Item #007802 The Poems of William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare.
The Poems of William Shakespeare
The Poems of William Shakespeare
The Poems of William Shakespeare
The Poems of William Shakespeare
The Poems of William Shakespeare
The Poems of William Shakespeare
The Poems of William Shakespeare
The Poems of William Shakespeare
The Poems of William Shakespeare

The Poems of William Shakespeare

London: The Essex House Press / Edward Arnold, 1899. Limited, finely bound, hand-numbered edition. Full leather. This is the publisher’s magnificent, limited, and hand-numbered edition in the style of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, featuring limp vellum with gilt-stamped spine, yapped fore edges, and integral silk ties. The contents are printed on hand-made paper with untrimmed edges printed in red and black with large woodcut initial capitals at each stanza, as well as a woodcut illustration for "Venus and Adonis" by Reginald Savage.

Condition is truly fine. The vellum binding is exceptional, showing only the mildest age-toning and trivial hints of soiling. The integral silk ties are present and clean, unsoiled and with wrinkling attendant only to having been tied. The contents are pristine – crisp, bright, and immaculately clean with no spotting, soiling, toning, or ownership marks, and with uncut signatures throughout. Per the limitation statement, this text is "According to the text of the earliest editions, arranged, and carefully collated with the originals, by F. S. Ellis, and printed at the Essex House Press under the care of C. R. Ashbee, December, 1899". The limitation statement is hand-numbered “402” of a stated 450 copies.

Exceptional condition owes to its protection within a fine paper-lined red cloth chemise, housed within a quarter Morocco slipcase featuring rounded, hubbed, and gilt-printed red goatskin spine over red cloth sides with gilt-rule transition and beveled edge opening. Condition of the slipcase is good plus, unfaded though modestly scuffed and soiled.

The contents of the edition are a noteworthy curation. Shakespeare’s plays are the most conspicuous aspect of his literary legacy, but, as the poet Robert Graves wrote of Shakespeare, “In the plays we are frequently aware of Shakespeare the poet; in the Sonnets we recognize his role as dramatist.” This edition of The Poems of William Shakespeare of course includes the Sonnets, but reaches well beyond them, also including narrative poems, poems from The Passionate Pilgrim, the allegorical poem “The Phoenix and Turtle”, and “lyrics, songs and snatches from the dramas”.

The publisher, the Essex House Press, founded by Charles Robert Ashbee, was an immediate and intentional descendant of Kelmscott Press. William Morris established the Kelmscott Press, which between 1891 and 1898 produced 53 books. “Kelmscott was the culmination of Morris’s life as a craftsman in many diverse fields. He set out to prove that the high standards of the past could be repeated - even surpassed - in the present. The books Morris produced were therefore medieval in design, modeled on the incunabula of the fifteenth century… Noteworthy for their harmony of type and illustration, Morris' main priority was to have each book seen as a whole: this included taking painstaking care with all aspects of production, including the paper, the form of type, the spacing of the letters, and the position of the printed matter on the page. Kelmscott books re-awakened the ideals of book design and inspired better standards of production at a time when the printed page was generally at its poorest.” The Essex House Press was one of “numerous other presses… set up to perpetuate Morris' aims...” (University of Glasgow)

In 1898, when William Morris’s famous Kelmscott Press was closing down, Ashbee, who also ran the Guild of Handcraft, acquired two of Kelmscott’s Albion printing presses and employed one of the Kelmscott compositors. “Ashbee was keen to carry on the work of Morris’s Press.” Indeed, “the ink, paper, and vellum are the same as those used in the Kelmscott books”. This 1899 edition of Shakespeare’s poems is among Ashbee’s early efforts in that vein. The Essex House Press moved with the Guild to Chipping Campden in 1902, and produced 84 titles. In 1907 the Press closed, but it was taken over by Ashbee’s friend the Sri Lankan philosopher, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and continued until 1910. (The Cheltenham Trust and Ashbee’s Essex House Bibliography). Item #007802

Price: $1,850.00

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