Information Description William Morris, the 19th-century designer, social reformer and writer, founded the Kelmscott Press towards the end of his life. He wanted to revive the skills of hand printing, which mechanisation had destroyed, and restore the quality achieved by the pioneers of printing in the 15th century. The magnificent The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer now newly imprinted, published in , is the triumph of the press. The illustrations were engraved by William Harcourt Hooper and printed in black, with shoulder and side titles. Some lines were printed in red, using Chaucer type, with some titles in Troy type.
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Information Description William Morris, the 19th-century designer, social reformer and writer, founded the Kelmscott Press towards the end of his life. He wanted to revive the skills of hand printing, which mechanisation had destroyed, and restore the quality achieved by the pioneers of printing in the 15th century. The magnificent The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer now newly imprinted, published in , is the triumph of the press.
The illustrations were engraved by William Harcourt Hooper and printed in black, with shoulder and side titles. Some lines were printed in red, using Chaucer type, with some titles in Troy type.
Who was William Morris? Though best-known today as a designer of fabrics and wallpapers, in his own time Morris was equally famous for his writing and his pioneering socialism. He was a man of fierce energies and strong opinions. William Morris was born into a prosperous middle-class family in Walthamstow, then a village just outside London, in He went up to Oxford University to study theology, but lost his faith and left before taking his degree.
At Oxford, however, he met Edward Burne-Jones, and both joined a group of young men who circled around the charismatic figure of Gabriel Dante Rossetti, poet and artist. Morris determined to become a painter himself. His pictures were disappointing, and his ambition was abandoned. Morris was dismayed by the shoddy quality of the mass-produced goods turned out by the industrial machinery of the 19th century, which he saw as degrading taste and everyday life.
In , he persuaded his artist and designer friends to join him in setting up a company to produce quality furniture, printed textiles, tapestries, wallpaper and stained glass.
How did the Kelmscott Press come about? Morris developed an interest in printing through the publication of his own writings and his friendship with Emery Walker, an expert on typography and a fellow member of the Hammersmith Socialist League.
How was the Kelmscott Press different? For his printed fabrics he had re-created dyes from traditional recipes. For his book making he looked back to the earliest days of printing in the 15th century. He took as his inspiration the type made by Nicholas Jensen in Venice in the s. Morris copied the shapes of the letters over and over until he was confident he had the measure of them.
He then drew designs of his own, in the spirit of Jensen but not slavishly copied. Morris insisted on handmade paper. His search led to a paper-mill at Little Chart, in Kent, whose owner was prepared to try matching the 15th-century Italian papers Morris admired.
Ink came from the German firm of Jaenecke — but only after Morris abandoned the idea of making his own in order to be absolutely sure of the quality of its ingredients. At the beginning of , premises were found at 16 Upper Mall, Hammersmith.
William Bowden was engaged as master-printer to run the practical side of the business. Morris named the press after Kelmscott Manor, his beloved country house in Wiltshire. First, his love of medieval literature, which inspired the subjects and style of much of his own writing. Second, his socialist philosophy, which looked back to a time before mechanisation and division of labour had destroyed, as he saw it, the personal fulfilment and social function of meaningful work.
The book was exceptional in its ambitious number of illustrations and rich decorative borders. Morris and Burne-Jones worked on the book for four years. The results were not satisfactory, the problem being the type size. Morris had intended to begin designs for the decorative borders immediately, but illness prevented him from starting until a year later. His pencil drawings were painted over in Chinese white and Indian ink by R Catterson-Smith, whose interpretive role is often overlooked.
The black-and-white designs were then transferred to wooden blocks and engraved by William Harcourt Hooper. In the same year, , William Morris died.
The Kelmscott Chaucer by Chaucer Geoffrey
Howard J. Sachs in memory of Howard J. Sachs, Page opening size: 43 x After a quick glance at the Kelmscott Chaucer, one might think the book was printed in the 15th or 16th century, not long after the printing of the Gutenberg Bible. In fact, it was printed in
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