Easton Press’s Kelmscott Chaucer

As a long time fan and subscriber to Easton Press, I was thrilled to find out last year that they were starting to print deluxe limited editions (DLE), usually facsimiles of famous editions in the history of book printing.  Their first effort really set the bar and raised the excitement level of those into fine limited editions.  Easton’s DLE of The Kelmscott Press’s The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is based on the 1896 William Morris edition, generally considered one of the most beautiful books ever published and a masterpiece of book design by all.

Morris was a major artistic force in nineteenth century England, mostly as a textile designer, artist and writer.  He founded the Kelmscott Press in 1891. The quality of his work almost allows me to forgive him for being one of the initial major influences in pushing socialism on England and the West, but I digress.  For Morris’s edition of Chaucer’s works, he choose the 1894 Oxford edition as the most authoritative version available. Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones provided woodcut illustrations which in turn were engraved by W.H. Hooper, the result of which (as mentioned in the EP letter that came with this edition) are illustrations amongst the most exquisite ever produced for a work of literature.

Chaucer was a perfect fit for Morris, as the ornamental nature of Morris’ work on this book is a wonderful fit for the Middle English language, tone and content represented by Chaucer’s writings.  Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida is marvel of Middle English literature and The Canterbury Tales (written in the late 1300’s) is rightly considered the definitive work of the Middle English period, and has established Chaucer as the greatest English poet minus Shakespeare.

This DLE includes:

  • All 87 illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones
  • Cover and interior design elements by William Morris
  • Marbled endplates by Peggy Skycraft (reproduced)
  • Gilded page ends
  • Mohawk Ultrafelt warm white paper specially milled by Mohawk Fine Papers of Cohoes, New York
  • Specially crafted leather imported from Italy by Cortina Leathers of New York, New York
  • The edition is strictly limited to 425 copies (as was the original Kelmscott edition)

Unfortunately for you all, this sold out  in late 2009 and is no longer available, though you can expect to start seeing it for re-sale at probably outrageous prices.  Below are some photo’s of my copy for a visual of this stunning work.  The book looks even better in person, the leather is ultra-soft and the paper has a marvelous feel.  Frankly, I would struggle reading this because it is almost too much visually, not to mention my Middle English is a bit rusty (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say is currently Greek to me!). This is one rare case where to me owning the book is all about owning a piece of art, not about reading the content.  For that, I will stick to my EP version with “translation” into modern english by Frank Ernest Hill.

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Open the Solander Box and Behold One Beautiful Book
A Book Edition as an Art Form in itself
Notice the detailed intricate leather work
Close-up of the flowers worked into the leather (photo courtesy SilentInAWay)
Marbled end pages
The Colophon Page, #95 of 425 produced
The Beginning, look at the ornament
A random sample page

 

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