Book History

Author: Jacobus de Voragine
Jacobus de Voragine was born in approximately 1230 in Voragine near Genoa, Italy, and died in 1298. In 1244 he entered the Dominican order. After becoming a professor in 1252, he gained a reputation for being an extremely intelligent theologian, and he traveled the land teaching at various schools of the Dominican order as a preacher. He is believed to have written The Golden Legend in 1275. The book is a collection of saint’s lives and information on holy days, and it was very widely read in the Middle Ages. He was a provincial of Lombardy and became archbishop of Genoa in 1292. He died in 1298 in Genoa, Italy, and is buried underneath the main altar of the Dominican church in Genoa.
Bibliographic Information
The Golden Legend was published by Bernard Quaritch on behalf of Kelmscott Press in 1892. This edition was translated by William Caxton and edited by F.S. Ellis. The woodcuts were designed by Sir E. Burne-Jones. It was dated September 12, 1892, and was actually released November 3, 1892. There are three volumes in the collection, this description focuses on the first volume.
Physical Description
The paper used seems to be vellum. The height is 11.5”, width 8 ½”, and the depth is 2”. It is bound in pale blue, half-holland paperboard with paper labels. The edges of the paper are uneven, and the binding seems to have been intended as temporary. On the second page, there is a watermark of three flowers framed on either side by the initials “W” and “M”. This watermark is also repeated at the end of the book. There is a note from the owner and founder of Kelmscott Press, detailing that “If this book be bound the edges of the leaves should only be TRIMMED, not cut. In no case should the book be pressed, as that would destroy the ‘impression’ of the type and thus injure the appearance of the printing”, signed W. Morris. On one of the first couple pages is what appears to be a receipt pasted into the book itself, from Bernard Quaritch to James Douglas Esq. showing the purchase of The Golden Legend on September 20, 1893 along with seven other volumes, for £15, 8 s.
Illustrator: Sir Edward Burne-Jones
The woodcuts were made by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1893). Burne-Jones met William Morris, the founder of Kelmscott Press, at Exeter College, and they remained lifelong friends. He was greatly influenced by his mentor and friend, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Burne-Jones and Morris both became followers of the Pre-Raphaelite art movement. He became known for his designs in tapestries and stained glass, many works of which were later turned into paintings. His woodcuts were also well-known, his most famous example was for Kelmscott Press’ edition of Chaucer in 1896.
Publisher: William Morris
Kelmscott Press was founded at Hammersmith in January 1891. Founded by William Morris, it is one of the most famous examples of a private press. The company was greatly influenced by Morris’ diverse interests and talents, and he used Kelmscott Press to publish works that personally appealed to him. His goal was to prove that the book-making process of the past could be brought back and improved upon, while still retaining its medieval touches. Bernard Quaritch published the book, and Quaritch booksellers is still in existence today in London. His taste in books were varied, ranging from archaeology to natural history to fine arts. He was well known as a dealer of bibles and fine manuscripts, as well as other books.
Of the edition made by Kelmscott Press in 1892, only 500 copies were made. However there have been several editions of The Golden Legend over the years. The first edition was published in Latin in 1470, and the first edition that was translated into English by William Caxton was published in 1483. Since the 1892 edition, it has been reprinted twice more, in 1922 and 1931. The text in its entirety was published online by Fordham University in 2001. Although there are only 500 copies of that single edition in the world, 636 other libraries in the world have a copy of the title.
Colin Franklin, “On the binding of Kelmscott Press books” Morris Society (Summer 1970), (accessed October 13, 2011). David Howland, “Edward Burne-Jones,” University of Rochester, (accessed October 13, 2011). de Voragine, Jacobus, The Golden Legend (2001), (accessed October 13, 2011). Encyclopaedia Britannica Academic Edition, s.v. “Jacobus de Voragine” (accessed October 13, 2011). “Graphic Design and Visual Culture in Europe 1890-1945: Kelmscott Press,” University of Glasgow Special Collections, (accessed October 13, 2011). National Library of Scotland “Kelmscott Press.” Rare Books Collection, 2010. (accessed October 13, 2011). “Our History,” Quaritch, (accessed October 13, 2011).
The Kelmscott edition of The Golden Legend, by Jacobus de Voragine, was published in 1892 in London, England by William Morris of Kelmscott Press and Bernard Quaritch of Quaritch Books. The Golden Legend was originally written in approximately 1275, and was translated into English from Latin by William Caxton in 1483. Jacobus de Voragine’s work was a biography of saints’ lives, a popular subject in the Middle Ages. However, with this edition, the publisher’s legacy and impact gives more value to the work than the subject does. William Morris was born in 1834 to wealthy parents, and had the opportunity to study at Oxford, where he met his lifelong friends and influences Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Together, along with several other colleagues, they established the Pre-Raphaelite movement, that idealized the Renaissance in terms of artistic style and the Middle Ages in terms of production standards and practices. Morris was greatly influenced by Medieval practices and styles, including the focus on nature, in everything he did for the rest of his life. After trying his hand at many different ventures with varying luck, Morris founded Kelmscott Press in 1891 as a response to the mechanization and growing impersonalization that he perceived in the printing process. He wanted to return to the times when books were more objects of art and beauty, rather than just physical objects. He insisted on only using three printing presses and was extremely picky in terms of the ink and paper used, preferring unmixed linen rags, and he even created a new font for the book, called “Golden Type”. The Golden Legend, Kelmscott Press’ first release, embodies that goal with its beautiful woodcuts designed by Morris’ close friend and collaborator Edward Burne-Jones and is a close mimic of the Medieval style of bookmaking. Another interesting feature of this book is the unexpected binding and cut of the pages, which does not seem to match the high quality and close attention paid to the rest of the book. The book is bound in a temporary-looking blue paperboard, and the pages are cut roughly and unevenly. This is explained with a note attached inside by William Morris stating that the owner should take the book to a bookseller to get it rebound and the pages trimmed in order to have the manuscript fit in well with the rest of their collection. This shows once again the extent of Morris’ insistence on quality, and the book as a work of art. While the story of the saints’ lives is fascinating for historians studying monastic culture of the Middle Ages, the real value of this book is the place it holds within the history of the private printing press at the turn of the 20th century, and as a shining example of the unique and unorthodox approach to printing and publishing that William Morris, an important figure in design history, imparted in this work. The Golden Legend, while also aesthetically pleasing, is arguably one of the most important books to come out of the publishing world at that time, due to its embodiment of the Arts & Crafts Movement and its commitment to an artistry that was becoming rarer and rarer in that time.

Submitted by Kirsten van der Noordaa
Published: 1892
Call Number: BX4654 .J334 1892