Geoffrey Chaucer rare book by famed Kelmscott Press appears for sale

Fine works of printing, typography, and illustration are going under the hammer as part of a rare books sale in New York on February 23.

Among the sale's highlights is this historic piece dating to 1896. Titled "The Kelmscott Chaucer" and edited by FS Ellis, the lot comprises the works of Geoffrey Chaucer in a large folio.

The Kelmscott Press was founded by utopian socialist William Morris in Hammersmith, London in 1891. Its mission was to produce books by traditional methods, relying upon the printing technology and typographical styles of the 15th century.

This remarkable folio was one of 425 copies produced by the Kelmscott Press, equal to the number of orders taken by Morris over several years before production started. Because of the constraints of the press's 15th century methods, he had to refuse offers for hundreds more.


Rare Geoffrey Chaucer book by famed Kelmscott Press
The Kelmscott Chaucer, presenting the works of Geoffrey Chaucer 

Morris died in the same year this book was produced, after which the Kelmscott Press closed its doors for good. This work was wholly designed by Morris, and is understood to be the culmination of what he had set out to achieve.

The woodcuts used to manufacture The Kelmscott Chaucer were later presented to the British Museum, and the fonts were gifted to the University Press, Cambridge. This made it impossible for any further copies to be produced.

The auctioneer's condition report mentions some wear and tear to the portfolio. But its historical importance remains undiminished. The Kelmscott Chaucer will auction next month with a $30,000-50,000 presale estimate.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales remains one of the most valued and collectible rare books. In 1998, a first edition copy sold for £4,621,500 ($7.2m) to London book dealers the Maggs brothers. Find out more in our special report: The Top Five most expensive printed books.

Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock