The story behind the object: The Kelmscott Chaucer

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THEY say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – and that’s particularly true in the case of the University’s copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer.

Unassuming from the outside, once opened this is actually one of the most beautiful books in Special Collections.

Kelmscott Press was a publishing house owned by the English textile designer, poet and social activist William Morris. The press ran from 1890 until Morris’s death in 1896.

Printed in a revival of the medieval style, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is generally considered to be the finest book produced by the press – with the decorations and intricate capital letters designed by Morris himself and much of the illustration work done by another noted figure, Edward Burne-Jones.

At that time, books were printed as loose pages and purchasers would buy as fancy a binding as they wanted. Many were bought for private collectors, and given very ornate bindings, but the binding of the copy held by Special Collections is interesting as it is very simple – it’s what’s inside that the Manchester School of Art were interested in.

You can see all the items in the “The Story Behind the Object” series by clicking here.