Kelmscott Press Collection
ne of the most prized holdings of the Linda Lear Center is its extensive collection of imprints by the Kelmscott Press. The Lear Center owns twenty books produced by William Morris's famous undertaking -- about forty percent of the total works the press produced -- as well as a Kelmscott-printed catalog of available books produced in 1894. They collection includes lavishly illustrated folio volumes and simpler octavos and books in all three typefaces designed by Morris.
William Morris began the Kelmscott Press in 1891, capping a spectacular career as an artist, writer, designer, and political activist. The birth of the press is often traced to the 1888 Arts and Crafts Exhibition and a lecture by Morris' friend, neighbor, and fellow socialist Emery Walker on letterpress design and printing. The sparked an interest in Morris in the art of the book that was to culminate three years later in his "typographical experiment." Walker and Morris shared a common appreciation for fifteenth century books in bot print and manuscript. They appreciated the heavy letterforms, condensed textblock, wide margins, and marginal designs.
No element of the publishing process escaped Morris' close attention. Guided by Walker selected and adapted early typefaces for his press; worked with a paper mill to specify the proper materials, weight, size, and watermarks for his paper; scoured Europe to identify suitable inks for his press; and coaxed a prized engraver out of retirement to produce wood blocks for illustration. Morris himself designed the initials and decorated borders drawing comparisons to his wallpaper designs, both favorable and unfavorable. The work was performed on iron hand presses, combining the technology of Johann Gutenberg with modern industrial design.
Between 1891 and 1898 the press produced 53 books (including ten books begun by Morris but completed after his death on October 3, 1896), each meticulously designed and spectacularly executed. In its brief life, the Kelmscott Press exemplified late Victorian taste, especially in its interpretation of the medieval past, and inspired dozens of other artisans to begin their own fine presses.
The Lear Center Collection was begun by donor and bibliophile Elisha Palmer and supplemented with gifts from other library benefactors including Mrs Robert Luchers, the Ames Family, Charles E. Feinberg, and Aaron Rabinowitz. Several volumes, including the Chaucer, were purchased with library book funds.