Cabinet of books from the Kelmscott press of William Morris

Kelmscott kast d WEB

William Morris (1834-1896) was a wealthy British author and artist, and the manager of the firm Morris & Co. where his designs for wallpaper, furniture and carpets were produced. He also edited a socialist newspaper which he sometimes sold on the street himself.

Morris became very famous when he established the first modern private press in England in 1891. This press launched a revolution in the concept of printing throughout the world.

With Kelmscott Press Morris sought to raise the quality of book design and printing and tried to equal the standards of 15th-century printers. He bought an Albion handpress and designed three different typefaces, including the Golden Type, which was inspired by the roman type of the 15th-century Venetian printer Nicolas Jenson. Morris also designed the initials and the border decorations for his books, while Edward Burne-Jones created the wood engravings.

Between 1891 and October 1896 – when Morris died – the Kelmscott Press produced 42 books. After Morris’ death his assistants continued running the press for eighteen months in order to complete the eleven editions Morris had started to work on.

One copy of each of the publications, which all appeared in limited editions, was collected in a beautiful oak cabinet that had been manufactured in Morris’ own workshop. This small cabinet contains 53 publications in 66 volumes, all in the original vellum or half-cloth bindings, plus two proof sheets on vellum for an unpublished edition.

The small cabinet, signed ‘Morris & Co. 449 Oxford St. W’, was purchased in 1954 by the National Library of the Netherlands from an antiquarian bookseller in London for £900. ‘This fine collection’, the catalogue stated, ‘is in unusually clean condition, as the volumes have been preserved in this special case since they were collected many years ago.’

The National Library gave the cabinet with its books to the Museum Meermanno on permanent loan. This means that the Meermanno is the only museum in the Netherlands to hold a complete collection of the Kelmscott Press. This is exceptional even in Europe.