The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer

Illustrated by Illustrated by Sir Edward Burne-Jones
Published by William Morris at his Kelmscott Press, 1896
Book dimensions: H 440 x W 310 x D 75 mm
Box dimensions: H 520 x W 350 x D 120 mm
Sample board #49
Bound in 2017
Private Collection, Canada

About the book:

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 1896, is the triumph of the press. Its 87 wood-cut illustrations are by Edward Burne-Jones, the celebrated Victorian painter, who was a life-long friend of Morris. 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. The whole was printed on Batchelor handmade paper watermarked: Perch.

About the binding:

  • A full leather binding bound in blue goatskin.
  • Miscellaneous onlays in a large variety of colours.
  • The leather in heavily embroidered over the onlays using a variety of different stitches.
  • The pattern is repeated in a mirrored fashion across the covers.
  • The visible blue leather is blind tooled with a hand made finishing tool.
  • The endpapers are patterned with leaves and the names of the virtuous women in the book.
  • Oak box with a hinged lid.

Binder’s Statement:

The book design is based on one of Chaucer’s poems from within the publication, “The Legend of Good Women”, which recounts stories of virtuous women. The legends are: Cleopatra, Thisbe, Dido, Hypsipyle, Medea, Lucrece, Ariadne, Philomela, Phyllis and Hypermnestra. Each women is represented by a flower or butterfly with the same name and they are worked into a bold, large-scale repeat design to tie in with the William Morris aesthetic.

The design is built up with a variety of very thinly-pared, coloured leather onlays. Once each of these was adhered in place each one was then meticulously embroidered using coloured and metallic embroidery threads to bring the design to life. A variety of embroidery stitches have been used across the book cover including French knots, running stitch, back stitch, couching and whipped stitches.

Further detail was applied to the cover with tooling, circular onlays and the addition of some gold-plated brass elements. Further embroidered floral detail adorns the endpapers and the book is housed in an oak box.

More details about this binding can be read in a series of eight blog post starting here.

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