During the last years of William Morris’s life, he was often occupied with the ambitious Kelmscott Press edition of ‘The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer’. The project involved printing a new edition of the complete works of Geoffrey Chaucer with decorated borders and initials, a newly designed typeface and numerous illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones. The book took over four years to complete and included eighty-seven woodcut illustrations by Burne-Jones.
The Kelmscott 'Chaucer' was the last great project of Morris’s life and combined his passions for literature and design. The printing of the book also reflected ideas from Morris’s socialist philosophy regarding the division of labour and the rejection of modern mechanisation. In total 438 copies of the book were printed over two years, thirteen were printed on vellum and 425 on handmade paper. Forty-eight paper editions were specially bound in white pig’s skin featuring a design Morris had created. A few months before his death, Morris was shown a copy of the specially bound edition for the first time, which he described as ‘very satisfactory’.
Shown here is the first page of a paper edition of the Kelmscott 'Chaucer'. The title page, initial letters, and border decoration were all designed by Morris. The first woodcut illustration by Burne-Jones can also be seen and shows a portrait of Chaucer. Morris had to scale down his ‘Troy’ typeface for the Kelmscott Chaucer creating the font seen here. Despite the scaled down font, the book is by far the largest produced by the Kelmscott Press.