Newman Tower Exhibit: Triple Crown Collection

A woodblock created to illustrate the Ashendene Press’ edition of Dante’s Paradiso.

The new Newman Tower of Exploration and Collections has provided the Special Collections department with a unique chance to share some of our most treasured collections with the public. One particularly beautiful series of books currently on display features works from our Triple Crown Collection.

The Triple Crown Collection was acquired by Washington University Libraries in 2000. It includes the entire published output of the Kelmscott, Doves, and Ashendene presses, which are known collectively as the Triple Crown of English Arts & Crafts bookmaking.  These printers sought to revive the art of the book by creating and emphasizing visual harmony between design and text as a reaction against industrialization and mass production.

Kelmscott Press

The Kelmscott Press was founded in 1891 by William Morris, a leader of the British Arts and Crafts movement. Morris wanted to revive bookmaking as a craft practiced by skilled artisans. He was inspired by medieval manuscripts and early printed books. Kelmscott books are famous for their intricate decoration and beautiful woodcuts.

A page from the Kelmscott Press’ edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896), featuring the illustrated text of the Franklin’s Tale.

Above is a page from The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, designed by Morris and produced by Kelmscott Press in 1896. It remains on of the most memorable and beautiful edition of the complete works of Chaucer ever printed. The text includes an ambitious number of woodcut illustrations and decorative borders. Below you can see test-print pages, which show the amount of work that went into making text and image fit together properly on the page.

Trial pages featuring the same page of the Kelmscott Press’ edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Doves Press

Influenced by his friend William Morris, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson left a career in law to become a bookbinder in the 1880s, later establishing the Doves Bindery, which served as the main binder for the Kelmscott Press. After the Kelmscott Press closed, Cobden-Sanderson created his own Doves Press in 1900, and followed his friend’s vision to revive the craft of bookmaking. He designed the Doves type in the style of 15th century roman types of Venice-based printer Nicolas Jenson. Cobden-Sanderson’s books explore the beauty of type, with only the occasional red accent letter for decoration.

Two books beautifully bound by Cobden-Sanderson. The top book contains an essay by Cobden-Sanderson in which he complains about the loss of creativity in bookbinding.

The Doves Press Bible is considered to be the press’s finest publication. It is praised for its typography, clarity of design, and striking hand-lettered initials in red. The simple design shows how little ornamentation is needed to make a beautiful book.

A page from the Doves’ Bible (1903-05), illustrating the famous Doves type.

Ashendene Press

Charles Harold St John Hornby founded the Ashendene Press in 1895 in Hertfordshire before moving to London in 1899. Ashendene books are known primarily for their beautiful type, but some books were illustrated, including a famous edition of Dante’s work (pictured below). A small number of books were also illuminated by hand.

A page from Ashendene Press’ illustrated version of Dante’s Inferno, with beautiful red lettering heading the page.

A woodblock for the large “Nel Mezzo” we see printed in the picture of Dante’s Inferno above.

The beautiful edition of Song of Solomon pictured below was published by Ashendene Press in 1902. The Ashendene Press printed this work on vellum, which is more durable than paper, but also more difficult to use in printing. St. John Hornby  created a limited run of 40 copies of this work, each one featuring a different design hand-painted on the title page by Florence Kingsford.

Cover page of Ashendene Press’ edition of Song of Solomon (1902), with beautiful hand-painted illustrations by Florence Kingsford.

More About the Presses

You can read more about the Triple Crown Press in our previous blog posts here and here, or explore the Triple Crown Finding Aid to find out more about our holdings. In our opinion, however, these gorgeous books are best viewed in person. Stop by the first level of the Newman Tower to view them for yourself!

The last page of Ashendene Press’ Song of Solomon, providing the name of the press and the year (1902).

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.