illustrations, 26 19-line woodcut initial words, numerous three-, six-, and ten-line woodcut initial letters, and woodcut printer’s device, all designed by William Morris and cut by C. E. Keates, W. H. Hooper, and W. Spielmeyer. Printed in black and red in Chaucer type, the titles of longer poems printed in Troy type, printed in double columns. A fine copy, housed in a custom morocco and buckram case.
‘The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer published in 1896 by the Kelmscott Press was the culmination of William Morris’s vision for an ideal book. It embodied his love of medieval literature and art, as well as his love of beauty. Its vast scope and magnificence inspired his friend and collaborator Edward Burne-Jones to compare it to a “pocket cathedral.” William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones discovered and developed a love for Chaucer as undergraduates at Oxford University. After Morris established the Kelmscott Press in 1891, the two old friends agreed that The Canterbury Tales and other works by Chaucer would be a major goal for the enterprise. Morris spent four years working on the book. Trial pages were printed in 1892, while final production began on August 8, 1894. The first two copies of the book were delivered to Morris and Burne-Jones on June 2, 1896. Morris was already in failing health; he died four months later on October 3, 1896.’ (University of Maryland Library)
‘The Kelmscott Chaucer was not designed primarily as a scholarly text but as a work to celebrate the art of bookmaking; it finds its niche in medievalism rather than medieval studies, but as a work of art, few modern books can surpass its beauty.’ (University of Notre Dame Library).
The Kelmscott Chaucer was selected by Great Britain from among all the titles printed in the British Isles to present to the Japanese for the rebuilding of their National Library at the end of World War II.
Provenance: Parke-Bernet, New York, March 23-24, 1954: Collection of Jean Hersholt, Beverly Hills. Lot 541. (Jean Hersholt, 1886-1956, was a Danish-born actor who had a lengthy and successful Hollywood career which spanned the years 1913 to 1955. He also completed an influential translation of the works of Hans Christian Anderson into English); Heritage Auctions, New York, April 7, 2011, lot 36233; Private collection, Australia.