If you are in Buffalo, New York, this month, be sure to check out the Central Library at Lafayette Square, which will be presenting an exhibit of entitled “The Ideal Book–William Morris and the Kelmscott Press.” Included in the exhibit is an original copy of William Morris’ Kelmscott Chaucer, along with books produced by the Roycroft Press.
My University library has a facsimile copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer, but I’ve never seen an original up close. The facsimile itself is nothing to sneeze at – it’s a gorgeous book. It never hurts to add it to your Christmas list, though $650 for the gorgeous Folio Society edition might be a bit steep (though it pales in comparison to the real deal – the genuine article recently sold in New York for $160,000 USD). There are some nice editions available on Amazon.com for considerably less, though. I got my sister this very pretty edition (which only includes the Canterbury Tales, but it’s a lovely hardbound edition) for under $20 a couple of years ago. I’m afraid I would dissolve into tears if my daughter tore up a folio edition, but at less than $20, this copy is probably just the ticket for a family with small children.
The Kelmscott Chaucer gives readers a sensual experience. I still remember the first time I picked it up and thought “this is what a book should be like.” Sir Edward Burne-Jones illustrations are stunning, and the borders have exquisite details that the eye can follow for hours. In general, I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to my books. I know that there have been many tomes written on decorating with books, etc., but I personally believe most books really aren’t that attractive. They take up too much space! As a result, I tend to either borrow from the library or read eBooks. There are not that many books I consider worth having physical copies of, but this is one of them. As Morris said, “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” This is certainly an item that any fan of William Morris and Pre-Raphaelites would be thrilled to find under the tree.
For more information on the Kelmscott Chaucer, visit the Buffalo Library’s exhibition website. The Kelmscott Chaucer will be on display until January 30, 2011