KELMSCOTT PRESS. CHAUCER, GEOFFREY. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Edited by F. S. Ellis. Hammersmith, 8 May 1896.
Large folio, binding: 434 x 300 x 60 mm. (17¼ x 11¾ x 2¾ in.), 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 pomegranate tools (Tidcombe 2a and 2d) and leaf tools, with various dots and gouges, the lower cover with large lozenges containing stylized oak leaves and divided by wide tooled straps, spine in five compartments tooled with fleur-de-lys and pairs of branches, two brass clasps and catches, edges gilt on the rough, stamp-signed on lower pastedown "THE DOVES BINDERY 1896," light scuffing to raised bands and upper and lower board edges, small slip of wove paper adhered to lower blank margin of fol. r5v (p. 250), light foxing to lower margins of sheet r1.8 (pp. 241-2 and 255-6); folding felt-lined buckram box (worn);. LIMITED EDITION, one of 425 copies on paper from a total edition of 438, one of about 50 copies commissioned in this binding, printed in Chaucer type in black and red, headings to the longer poems in Troy type, double column, 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. 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.
Besides the provisional binding of blue holland 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 based on 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 earlier bindings, of which the present example is one, are stamped in blind on the lower pastedown, later bindings being gold-stamped on the turn-in. This copy was almost certainly finished by Douglas Cockerell, an apprentice at the time, the marks of whose work are a certain "variation in pattern and in evenness of impression" (op cit., p. 51), in contrast to the more regular craftsmanship of Charles McLeish the elder. The tooling varies among different copies; the present copy, for example, is one of only a few to be decorated with the pomegranate and rose tools on the upper panel, unlike the majority of copies, on which the roses alternate with fleurs-de-lys tools. Since 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 Sydney Cockerell's count.