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William Caxton, by E. Gordon Duff. [With an original leaf from the first edition of the Canterbury Tales printed by Caxton in 1478]

Chicago : [Printed for] The Caxton Club [by R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company at the Lakeside Press], 1905

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Collection of Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Library; Collection of Michael Thompson; Collection of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company

The present exhibition commemorates the Caxton Club's publication a century ago of this leaf book about the life and work of William Caxton. It was the first leaf book devoted to Caxton, and it is sought today not only by those collectors who wish to own an example from the most famous work produced by England's first printer, but also by those who would like to add the Chicago-based club's most famous publication to their own libraries. The leaves used in this book came from a copy of the Canterbury Tales in the library of Lord Ashburnham, which the Caxton Club purchased for distribution in this leaf book. The Ashburnham copy was incomplete, containing only 148 leaves, so only 148 of the total edition of 255 copies included an original leaf. The book that accompanied the leaf was written by Edward Gordon Duff, a bibliographer and librarian, who is most often remembered today for his work on fifteenth-century English books.

Daniel Mosser writes in detail in the exhibition catalog about the surviving copies of the first edition of Caxton's Canterbury Tales and the present whereabouts of the leaves distributed with the Caxton Club leaf book. The scattering of such a substantial portion of an original copy would be very difficult to defend today. One hundred years ago, however, practices in the world of books were quite different, and while opinions about the propriety of breaking up such a book have changed since 1905, interest in Caxton imprints has by no means diminished. As a result, practically the only opportunity that a modern collector has to acquire an original leaf from the Canterbury Tales is this leaf book, and collectors of the future are likely to compete for it even more avidly than those who are currently celebrating its centenary.

 

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