The Kelmscott Chaucer in Special Collections

Miami's Walter Havighurst Special Collections is happy to announce the recent acquisition of one of the most famous private press books ever printed.  Issued in 1896 by William Morris's Kelmscott Press, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is considered the crowning achievement of Morris's press and is arguably one of the most beautifully designed books in the history of printing.  William Morris was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century when he founded the Kelmscott Press in 1891.  Seeking to return to traditional forms of craftsmanship and inspired by folklore and medieval literature, Morris's book design choices, including his typeface design, placement of the text, and choice of ink color, were heavily influenced by the aesthetics of medieval manuscripts and early printed books.

Though Morris's trademark heavily decorated borders and elegant illuminations are found throughout the text, the gorgeous eighty-seven illustrations were contributed by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones.  The text of the collected works of the 14th century "father of English literature" was drawn from the 1894 Clarendon Press edition edited by Walter Skeat.  Morris did not seek to compete with this new edition, but instead used the text as the basis for his own work of art.  His original plan only called for 325 paper copies, but, due to demand, the printing run was extended to 425 copies.  There were also an additional 13 copies printed on vellum.

Miami's copy is, as a bookseller describes it, "a remarkably well-preserved copy" with the leaves in pristine condition.  Though many copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer have elaborate bindings, our copy has the more modest original holland-backed blue paper boards, with paper spine label.

 

We're very excited to add this landmark volume to our collection and look forward to showcasing it in future class visits and exhibits.  Special Collections already has some Kelmscott Press titles in our collection, but this acquisition certainly enhances our collection of private press titles.  It's a true treasure!

Kimberly Tully
Special Collections Librarian