[KELMSCOTT PRESS]. CHAUCER, Geoffrey. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Edited by F. S. Ellis. Hammersmith, 8 May 1896.
2o (422 x 288 mm). Double column, Chaucer type, headings to the longer poems in Troy type, headings, incipits and explicits printed in red, 87 LARGE WOODCUT ILLUSTRATIONS AFTER THE PENCIL DESIGNS BY EDWARD BURNE-JONES, redrawn in ink by R. Catterson-Smith and cut in wood by W. H. Hooper, woodcut title-page, 14 different full page-borders on 117 pages, 18 different frames around the illustrations and 26 19-line initial words, printer's ornaments, printer's device, all designed by William Morris and cut in wood by Hooper, C. E. Keates and W. Spielmeyer, numerous 10-line and smaller initial capitals.
ORIGINAL PUBLISHER'S BINDING OF BLIND-TOOLED WHITE PIGSKIN OVER OAK BOARDS, BY THE DOVES BINDERY AFTER WILLIAM MORRIS'S DESIGN, a pastiche of several fifteenth-century German bindings, the upper cover lettered "Geoffrey Chaucer," at head and "Kelmscott" at foot, a series of borders including large stylized grapevine framing central panel divided into lozenges containing alternating rows of rose and fleur-de-lys tools (Tidcombe 2a and 2b), and double and triple rose leaf tools at sides, top and bottom (Tidcombe 2e, 2g and 2f), various dots and gouges, the lower cover with large lozenges containing stylized oak leaves with large rosettes (Tidcombe 1a) at centers, divided by wide tooled straps, spine in five compartments tooled with fleur-de-lys and pairs of branches, two brass clasps and catches, each clasp attached to lower cover with six symmetrically arranged nails, edges gilt on the rough, stamp-signed on lower pastedown "THE DOVES BINDERY 1897." In a fine full brown morocco blind-tooled folding case, gilt-lettered on spine.
THE MASTERPIECE OF THE KELMSCOTT PRESS. LIMITED EDITION, one of 425 copies on paper from a total edition of 438, and ONE OF APPROXIMATELY 50 COPIES COMMISSIONED IN THIS BINDING. Besides the provisional binding of holland-backed blue boards, Morris had originally planned for the Chaucer four alternate binding designs in full and half pigskin, to be executed by the Doves Bindery and the firm of J. J. Leighton, who had produced most of the vellum bindings for the other Kelmscott Press books. Because of his illness he was only able to complete the present design, modeled after a combination of South German fifteenth-century bindings. "Many of the tools were copied directly from bindings in Morris's library" (Tidcombe, p. 47); the lower cover, whose final design was probably completed by Cobden-Sanderson, is known to be modelled after a fifteenth-century binding in Morris's own library, a 1478 Koberger Bible bound by the Salzburg binder Ulrich Schreier. Several original drawings and two dummies for Morris's pigskin binding are known and described by Tidcombe. Most of the copies were bound and finished in 1896 and 1897. The tooling of the central panel on the upper cover varies among different copies; the majority of copies bear, like this one, alternating rose and fleurs-de-lys tools, while pomegranate tools were used in a few copies.
Following Sydney Cockerell's bibliography of the Kelmscott Press the traditional count of copies in Morris's pigskin binding has been 48, but Tidcombe (p. 51) points out that this "presumably is the number of bindings commissioned when the books were ordered. However, more than a few copies were bound after Douglas Cockerell left the bindery," that is, after November 1897; these were evidently not included in Cockerell's count.
The Artist and the Book 45; Needham, William Morris and the Art of the Book 101C; Peterson A40; Ray England 258; Marianne Tidcombe, The Doves Bindery, 408 and pp. 46-61.