KELMSCOTT PRESS. CHAUCER, GEOFFREY. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. edited by F. S. Ellis. Hammersmith 1896,
ONE OF 13 COPIES ON VELLUM, from the edition of 438
Large folio, binding: 434 x 307 x 72 mm. (17 1/8 x 12 1/8 x 2 7/8 in.), original holland-backed blue paper over boards, original paper spine label, COVERED IN A PRINTED CHINTZ COTTON AND LINEN CHEMISE IN THE "ROSE" PATTERN DESIGNED BY WILLIAM MORRIS, the chemise showing intertwining roses, peonies, tulips, and other flowers, with small birds, neatly sewn by hand to fit snugly over the boards, covers slightly bowed, fore-edge of upper board partially split, slight spotting to backstrip, few small stains to chemise on front cover and on flap inside front cover, the fabric a bit dulled at backstrip, small slight crease to lower fore-corner of title-leaf (a4), occasional slight wrinkling or puckering at fore- or lower edges, few small markings in margins of about 15 leaves (g5, h4, o6, q5, t4r, t8, u4, u7, x4, y8, gg2, hh1, ii1, ii7, and nn1), intrinsic to the vellum, extreme outer fore-margins of mm4 and nn3 slightly dust-soiled; buckram folding case. Printed in Chaucer type, headings to the longer poems in Troy type, double column, headings, incipits, shoulder and side titles printed in red, woodcut title-page, 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, 14 full-page foliated woodcut borders on 117 pages, 18 different woodcut frames enclosing text illustrations, 26 19-line woodcut white-on-black word initials, numerous 10-line and smaller initials, printer's ornaments, printer's device at end, all designed by William Morris and cut in wood by Hooper, C. E. Keates, and W. Spielmeyer. The Artist and the Book 45; Needham, William Morris and the Art of the Book 101B; Peterson A40; Ray England 258 ("the Chaucer is not only the most important of the Kelmscott Press's productions; it is also one of the great books of the world").
SYDNEY COCKERELL'S COPY OF THE MASTERPIECE OF THE KELMSCOTT PRESS AND THE GREATEST BOOK OF THE PRIVATE PRESS MOVEMENT. Ten of the 12 other copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer printed on vellum are in institutional collections in the U.S. and England; the two remaining copies are in private collections in England. The present copy bears Sydney Cockerell's signature dated Kew, 11 December 1944, on the front free endpaper, and two inscriptions, each separately initialled and dated, in his small, neat hand. In the first, dated 13 Dec. 1944, Cockerell (secretary and bibliographer of the Kelmscott Press) summarizes his own rôle in the production of the Chaucer and relates the history of his acquisition of this copy: "The printing of the Kelmscott Chaucer was begun on 8 August 1894 and was finished on 8 May 1896. During all that time, as secretary to William Morris and to the Press, I watched its progress, as I had watched the long antecedent preparations. I read every page of it in proof and in the last book printed at the Press I gave some data about it. On 7 July 1896, three months before his death, Morris gave me a paper copy. It was one of the very few that he inscribed and it has been my greatest printed treasure ever since. I never cherished a hope of possessing one of the thirteen copies on vellum; but observing that Quaritch had one for sale (Cat. 625) I asked to see it. To my amazement, it proved to be in mint state, in spite of the lapse of nearly half a century, the edges were immaculately clean, the piece of flimsy paper inserted by the binder after the heavily inked title page, was still in place, and there was not so much as a pencil mark on the endleaves. On the sight of such a miracle I was quite unable to resist the temptation to make it the cornerstone of my unique collection of the productions of the Kelmscott Press. Most of these have been for five years in two houses far in the country, for fear of enemy bombs -- but the terrible war in Europe seems to be nearing its end and I hope to be able to replace them on my shelves before very long."
Cockerell's second, shorter note, dated 13 Aug. 1946, relates to the locations of other vellum copies and the earlier provenance of this one. In a postscript, probably added later, he notes that "The chintz cover was designed by William Morris." (The "rose" fabric was designed by Morris, printed from 19 blocks on cotton and linen, and registered on 8 December 1883). Cockerell had kept his inscribed paper copy, now at the Pierpont Morgan Library, in a similar cover of Morris fabric in the "Cray" pattern. That cover had been made by Jane Morris for her own copy of the Chaucer and later given by her to Cockerell. The present cover was applied after Cockerell's acquisition of this vellum copy. It is sewn by hand in the same manner as Mrs. Morris's chemise, and the predominantly pink colorway of Mrs. Morris's "Cray" chemise may well have inspired Cockerell to choose the harmonizing "Rose" pattern for his own.
Provenance: George W. Macfarlane of Glasgow (sale, Sotheby's, 19 December 1938, lot 84, 950 to Quaritch, sold to) -- Sir Sydney Cockerell (inscription, Kew, 11 Dec. 1944), who added the chintz cover and various proofs, which are now in the Houghton Library (his sale, Sotheby's, 10 December 1956, lot 43, 2300 to Quaritch) -- Bayard L. Kilgour Jr., bookplate -- The present owner.