A few weeks back, I posted a review and a plethora of pictures of Easton Press’s Kelmscott Chaucer Deluxe Limited Edition (DLE). In my opinion it remains the best DLE done by Easton Press (EP) to date. I have always been interested in seeing the Kelmscott Chaucer by the Folio Society, and finally got a chance last weekend to do so (Book Gallery in Phoenix has a very nice copy, so I took some photos).
As with the EP edition, Folio’s Kelmscott 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. As Folio Society mentioned in their announcement for this edition, the Morris edition was universally acclaimed as the zenith of private press publishing. Folio goes on to say:
The medieval style ‘Chaucer’ fount, lavish ornamental borders, decorative capitals and frames he created, combined with the stunning woodcut illustrations of Edward Burne-Jones, provide an exquisite setting for the poetic works of Geoffrey Chaucer
Kelmscott Chaucer contains The Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde, The Parliament of Fowls, The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame and The Romaunt of the Rose. In case you have not read my review of the EP edition, allow me to repeat some background information on Morris and Chaucer.
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.
Geoffrey 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 outside of Shakespeare.
About the Folio Society Kelmscott Chaucer
I really do not like to get into Folio Society versus Easton Press conversations, but this is one case in which the tremendous quality of the EP edition, especially the exquisite leather cover, makes it the better edition (assuming what was a close to equal cost at one point). Having said that, this is a very nice edition, quite beautiful with fantastic quality paper and printing, and is still available at a much lower cost than one can now find the sold out EP edition. Also, in fairness, in 2002 Folio Society produced a leather bound limited edition (limited to 1000 copies) of the Kelmscott, which by all accounts is stunning and is probably the more appropriate comparison to the EP edition. Someone with a copy of that, I would love to hear your thoughts and see some pictures.
- Bound in buckram, blocked with a design by William Morris
- Oxenford twin wire laid paper specially commissioned from James Cropper, a small mill in the Lake District, England
- Bound by Sigloch Buchbinderei, Blaufelden, Germany with binding design by David Peterson
- Gilded top edge, ribbon marker
- Presented in a gold–blocked slipcase
- 568 pages. 16¾” x 11½”
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