William Morris (1834-1896)

William Morris leads the way in design reform in nineteenth-century England, and his influence will spread to the United States where the Arts and Crafts Movement will influence design well into the twentieth century.  Appalled by the over-decorated, machine-made objects that he encountered in the Crystal Palace Exposition held in London in 1851, Morris established his own design firm (Morris, Marshall & Faulkner, later Morris & Company) in 1862 with the mission of creating good design that would be accessible to the English middle class.  Although this ambition was not realized in his designs for furniture, stained glass, wallpaper, and carpet design, Morris nonetheless launched a design reform movement which emphasized the collaboration of a group of artists and designers who followed John Ruskin’s instructions to choose a medieval craftsman’s approach to design, emphasizing simplicity, with a presentation of honest materials and construction.

In January 1891 Morris founded the Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith, England, and so extended his interest in medieval forms and “honest” design into the print world. Between 1891 and 1898, the Kelmscott Press issued 53 books (about 18,000 copies).  Instead of elaborate, gilded covers enclosing intricate and detailed illustrations, Morris most often relied upon a print that resembled script, along with decorative initial letters and motifs that he drew from medieval manuscripts.  In other words, the typography becomes art.  Here again Morris leads the way in England, and his influence extends to the United States, especially in the work of Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters.


Roses and Holly: A Gift-Book for All the Year. Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1867.

Illustrated by: Gourlay Steel, R. Herdman, Clark Stanton, Samuel Bough, John M’Whirter, John Lawson, and others

Gift of: Dr. Peter Koblenzer

Charles Perrault. Les contes de Perrault. Paris: Librairie de   Théodore Lefèvre et Émile Guérin, Éditeur, 1904.

Engraved by Lefrancq after Desandre [Jules-Marie Desandre]

Gift of: Evan Hopkins Turner

William Morris. The Roots of the Mountains. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1901.

Gift of: Mrs. Lydia W. King 


Charles Dickens. The Battle of Life: A Love Story.  London: Bradbury & Evans, 1846.

Illustrated by: D. Maclise, R. Doyle, J. Leech, C. Stanfield

Gift of: Dr. Peter Koblenzer


William Morris. A Dream of John Ball: Being an Idyll in Prose. East Aurora, New York: The Roycroft Shop, 1898.

Gift of: Mrs. Lydia W. King

The Roycrofters reprinted several William Morris titles, imitating his spare style. 


William Morris. Gothic Architecture: A Lecture for the Arts and       Crafts Exhibition Society. London: The Kelmscott Press, 1893.

Illustrated by: William Morris, extra-illustrated by Mark                  Samuels Lasner                                          

Gift of: Maurice Buxton Forman



Copyright 2008 The Athenæum of Philadelphia