[KELMSCOTT PRESS].-- CHAUCER, Geoffrey. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer... now newly imprinted. Edited by F.S. Ellis. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 8 May 1896.
2o (426 x 290 mm). Double column, Chaucer and Troy types, printed in red and black, borders and initials by C.E. Keates, W.H. Hooper and W. Spielmeyer after William Morris, 87 illustrations by W.H. Hooper after Edward Burne-Jones. (Fore-edges and some margins with minor spotting, occasionally affecting the text or image.)
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 in gothic type "Geoffrey Chaucer," at head and "Kelmscott" at the 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 1e, 1f and 1h), 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, and small border panels at the head and foot (Tidcombe 1e, 1g, 1h), with two silver clasps and catches, each clasp attached to lower cover with six symmetrically arranged nails, edges uncut, signed in Golden type at the foot of the lower pastedown "THE DOVES BINDERY 19 C - S 00." (very light rubbing to extremities, very slight soiling to covers); cloth folding box. Provenance: Laurence B. Dixon (bookplate; his sale Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York 2 December 1947, lot 246).
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. In addition to the binding of holland-backed blue boards, intended to be provisional, 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 Morris 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 modeled 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. 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 (such as this one, bound in 1900); these were evidently not included in Cockerell's count. There is apparently no record of the total number of copies of the Chaucer bound by the Doves Bindery to Morris's design, but it is clear that Cobden-Sanderson continued to accept commissions for it even after the Bindery was closed to outside orders in 1909, the last known copy being bound in about 1919 after which Cobden-Sanderson returned the tools to "Miss Morris as an heirloom" (Cobden-Sanderson, Letter to Mr. Millard 26 April 1919 reported Tidcombe p.53). 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. A FINE COPY.