KELMSCOTT PRESS -- Floor model Albion Press No. 6551 made by Hopkinson & Cope and used by William Morris's Kelmscott Press. Manufactured in 1891.
THE CHAUCER PRESS
Undoubtedly the most famous printing press in the annals of modern fine press publishing, William Morris's Albion 6551 handled the monumental task of printing his masterpiece, Chaucer's Works in 1896. The Kelmscott Press started printing in January 1891 at the press's premises on Upper Mall, a few doors down from Kelmscott House. About ten or twelve pressmen and compositors were employed, and as output increased rooms were taken in the adjacent building known as Sussex House. Soon after T.J. Cobden-Sanderson set up his Doves Bindery opposite Sussex House in 1893, Morris was able to rent rooms upstairs for his proofreaders who stayed there in the summer of 1894. Additional premises were taken on 1 January 1895 to accommodate this third Albion press, which was specifically purchased to print the folio Chaucer, which had fallen behind schedule (see Linda Parry, ed., William Morris, New York, 1996, pp.313-4).
Called "THE FINEST BOOK SINCE GUTENBERG" by Colin Franklin, the Chaucer is the supreme achievement of the forty-year artistic collaboration between Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and the Kelmscott Press: "the final chapter of co-operation; the venture in which their particular talents are combined for the last time, and to spectacular effect" (Robinson). It is the largest and most highly praised of all the Kelmscott books, which Burne-Jones famously referred to as "a pocket cathedral -- it is so full of design." Earliest plans for the work dated to 1891 but printing of the book did not begin until August 1894, and it was only issued to subscribers in June 1896.
Purchased by Morris in 1894 for £52.10s, No. 6551 was one of the three full-sized Albions he was to own at the Kelmscott Press. Morris chose this Albion for the formidable task of printing the Kelmscott Chaucer and had the press reinforced with iron bands to keep the staple from cracking under the extra pressure required to print the heavy forms of this monumental book. After Morris' death, the Albion was owned first by C.R. Ashbee's Essex House Press, and then subsequently by the Old Bourne and Pear Tree Presses, before it was purchased by Bertha and Frederic Goudy in 1924. The Goudys brought the Albion to America where it joined the typecasters and other foundry equipment of the Village Press and their Press of the Woolly Whale. In 1960, Elizabeth and Ben Lieberman acquired the press after it had resided with several additional printers. When the Liebermans' Herity Press took possession of the Albion, its history was so ingrained that it was dubbed the Kelmscott/Goudy Press, nicknamed "K/G." The Liebermans placed a Liberty Bell to the top of the press, and the Morris Society approved of the alteration "as a pledge to the freedom of the press which the personal printer represents and helps sustain."
See William S. Peterson, The Kelmscott Press: A History of William Morris's Typographical Adventure, University of California Press, 1991, p. 342'; Franklin, Private Presses, p.192; Peterson A40; Robinson, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and the Kelmscott Chaucer; Sparling 40.