MORRIS, William and THE KELMSCOTT PRESS--Geoffrey CHAUCER (?1340-1400). The Works. Edited by F.S. Ellis and W.W. Skeat. Hammersmith: 1896. 2° (423 x 287mm).
'Perch' paper. Double column. Chaucer type (text) and Troy type (some titles). Shoulder- and side-notes and some text printed in red. Half-title and woodcut title by W. H. Hooper after William Morris. 87 woodcut illustrations (Peterson count) by W. H. Hooper after Edward Burne-Jones, woodcut borders, frames, ornaments and initials by Hooper, C.E. Keates and W. Spielmeyer. Original blind-stamped white pigskin over oak boards designed by Morris, executed by the Doves Bindery and signed in blind in Troy type 'THE DOVES BINDERY · 1896 ·' at the foot of the lower pastedown, the upper cover with a central panel divided by diagonal fillets enclosing lozenges with central flower and leaf tools [Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tools 2a, 2b, 2e, 2f, and 2g] , the panel within a broad band decorated with vine leaf and grape cluster design [formed from Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tools 4e and 4g], a leafy band above and below [formed from Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tools 5c and 5e], at the head the words 'Geoffrey Chaucer' [Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tools 8] and at the foot a band of 18 pointillé rosettes [formed from Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tool 9b] and the word 'Kelmscott' [Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tools 7] with 3 square fleur-de-lys and pomegranate tools on either side [Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tools 1b and 1c] and a band of lily of the valley tools below [Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tool 1d], to the left and right of the vine-pattern band, vertical bands of lily of the valley tools within diamond-shaped lozenges divided by triangular foliate tools [Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tools 1e and 1f], border of 3 fillets, the lower cover divided by diagonal bands of rosettes [formed from Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tool 9a] within triple fillets with fleur-de-lys tools [Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tool 1e] at the intersections, enclosing oak leaf and rosette designs [formed from Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tools 4a and 1a], border of 3 fillets, the fore-edges closed by 2 pierced metal clasps on pigskin straps, the flat spine divided into 5 compartments by raised bands, the compartments decorated with a central fleur-de-lys [Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tool 3a] in a diamond lozenge surrounded by smaller fleur-de-lys and quatrefoil tools joined by branch tools [Tidcombe 'Chaucer' tools 3b, 3c, 3d, 3e, 3f, and 3g], later gilt morocco lettering pieces in second compartment and at foot, later gilt edges (pigskin lightly marked, extremities lightly rubbed).
'THE MASTERPIECE OF THE KELMSCOTT PRESS' IN ONE OF THE EARLIEST OF THE PIGSKIN BINDINGS DESIGNED BY MORRIS, EXECUTED BY THE DOVES BINDERY IN 1896: TIDCOMBE RECORDS ONLY FOUR OTHER DATED COPIES IN DOVES BINDINGS OF THIS YEAR (CF. THE DOVES BINDERY P.51).
THE DESIGN MORRIS PRODUCED FOR THE PIGSKIN-BOUND COPIES OF THE KELMSCOTT CHAUCER WAS TAKEN FROM THAT OF A 15TH-CENTURY GERMAN BINDING BY ULRICH SCHREIER ON A BIBLE IN HIS OWN LIBRARY, AND WAS INTENDED TO COMPLEMENT THE CONTENTS OF THE VOLUME: MORRIS 'DESIGNED THE COVER, SO THAT HE LAUNCHED HIS GREAT BOOK ON THE WORLD AS HE DESIRED IT TO APPEAR' (DOUGLAS COCKERELL, QUOTED BY TIDCOMBE OP. CIT., P.46).
ALTHOUGH MORRIS FELT THAT - DUE TO THE INKS USED - THE CHAUCER WOULD NOT BE READY FOR BINDING UNTIL A YEAR AFTER ITS PRINTING IN MAY 1896, THE DOVES BINDERY'S BINDING TECHNIQUES WERE GENTLE ENOUGH TO PERMIT THE EXECUTION OF THE PIGSKIN BINDINGS SOME SIX MONTHS LATER. THESE BINDINGS WERE PRODUCED OVER A PERIOD WHICH PROBABLY COMMENCED WITH THE HOE COPY IN OCTOBER 1896, AND CONTINUED UNTIL PERHAPS 1919, AND PROBABLY EXCEEDED THE COMMONLY CITED FIGURE OF 48.
TIDCOMBE ESTIMATES THAT COCKERELL WAS PROBABLY CAPABLE OF EXECUTING ONE PIGSKIN BINDING A WEEK, SUGGESTING THAT THE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF COPIES BOUND IN 1896 WAS 15: HOWEVER, ALLOWING FOR OTHER COMMISSIONS, IT IS IT PERHAPS MORE LIKELY THAT 10 WERE PRODUCED DURING THIS TIME SPAN, INDICATING THAT THE PRESENT BINDING IS PROBABLY ONE OF ONLY 10 DATED '1896'. LIKE THE FIRST DUMMY BINDING THAT COCKERELL PRODUCED FOR MORRIS' APPROVAL IN 1896 (ILLUSTRATED BY TIDCOMBE OP. CIT. P.50), THE PRESENT BINDING HAS MORE THAN THE USUAL NUMBER OF ROSETTES (TOOL 9B) ABOVE THE WORD 'KELMSCOTT' ON THE UPPER BOARD: THE PIERPONT MORGAN COPY EXECUTED IN 1898 HAS 9 (ILLUSTRATED IN PIERPONT MORGAN MORRIS, PLATES CXII-CXIII), WHILE THE FIRST DUMMY BINDING HAS 11, AND THE PRESENT EXAMPLE 18.
Paul Needham et al. William Morris and the Art of the Book (New York and Oxford: 1976).
Duncan Robinson William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and the Kelmscott Chaucer (London: 1982).
Marianne Tidcombe The Doves Bindery (London and New Castle: 1991).