Thursday, July 10, 2008

Title Page of the Kelmscott Chaucer

The Kelmscott edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is considered by many specialists in antiquarian books to be one of the finest works of English book production. Without a dout it certainly was the most impressive achievement of Morris' Kelmscott Press.

The Kelmscott Chaucer was a monumental undertaking that severely taxed William Morris and his colleagues. By the time Morris began designing the title page for the volume in February 1896, his health was poor and he was suffering from extreme exhaustion. His friend Sir Edward Burne-Jones was afraid Morris would be unable to complete the project, remarking "I am getting very anxious about Morris and about the Chaucer. he has not done the title-page yet, which will be such a rich page of ornament, with all the large lettering. I wish he would not leave it any longer" (as quoted in Zaczek, 32).

Morris did complete the project in May of that year, but at the expense of his health. Burne-Jones assistant remarked during the process that Morris appeared "very ghostlike, feeble and old looking"(32). The Chaucer was released for publication in June, but the damage to Morris fragile health had already been done. He died only four months later.

The title page, with its richly interwoven grape vines remains one of Morris' crowning achievements as a draughtsman and a testament to his avility to imagine incredibly organic patterns.


Gillian L. said...

It is a really beautiful book which I would love to see. I am reading my sons a version of Pinochio(the story is the original and different than the Disney versions we are used to) which has really lovely vintage pictures and uses drop letters at the start of each chapter with detailed scroll work which I really enjoy. These editions are treasures to own.


alice c said...

There are about 450 copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer and I saw one of the few in a private collection two weeks ago. It was breathtaking. It was not even in a glass cabinet.

Margaret said...

I just love beautiful books, Gillian. And Pinochio is such a classic. I remember my mom reading my sister and I the story when we were little kids. I loved it--it is quite different from the Disney version, though!

How exciting to see an original of the Kelmscott Chaucer, Alice! I would love to see a copy.

Fete et Fleur said...

This is an incredible work of art! The detail is almost overwhelming. I enjoyed the post below on the wedding gown as well. It is exquisite!


Anonymous said...

There is a Kelmscott Chaucer in the McCune Collection in Vallejo, CA. If you visit their website (, you can see additional illustrations from the Chaucer. I also believe there are plans to show all the illustrations at some point in the future.