Skip to Main Content
Login to LibApps


Kelmscott Press and Victorian Medievalism

An Online Exhibit of the Kelmscott Press

Book Production

“You should now try to steep yourself, so to say, in mediæval design; look [at] illuminations in the 13th and 14th century books, at wood cuts and so on… But all this will be of no use to you unless you feel yourself drawn in that direction and are really enthusiastic about the old work.”

-William Morris to artist C.M. Gere, 1893

 

Image of The Glittering Plain bookIn opening a printing press, William Morris attempted to return bookmaking to an earlier time. He saw medieval manuscripts and early printed books as ideal examples of the craft. In comparison, Morris viewed Victorian printing as inferior, and he took particular care selecting the materials from which the Kelmscott press books were made. He oversaw every detail that went into the production in an effort to achieve his vision of the ideal book.

The Paper

untrimmed edges of a Kelmscott bookMost Kelmscott Press books were printed on handmade paper produced by Joseph Batchelor and Son in Kent. Morris specified that the paper had to be made of linen rags. In his note about the founding of Kelmscott Press, Morris also specified that a mould must be used, which would produce a ribbed appearance similar to the paper he had identified as his model, paper produced in Bologna around 1473.

Morris also printed a limited number of copies of each publication on vellum. He sought high-quality, Italian vellum, but because he was competing with the Vatican for that supply, he found locally produced vellum that met his standards, produced by Henry Band and William J. Turney & Company.

Another feature of the papers used for the Kelmscott Press books were watermarks. Morris designed three watermarks–a flower (primrose), perch, and apple. The flower appear in 16" x 11" and 16" x 22" paper; the perch in 17" x 23" paper; and the apple watermark in 18" X 13" paper.

kelscott press flower watermark
Kelmscott Press fish watemark
Kelmscott Press Apple watermark

Printing

alt textGolden typeface, Shepheardes Calendar, PRB-506

According to Morris, he began with a Roman type. He considered the letters to be pure in form and free of "needless excrescences." His inspiration for his "Golden" typeface (left) was the French engraver, Nicholas Jensen, who worked in Venice and designed the most complete set of Roman font

alt textTroy typeface, Floure and the Leafe, PRB-505

Morris then developed a Gothic typeface that was as easy to read as Roman type. This was his "Troy" typeface, but as he undertook the work for his Chaucer, he needed a smaller version to accommodate the double-column format. To fill this need, he designed the aptly named "Chaucer" typeface.

In addition to having well-designed, easy-to-read typefaces, the color of the text when printed was important to Morris. He disliked that many Victorian publications looked grey due to the cheap ink used. To avoid this, Morris sought a very black ink and found one produced by Gebrüder Jänecke in Hanover, Germany.

Chaucer TypefaceChaucer typeface, Sir Degrevaunt, PRB-508

Having selected paper, typefaces, and ink, Morris and the Kelmscott Press used Albion hand presses to print their publications. Kelmscott's Chaucer posed particular challenges due to its size so Morris acquired a third Albion press, an Albion Press no. 6551. The Floor Model Albion Press No. 6551 Morris used now resides at in the Cary Graphic Arts Collections at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The Binding

blue paper bindinglimp vellum bindingThe books issued by the Kelmscott Press were bound by J and J Leighton in in one of two types of bindings. One option was limp vellum and the other was a quarter linen binding with light blue paper-covered boards. The latter binding served as a temporary cover. Morris planned that owners would take the book to a bookbinder for permanent binding of their choosing.

When the books were bound, the edges of the pages were purposely left untrimmed as a visual sign of the handmade paper. (The jagged edges are formed when paper is made by hand using a mould). In a note by William Morris, inserted in one of ASU's volumes, he conveys his meticulous attention to all the details that he felt made a great book.

 

Kelmscott Press

1.The Story of the Glittering Plain, by William Morris, 1891
2. Poems by the Way, by William Morris, 1891
3. The Love-Lyrics and Songs of Proteus, by Wilfred Scawen Blunt, 1892
4. The Nature of Gothic, by John Ruskin, 1892
5. The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems, by William Morris, 1892

6. A Dream of John Ball and A King's Lesson, by William Morris, 1892
7. The Golden Legend, by Jacobus de Voragine, 1892
8. The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, transl.by William Caxton, 1892
9. Biblia innocentium, by J.W. Mackail, 1892
10. The History of Reynard the Fox, trans. by William Caxton, 1892
11. The Poems of William Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare, 1893
12. News from Nowhere, by William Morris, 1893
13. The Order of Chivalry, and L’Ordene de Chevalrie, by Raymond Lull, 1892
14. The Life of Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal Archbishop of York, by George Cavendish, 1893
15. The History of Godefrey of Boloyne, 1893
16. Utopia, by Thomas More, 1893
17. Maud: A Monodrama, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1893
18. Gothic Architecture, by William Morris, 1893
19. Sidonia the Sorceress, by William Meinhold, 1893
20. Ballads and Narrative Poems, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1893
21. Sonnets and Lyrical Poems, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1894
22. Of King Florus and the Fair Jehane, transl. by William Morris, 1893
23. The Story of the Glittering Plain, by William Morris, 1894
24. Of the Friendship of Amis and Amile, by William Morris, 1894
25. The Poems of John Keats, by John Keats, 1894
26. Atalanta in Calydon, by Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1894
27. The tale of the Emperor Coustans and of Over Sea, trans. by William Morris, 1894
28. The Wood Beyond the World, by William Morris, 1894
29. The Book of Wisdom and Lies, by Sulxan-Saba Orbeliani, 1894
30. The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1894-1895
31. Psalmi penitentiales, by F. S. Ellis, ed., 1894
32. Epistola de contemptu mundi di frate Hieronymo da Ferrara by Girolamo Savonarola, 1894
33. The Tale of Beowulf, 1895
34. Syr Perecyvelle of Gales, by Perceval of Galles, 1895
35. The Life and Death of Jason, William Morris, 1895
36. Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair, by William Morris, 1895
37. Hand & Soul, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1895
38. Poems Chosen Out of the Works of Robert Herrick, by Robert Herrick, 1895
39. Poems Chosen Out of the Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1896
40. The Well at the World’s End, by William Morris, 1896
41. The works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Now Newly Imprinted, by Geoffrey Chaucer, 1896
42. The Earthly Paradise, by William Morris, 1896-1897
43. Laudes Beatae Mariae Virginis, 1896
44. The Floure and the Leafe and the Boke of Cupide, by Sir Thomas Clanvowe, 1896
45. The Shepheardes Calendar, by Edmund Spenser, 1896
46. The Water of the Wondrous Isles, by William Morris, 1897
47. Sir Degrevaunt, ed. by F. S. Ellis, 1896
48. Syr Ysambrace, ed. by F. S. Ellis, 1897
49. Some German Woodcuts of the Fifteenth Century, ed. by Sydney Cockerell, 1898
50. The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs, by William Morris, 1898
51. The Sundering Flood, by William Morris, 1897
52. Love is Enough, or the Freeing of Pharamond, by William Morris 1897
53. A Note by William Morris on His Aims in Founding the Kelmscott Press, by William Morris, 1898

The ASU Library acknowledges the twenty-two Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. Arizona State University's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today. ASU Library acknowledges the sovereignty of these nations and seeks to foster an environment of success and possibility for Native American students and patrons. We are advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies within contemporary library practice. ASU Library welcomes members of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh, and all Native nations to the Library.