William Morris

William Morris (1834-1896) also worked with commercial publishers for most of his career, but in 1891 he founded the Kelmscott Press as a reaction against the mechanization of book production. He envisioned well-made books that were both useful and beautiful, believing high quality, aesthetically conceived publications could be produced at an affordable cost.

Kelmscott Press design focused on the interior of the book. Morris created his own typefaces, based on early printed examples. He used high quality paper and inks, in contrast to the cheaper materials found in most commercially produced books of the time. The text was often accompanied by wood-engraved illustrations, the thick typefaces visually balancing the heavy lines of the woodcut. Text and illustration harmonized on the page with wide outer margins inspired by early printed books; decorated initials and borders further emphasized the look. Unfortunately, the quality maintained in Kelmscott Press publications made them quite expensive. However, Morris’s insistence on the symbiotic relationship between text and illustration revolutionized book design and was adopted and imitated by other publishers in Great Britain and the United States for a broader audience.




The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs, by William Morris (London: F.S. Ellis, 1870)
Binding designed by Philip Webb (1831-1915)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Morris’s life-long friend, Philip Webb, designed the ornate binding for this volume. Produced the same year and by the same publisher as Rossetti’s Poems, it uses a similar color scheme of gilt stamping on dark green cloth. Aesthetically, however, the two are quite different. Webb’s dense gold-stamped design has little connection to Morris’s translation of Icelandic fables inside. Rossetti thought it lovely, however, telling the publisher Ellis it was “quite perfect.”






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The Earthly Paradise, by William Morris (London: Reeves and Turner, Ballantyne Press, 1890)
Designed by William Morris (1834-1896)
Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Morris’s cover design for The Earthly Paradise references Near Eastern pottery as well as Persian and Indian carpet designs. Similar design elements, like the central ornament with myrtle sprigs and tulips, also appear in some of the textile patterns Morris created for Morris and Company. His letters to the publisher F.S. Ellis suggest that he was considering designing a chintz fabric specifically for bookbinding, and this design may have been a prototype. However, by the time the Kelmscott Press started printing in 1891, Morris’s interest was focused on the interior of books, and the bindings were left plain.


Design for the cover of The Earthly Paradise, 1890
William Morris (1834–1896)

Pencil, black and brown ink, and gouache on paper
Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial, 1935
DAM 1935-80









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The Golden Legend, by Jacobus de Voraigne (Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1892)
Illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)
Designed by William Morris (1834-1896)
University of Delaware, Special Collections

An early publication from the Kelmscott Press, The Golden Legend is a masterpiece of printing. It combines thick paper, dense foliate borders, and wood engraved designs created by Morris’s close friend, the painter Edward Burne-Jones. A contemporary review declared that The Golden Legend marked “a new epoch in the production of beautiful books in this country.” Morris’s focus on handwork, historical models, and quality materials was a tremendous influence on designers, who responded to the Kelmscott publications by adapting elements for commercially produced publications.




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The Love-Lyrics and Songs of Proteus, by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1892)
Designed by William Morris (1834-1896)
Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware

William Morris