Jean Hersholt's Copy of the Majestic Kelmscott Chaucer, made by William Morris[Kelmscott Press]. Geoffrey Chaucer. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer now newly imprinted. [Hammersmith: Printed by me William Morris at the Kelmscott Press, 1896].
One of 425 copies printed on "Perch" handmade paper, out of a total edition of 438 copies. Large folio (16.6875 x 11.375 inches; 424 x 289 mm.). [4, blank except for signature], ii, , 554, [2, blank] pages. With eighty-seven large woodcut illustrations after Sir Edward Burne-Jones, redrawn by Robert Catterson-Smith and cut by W. H. Hooper. Woodcut title page, fourteen variously repeated full-page woodcut borders, eighteen variously repeated woodcut frames around the illustrations, twenty-six nineteen-line woodcut initial words, numerous three-, six-, and ten-line woodcut initial letters, and woodcut printer's device, all designed by William Morris and cut by C. E. Keates, W. H. Hooper, and W. Spielmeyer. Printed in black and red in Chaucer type, with the titles of the longer poems printed in Troy type. Text in double columns. Edited by F. S. Ellis.
Bound in full rich pumpkin morocco, with raised beveled panels to front and rear boards, blind-stamped in a diamond pattern, with borders and geometric dentelles also stamped in blind. Front board with large diamond leather inlay in a deep orange, with "Chaucer's Works" stamped in gilt. Spine with five raised bands, deep orange morocco title label stamped in gilt, and compartments containing vertical lines stamped in blind. Marbled endpapers. Leaves untrimmed. Laid in is original linen spine, with remnants of original paper label reading "Chaucer's Works." Also laid in is bookplate of Jean Hersholt, with his signature. Minor rubbing to head and foot of spine. Toning to edges of blank preliminary and terminal leaves, with occasional toning throughout. Some minor offsetting affecting fore-edge margins, and very occasional minor foxing. Leaf containing pages 283 and 284 with significant foxing to top, bottom, and fore-edge margins. Else, an exceptionally clean copy in fine condition.
Jean Hersholt's copy, with his signed bookplate laid in. Jean Hersholt (1886-1956), the Danish-born actor who had a lengthy and successful Hollywood career which spanned the years 1913 to 1955, is, perhaps, best known for his performance as Shirley Temple's grandfather in Heidi. He helped form the Motion Picture Relief Fund which assisted in-need members of the film community, and he served as president of the American Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for four years. A popular figure in Hollywood, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which is presented to an "individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry," was created in his honor. He is also known for his important work in translating the stories of Hans Christian Andersen from the original Danish into English, and his translations are now generally considered the standard by which all others are measured. Hersholt was an avid book collector, and many fine books were in his personal collection, including this tremendous volume, one of the most beautifully printed books ever made.
The Kelmscott Chaucer is "the most famous book of the modern private press movement, and [especially when bound after Morris's own design] the culmination of William Morris's endeavor" (The Artist and the Book).
"This great edition of Chaucer is certainly the crowning achievement of the Kelmscott Press" (from a "discriminating and enthusiastic review" in the Athenaeum, 3 October 1896, pages 444-445, quoted on page 111 of Peterson).
"In his productions, Morris endeavored to retrieve the spirit of craftsmanship which had characterized printing in its first decades. He redesigned two of the outstanding type faces of that period; all of his books were printed on the hand press; his paper was manufactured according to fifteenth-century standards; and he returned to to the woodcut for his illustrations. In margins and general format his books follow what he considered the best traditions of early printing" (Huntington Library, Great Books in Great Editions).
Provenance: Parke-Bernet Sale, March 23-24, 1954: Collection of Jean Hersholt, Beverly Hills, Calif. - Sold by His Order. Lot 541. In its original binding of linen-backed boards, with a "slightly defective" paper label.
The Artist & the Book 45. Clark Library, Kelmscott and Doves, pages 46-48. Huntington Library, Great Books in Great Editions, 24. Needham, William Morris and the Art of the Book, 101A. Peterson A40. Ransom, Private Presses, page 329, no. 40. Ray, The Illustrator and the Book in England, 258 ("one of the great books of the world"). Sparling 40. Tidcombe, The Doves Bindery, 408 and pages 46-61. Tomkinson, page 117, no. 40. Walsdorf 40.
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