Collecting Kelmscott: William Morris & His Quest for Fine Books
More than 100 years after his death, William Morris – founder of the Kelmscott Press – remains an influential figure in design and art, and his Kelmscott fine press books are highly prized.
The textile designer, author and artist founded the Kelmscott Press in 1891. Morris (1834-1896) published his own work as well as translations and reprints of mediaeval writing he believed should be read. A traditionalist in every sense of the word, Morris wanted to preserve the relationship between art and books. He detested the mechanisation of art during a period when the western world was embracing mechanisation.
Morris was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an organization that strived to produce art reminiscent of the romantic, medieval eras. These ideals were instrumental in everything that Morris did from the initiation of the Arts and Crafts movement in late 19th century England, the design and decoration of his famous Red House, his design and manufacture of textiles and, of course, the Kelmscott Press.
Kelmscott Press was founded in a cottage where Morris set up three printing presses that he used to print books by traditional methods. To maintain the traditional feel, Morris designed two typefaces based on 15th century fonts. He also made his own paper to complete his handmade books. Despite the painstaking effort put into each publication and the fact that Kelmscott was only in operation for seven years, the small press managed to produce more than 18,000 copies of more than 50 different works.
In true fine press tradition, the Kelmscott print runs were short and the books were not cheap, but they were beautiful and exemplified the Arts and Crafts movement. Kelmscott's finest achievement is probably its edition of Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. The books were designed by Morris himself and illustrated by fellow Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones. It was the finest and most beautiful book of its day, containing 87 woodcut illustrations to accompany Chaucer’s masterful tales.
Books by the Kelmscott Press
This collection is the only Kelmscott publication that was bound in vellum without ties.
The Story of the Glittering Plain
Only Kelmscott edition published twice - in 1891without illustrations and in 1894 with art by Walter Crane.
The Wood Beyond the World
This fantasy novel meshed an imaginary world with an element of the supernatural.
Atlanta in Calydon
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Poetry from Nobel Prize for Literature nominee Algernon Swinburne, limited to 258 copies.
The Love Lyrics & Songs of Proteus
Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
The Love-Sonnets of Proteus reprinted, also with sonnets omitted from earlier editions, 300 copies.
The Tale of King Florus and the Fair Jehane
translated by William Morris
Morris' translation of this classic 13th century French tale.
A limited run of 510 copies.
Sidonia the Sorceress
William Meinhold translated by Francewsca Speranza
A historical novel about the witch hunts in Northern Europe around 1500.
The Golden Legend
edited by Frederick Ellis translated by William Caxton
Morris wanted this to be the first book printed at Kelmscott but it was delayed by paper problems.
Maud: A Monodrama
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
A poem of some 1,300 lines, limited to 500 copies and published in 1893.
Sir Thomas More
This reprinting of More's opus was limited to 300 copies, contains a Socialistic introduction by Morris.
Edited by F.S. Ellis. Only 308 copies.
Child Christopher and the Goldilind the Fair
In this fantasy tale Morris reimagines and recasts the medieval story Lay of Havelock the Dane.
Art of Walter Crane
The only Kelmscott Press title illustrated by Crane, despite his close friendship with William Morris.
Books by Williams Morris Published by Other Publishers
The Earthly Paradise
William Morris published by Reeves & Turner
News from Nowhere
published by Reeves & Turner, 1891
The Roots of the Mountains
William Morris superior edition published by Reeves & Turner, 1896
The Defence of Guenevere & other poems
published by John Lane, 1904
Sir Galahad, a Christmas Mystery
The story of the man who almost single-handedly brought about a revolution in Victorian taste
The Arts and Crafts Movement
An in-depth look at the movement launched by Morris and his companions.
The Life of William Morris
Classic biography of Morris published a few years after his death.
The Kelmscott Press
William S. Peterson
The first book-length account of the Kelmscott Press since 1924.
The Water of the Wonderous Isles
Another fantasy tale involving a voyage of adventure