Perpetuating the memory of one of the greatest men of the Victorian age
This year The William Morris Society celebrates 130 years since the founding of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press and 125 years since the Press’s publication of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, its crowning work and one that embodied Morris’s highest design ideals.
To honour this date and the enduring legacy of the Kelmscott Chaucer we placed an open call to contemporary letterpress printers and artists inviting them to print an extract from it. Our call was enthusiastically answered by a diverse range of talented and passionate printers from around the globe.
The entry requirements were broad, to encourage creative spirit and innovative thinking. The only stipulations were that the piece not exceed 60cm by 85cm in size and that an excerpt from Morris’s Kelmscott Chaucer feature in some form. Such creative license resulted in a fantastic array of unique prints that range in size, colour, language, medium, font and imagery.
In addition to marking the significant legacy of the Kelmscott Chaucer, this project highlights the talented and active community of letterpress printers and artists of the 21st century. These skilled individuals carry forward the craft of hand-printing, demonstrating its continued relevance, sharing its rich history and ensuring its future existence.
The Kelmscott Chaucer was the last title printed by the Kelmscott Press that was overseen by William Morris before his death in 1896. It represents the culmination of Morris’s pursuit of the “Ideal Book” and is widely considered one of the most beautiful books ever printed.
The Kelmscott Chaucer took four years to complete (1892-1896) and was the largest project the Press ever undertook. Morris and Edward Burne-Jones had a shared love of Chaucer’s poetry dating back to their time as students at Oxford and had spoken about printing their own edition of the Canterbury Tales well before the founding of the Kelmscott Press.
All 486 copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer were presold before the book went to print. This popularity led Morris to purchase a third Albion press, that worked almost exclusively on printing the Kelmscott Chaucer. The finished book contains 87 illustrations by Burne-Jones, a woodcut title page, 14 large borders, 18 frames and 26 initial words designed by Morris.
Learn more about Morris’s Kelmscott Press here
We invite you to explore the reimagined excerpts from the Kelmscott Chaucer, crafted by contemporary letterpress printers and artists.
Kelmscott Chaucer, Prologue
, Illinois, USA 48cm wide, 63.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Milleres Tale (The Miller’s Tale)
, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada 38.5cm wide, 56cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Cookes Tale (The Cook’s Tale)
, Wichita State University, USA 25.5cm wide, 50.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Tale of the Man of Lawe (The Man of Law’s Tale)
UK 23.5cm wide, 32.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Shipmannes Tale (The Shipman’s Tale)
, USA Closed 25cm wide, 26cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Prioresses Tale (The Prioress’s Tale)
, USA Closed 6.5cm wide, 9cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, Chaucer’s Tale of Thopas (The Tale of Sir Thopas)
Delaware, USA 45cm wide, 61cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, Tale of Melibee (The Tale of Melibeus)
, UK 32.5cm wide, 50cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Monkes Tale (The Monk’s Tale)
UK 26cm wide, 36.5cm long\
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Nonnes Prestes Tale (The Nun’s Priest’s Tale)
, Michigan USA Closed 11.5cm wide, 16cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Phisiciens Tale (The Physician’s Tale)
, Belgium 61cm wide, 43cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Pardoners Tale (The Pardoner’s Tale)
, UK 33.5cm wide, 51cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, Tale of the Wife of Bath (The Wife of Bath’s Tale)
Freeman 38cm wide, 53.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Freres Tale (The Friar’s Tale)
, at University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA 27cm wide, 24.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Tale of the Clerk of Oxenford (The Clerk’s Tale)
, Libraries, USA 35.5cm wide, 29cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Somonours Tale (The Summoner’s Tale)
, Antwerp, Belgium 30cm wide, 39.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Marchantes Tale (The Merchant’s Tale)
, USA 28cm wide, 35.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Squieres Tale (The Squire’s Tale)
, Massachusetts, USA 28.5cm wide, 42 cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Frankeleyns Tale (The Franklin’s Tale)
, Agere Press Westover School, Connecticut, USA 21.5cm wide, 28.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Second Nonnes Tale (The Second Nun’s Tale)
, Oxford University, UK 40cm wide, 30cm long2021
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Chanouns Yemannes Tale (The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale)
, Australia 45cm wide, 63.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Maunciples Tale (The Manciple’s Tale)
Austria 15cm wide, 34.5cm long
Kelmscott Chaucer, The Persouns Tale (The Parson’s Tale)
, Edinburgh, UK 34cm wide, 60 cm long
Any amount, large or small, makes a difference! Thank you!