William Morris and the Kelmscott Press

The Arts and Crafts Movement initially began in England during the mid 19th century. This movement challenged the aesthetics of the Victoria Era and showed a newfound appreciation for the decorative arts (“Arts and Crafts Movement”). William Morris was an English reformer and textile designer who played a major role in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Morris, among other designers felt that the mass production of goods in factories caused by the industrial revolution was taking away the artistic and creative aspect of everyday objects. In 1861, Morris founded an interior decorating firm dedicated to bringing design back to the quality of medieval craftsmanship. This firm manufactured handcrafted designs for wallpaper, textiles, jewelry, metalwork, furniture, and books.  William Morris later became known for founding the Kelmscott Press.

The Kelmscott Press, founded in 1891, revolutionized private press during the late 19th century. Morris created his own printing press because he wanted to print books with beautiful and quality designs that would capture the reader’s eyes. He was inspired by the type created by Nicholas Jensen in the 1470s. Morris copied the shapes of these letters and combined them with his own designs and printed books on handmade paper. His hand crafted books were of excellent quality and were limited editions (“Kelmscott Chaucer”).

One of the finest books created by the Kelmscott Press is its edition of Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (Figure 1&2). This series of books, originally published in 1896, were designed by William Morris and were illustrated by his fellow artist, Edward Burne-Jones. There were only 425 copies of this book printed on paper. With 87 woodcut illustrations to accompany Chauser’s tales, this was the most exquisite book of its time.  It eventually became the most famous of all private press books. Next to the “Gutenberg Bible”, it is considered one of the  most outstanding typographic achievements of all times. (“Collecting Kelmscott”).


Figure 1


Figure 2


“Arts and Crafts Movement.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

“Kelmscott Chaucer – The British Library Shop.” The British Library. The British Library, 2014. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

“Collecting Kelmscott: William Morris & His Quest for Fine Books.” AbeBooks:. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.