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The Kelmscott Press

12th March 2019

In 1891, William Morris rented a cottage near Kelmscott House and set up three printing presses. These formed the Kelmscott Press where Morris and the Press team designed, printed and manufactured beautifully intricate editions of over fifty books which equalled 18,000 volumes. The images within this blog were kindly sent to us by our friends at the William Morris Society and are photos from editions; ‘News from Nowhere’, ‘Nature of Gothic’ and ‘Well at the World’s End.’

Morris is famed for his interest in all the details and during this time of the Victorian industrialisation, he was passionate about keeping the traditional methods of craftsmanship and artistry. Printing books was no different and before he set up the press he was interested in fine books and their printing – it makes sense when you remember that he was a writer himself. In fact, during his lifetime he was actually best known as a poet. The medieval works that he was a fan of were full of intricate details and illustrations that you can see on the photos below. The books that he printed included the works of Shelley, Keats and Tennyson to name a few – as well as his own work of course.

It goes without saying that books such as these, printed and bound with such precision and care were expensive. The Kelmscott Press had typefaces designed by Morris himself, he made his own paper and each page was printed by hand. The result is stunning but of course, the cost was high to be able to enjoy these works. They’re works of art in their own right and are made to be treated as such. Each page is meant to be read slowly, to view the details of the designs that surround it – it’s not just the words that are important here but everything that has made up the book. We don’t appreciate these in modern books but you can see how the below builds that relationship between words and art and really makes the words more treasured as an art form as they should be.

The knowledge he already had at this time of block printing as well as his talent at calligraphy ensured his success as a type designer – at the Kelmscott Press he designed three type faces named, “Chaucer,” “Golden” and “Troy.” He was hugely inspired by 15th Century type when he designed all three fonts and studied them to see how they overcame the difficulties with using such delicate and intricate lettering.

He made over 600 designs for these borders, title pages and inscriptions throughout the final years of his life. As always, he made his work to impeccable standards – using pure linen rag instead of paper to model it on 15th century Bolognese paper. The ink used named from Jaenecke (a German firm.) He wanted to make his own but gave up on the idea because he wanted to be absolutely sure of the quality of ingredients and their longevity.

The Kelmscott Press was one of the last projects Morris worked on before his death in 1896. The Kelmscott Press was, of course, named after his beloved country house, Kelmscott Manor. You can see below the actual Press, a photo sent to us by friends at the William Morris Society. 

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