The V&A facsimile of News from Nowhere

The V&A and Thames & Hudson have produced a facsimile of William Morris’s utopian novel News from Nowhere in a nice edition at a reasonable price. It was written by Morris and printed by him at the Kelmscott Press in 1890 in Golden Type, which he designed himself.

It’s one of the great socialist novels and sets out Morris’s vision of a world without private property, big industry, poverty, crime or marriage. He had been a political activist in the 1880s, during which time he became less interested in design, but by 1890 he was worn out by the petty squabbles in his Socialist League and by the fanatics who were only interested in him for his money. The Kelmscott Press was his last venture, into which he poured most of his energy.

From the British Library scan

News from Nowhere has a charming quasi-medieval look. The British Library scan of the original edition  shows the typeface very clearly (above). Although pretty, it is not very legible. It’s too black and there isn’t enough contrast between thick and thin strokes. John Lewis and John  Brinkley (Graphic Design, 1954) say that, in designing it, Morris took Nicholas Jensen’s 15th century Venetian typeface (below), gothicized it and trebled its weight.

Nicholas Jensen’s typeface, 1476

“To more than one version of this very black typeface,” they say, “he designed and cut on wood rich borders of entwined leaf and flower forms. He had a rough rag paper made, and with a clean but heavy impression he printed his books, which were bound in vellum and tied with silk ribbons. His greatest printing achievement was the folio Chaucer, with decorations by Burne-Jones. This monumental work he finished within a few months of his death. The Kelmscott books were completely out of the tradition of European printing. They could not be imitated for they were unique. To the lover of Renaissance typography, they may appear heavy and ugly. Their virtue in our opinion, was in the attention they drew to good workmanship, to careful presswork, to fine materials and to considered design. The principles that Morris established were later to be practised by every typographer and designer of note and in a wider field were to be the keystone for the teaching of the most influential design school of our age, the Bauhaus.”

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