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History and Making of Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales



When was it made?

In Ron King's history of bookmaking, Chaucer's Prologue holds a special place.  It was his first book and led to the establishment of Circle Press, in 1967.  Alecto Editions had commissioned Ron to create the Prologue, their first ever book, but had got into difficulties and, at that time, were unable to proceed with the project.  

Unwilling to abandon the project that had been completed, Ron took on the mantle of publisher and saw the book through to distribution.  Success from sales came mainly from Ron's visits, in 1968, to the East Coast of the United States. 

Click this link to go back to 1967 and see a review of the Prologue and a small note, scribbled by Ron, upon setting up Circle Press.


 How was it made?

The catalyst for the Prologue begins at the Early Masks, Ron had been exploring in 1960s.   Here he developed the theme using medieval heraldry and a cross-based design to create the mask images of pilgrims.  Using very basic paper cut stencils from butcher's greaseproof paper, and stacking the prints on very simple wooden drying racks he managed over 10,000 printings over a period of four months. 


What was made?

Fourteen mask images titled and initialed in pencil, printed  silk screen and letter press in 24pt Plantin.  125 signed copies, 15 proofs 50 x 37.  Separate editions of 50 of all images except 'Friar' and 'Franklin', 56 x 38, titled, numbered and fully signed.


Where is it kept?

The Prologue is held in important public and private collections world-wide, including:

The V&A
The British Library
Tate Britain (second edition only)
The Houghton Library, Harvard
New York Public Library


Be sure to visit the British Library's original manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.



What else can you tell me? 

Ron nearly ended up in court over The Prologue when the Inland Revenue tried to impose purchase tax on the book because it was unbound. Ron argued that the majority of the books in the British Library were unbound and, after much discussion with Mr. Rose of HMRC Customs, Ron was granted exemption for this particular publication !