We are the authors of The Kelmscott Chaucer: A Census, published by Oak Knoll Press in April 2011. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, issued by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press in 1896, is probably the most famous of all private press books, set in types, ornaments, and initials designed by Morris and lavishly illustrated by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. There were 425 copies printed on paper and 15 on vellum. Our Census is an attempt to trace as many as possible of those copies, to describe them thoroughly (including bindings), and to summarize the history of ownership of each.
In our book we succeeded in locating approximately two-thirds of the pressrun of the Chaucer, but we know that many copies have eluded us. The Kelmscott Chaucer continues to appear from time to time in auction rooms and in dealers’ catalogues, and we have no doubt that the publication of our Census will have the effect of bringing even more out into the open. We decided that we needed some medium to record this new information as it came to light; this blog, therefore, is an effort to keep our book up to date.
We envision several kinds of posts. When we locate new copies of the Chaucer, we will eventually describe them in the same format we used in the Census; but in the meantime, before all the information is available, we will offer brief “preliminary notes” about what we know so far. In other cases, when we learn about copies being offered for sale, we will write short posts about them; later, when more details emerge (such as the price realized or the name of the purchaser), we will report those facts as well. It is possible also that occasionally we may write posts not related to specific copies of the Chaucer but rather based on some experiences or reflections that grew out of our pursuit of this celebrated book.
We welcome additions and corrections to our Census; please write us at email@example.com.
— William S. Peterson & Sylvia Holton Peterson
Robert Milevski, former preservation librarian at Princeton University Library, has prepared a comprehensive study of the four copies of the Chaucer at Princeton. His essay is now available through a link at Princeton’s Rare Book Collections blog.
Bloomsbury Auctions on 4 April 2013 offered books, manuscripts, and artwork from the collection of Laurence W. Hodson (1864–1933), lot 45 of which was a paper copy of the Chaucer.
Hodson was a close friend of William Morris and an enthusiastic admirer of the Kelmscott Press, owning both a vellum and a paper copy of each of the Kelmscott publications whenever possible. His vellum copy of the Chaucer was sold in the 1906 sale (now at Cambridge University; Census 1.2), but the paper copy and other unsold Kelmscott books, including three titles on vellum, were retained by Hodson himself and, after his death in 1933, by his son and most recently by a grandchild. This copy of the Chaucer is in “original holland-backed boards, spine discoloured, upper joint worn, vellum [sic], silk ties, uncut.” Hodson’s book label is in the book.
The estimated price was £15,000–£20,000; the book sold for £18,000 (before buyer’s premium).
A quarter-linen copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer was appraised by Stephen Massey on an episode of The Antiques Roadshow in Cincinnati on 8 April 2013. The great-great-grandfather of the present owner was the original owner of the book.
This is not a copy we have recorded in our Census. If anyone knows who the present owner of the book is and how to contact her, or could get in touch with the owner and have her write us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we would be very happy.
Here is a link to a clip of the show.
In our Census (2.86) we have described how the copy of the Chaucer — now in the National Library of Ireland — came into the hands of W. B. Yeats in 1905. The clipping above, from an unidentified magazine or newspaper, does not add any new formation, but it lends a certain color.
We are grateful to Philip R. Bishop for sending it to us. It was found in Thomas Bird Mosher’s scrapbooks: see Bishop’s Mosher Press Collection.
Posted in Miscellaneous
Tagged A. H. Bullen, Arthur Symons, Duchess of Sutherland, Geoffrey Chaucer, Gilbert Murray, Kelmscott Press, Lady Gregory, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Will Rothenstein, William Butler Yeats, William Morris
A Chaucer in a private collection, St. Louis (Census 2.194), was sold at Christie’s (New York) on 7 December 2012, lot 114, for $52,500.
The copy has a lightly worn quarter-linen binding and a full blue morocco folding case. It contains bookplates of George Clinton Ward and Louise Ward Watkins, and was also owned by Miles Slocum and Julian Edison. It was previously sold by Christie’s (New York) on 20 November 1981, lot 345.
For brief biographies of Ward, Watkins, and Slocum, see Census 2.194.
Posted in Copies sold
Tagged Christie's, fine printing, Geoffrey Chaucer, George Clinton Ward, Julian Edison, Kelmscott Press, Louise Ward Watkins, Miles Slocum, Quarter-linen bindings, St. Louis, William Morris
In their catalogue for November 2012, no. 1, Bauman Rare Books offered for sale a copy in an elaborate Birdsall binding: the crushed red morocco front cover reproduces the Burne-Jones wood-engraving at the beginning of the Clerk’s Tale. There are also inlaid crushed morocco doublures and a custom half morocco clamshell box. The price was $130,000.
The book was sold from the catalogue.
Provenance: Grace Phillips Johnson (1877–1972). — Christie (New York), 18 November 1977, lot 191, sold for $10,000. — Duschnes, [March 1978] (sold for $15,000). — Duschnes, April 1979. — William Targ. — Roslyn Siegel Targ. —present owner.
Grace Phillips Johnson was the daughter of T. W. Phillips, a gas and oil magnate in Pennsylvania who served in Congress from 1892 to 1896. He supported a number of Christian churches and educational institutions, including Bethany College in W.Va. His daughter married a successful businessman and continued the family tradition of philanthropy, primarily to Christian institutions, both in Pennsylvania and in Florida. She was also a book collector of high spot books, including the Chaucer.
For William Targ, see Census 2.240.
Donald Heald (New York) is offering a copy of the Chaucer bound in “red morocco gilt, the covers with thin outer triple fillet gilt borders surrounding a large area of inlaid blue morocco, the onlays tooled with a wide elaborate border of interlacing strapwork”; the price is $75,000.