Special Collections Spotlight: William Morris papers

William Morris (1834-1896) was an English artist, author, socialist, and printer. He is best known for his association with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and as a central figure of the English Arts and Crafts Movement.

Morris rose to popularity as the author of the epic poem The Earthly Paradise (1868-1870). Morris’s other well known works encompassed several genres and styles, including narrative poetry, fantasy and utopian novels, translations of Icelandic and other early works, essays, and short stories. These works include The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), A Dream of John Ball (1892) News from Nowhere (1893), and The Wood Beyond the World (1894).

Morris founded the design company Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co. in 1861, which was restructured as Morris & Company in 1875. Morris and company specialisted in designing textiles, wallpapers, and furniture with the goal to remedy the pervasiveness of cheaply-made, mass produced furnishings that lacked any sense of beauty or style. Morris was also influential in the emergence of socialism in England in the nineteenth century, having founded the Socialist League in 1884.

In 1891, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, which produced books modeled after fifteenth-century works. The press produced 53 titles during its 7-year operation. His 1896 edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, referred to as the Kelmscott Chaucer, is often regarded a pinnacle of book design.

The William Morris papers includes correspondence from Sydney Cockerell, Jane Morris, and William Morris, a manuscript by Stopford Augustus Brooke, as well as books from Morris’ personal library, the Kelmscott press, and others, as well as ephemera. Books printed at the Kelmscott Press and other works by and about William Morris can be found in our rare books collection.

View our online exhibit “How We Might Live: The Vision of WIlliam Morris”

Explore the subject guide, William Morris and the Kelmscott Press.

Browse the finding aid for the William Morris papers.

Check Out Previous Blog posts on William Morris.

Contact us for more information! 

What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a description of the contents of a collection, similar to a table of contents you would find in a book. A collection’s contents are often grouped logically and describe the group of items within each folder. You rarely find descriptions of the individual items within collections. Finding aids also contain information about the size and scope of collections. Additional contextual information may also be included.

What is a Subject Guide?

A Subject Guide, sometimes called a LibGuide, is a web page developed by library staff that focuses on a specific subject area. In any subject guide you may find databases relevant to the subject area, links to websites, journals and magazines, recommended books, library contacts for a specific subject, and much more.

Online Exhibit – How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris

Are you looking for a way to enjoy Literature and Rare Books’ digital holdings?  Explore our updated virtual exhibit How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris.  This online exhibit offers insight into William Morris (1834-1896), who was an author, socialist, decorator, printer, calligrapher, and leader in the Arts and Crafts Movement.  Morris was inspired by the Middle Ages to produce beautiful, high quality works.  Morris’ creations include furnishings from Morris and Co. and books published by Kelmscott Press.  Morris was also active in the English Socialist movement and founded the Socialist League in 1884.

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William Morris and W. A. Dwiggins: The Art of Book Design

Our Literature and Rare Book currators recently hosted a talented class of UMD art students studying typography and book design.What better way to illustrate the meticulous work of designing letters and page layouts than giving them opportunity to examine books from our William Morris and W. A. Dwiggins collections!

kelmscottWilliam Morris (1834-1896) founded the Kelmscott Press in 1891. He was already well know as an artist and author in England, as well as an avid socialist. His decorative arts firm Morris & Co. produced textiles, furniture, and stained glass to for decades before he ventured into book design. Towards the end of his life, he set out to create books that reflected his notion of an “ideal book”.  He criticized the ugly, machine-made books of industrialized England, from both a design aesthetic and the impact on traditional craftsmen. His press highlighted the artistry and craftsmanship he admired from the medieval era of early printed books.

Kelmscott Press books have a distinctive look and feel, reflecting Morris’s specific design principles for space, layout, and materials. He designed his own typeface, including decorative borders and intricate initial lettering for use in the press. He also had a hand in selecting the handmade paper and ink used in the printing process.

The masterpiece of the Kelmscott Press is the Kelmscott Chaucer, completed just months before Morris passed away. His lifelong friend and collaborator Edward Burne-Jones wrote of the Chaucer: “Indeed when the book is done, if we live to finish it, it will be like a pocket cathedral – so full of design and I think Morris the greatest master of ornament in the world”


William Addison Dwiggins (1880-1956) was an American illustrator, typographer, and book designer. Like Morris, Dwiggins lamented the decline in the quality of books being printed in his lifetime. In 1919, he published Extracts from an Investigation into the Physical Properties of Books as they are at Present Published, which included a humorous graph illustrating the plummeting quality of book design.


Dwiggins designed books that reached a more commercial audience, often working with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, a publishing house in New York  later purchased by Random House.

Dwiggins’s designs are minimalist, utilizing stencil illustrations and playing with bold colors, a stark contrast to the heavily ornamented works by the Kelmscott Press.  However, Dwiggins utilized several of Morris’s design principles, including proportional margins and two-page unified design. He designed several typefaces for his books, including Caledonia, Electra, and Metro. Dwiggins used his familiar stencil designed to produce equally beautiful bindings. This is another clear difference from Kelmscott Press books, which featured plain vellum or blue board bindings. The result is a unique and modern take on a well-designed book.


And that’s what makes these two collections such a great teaching tool for students interested in graphic design. Comparing the works of two very different, yet connected artists can inspire young designers. They question why the artists made the choices they did, explore what makes their work similar, and why they are unique. Of course it begs the ultimate question when comparing William Morris and W. A. Dwiggins- who designed the better book?

Visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to explore books from the William Morris and W.A. Dwiggins collections.

Literary Special Collections

Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library is home to a wide array rare and unique literary collections. From personal papers of authors and poets to early printed works, our collections cross a variety of subjects and time periods in the literary world.

Archival Collections

Below are some highlights from our archival literary collections in Hornbake Library:

  • Katherine Anne Porter papers
    • Personal papers of American author Katheriane Anne Porter (1890-1980), best known for her short stories and novel Ship of Fools (1962).
  • Djuna Barnes papers
    • Personal papers of avant-garde American writer and artist Djuna Barnes (1892-1982), best known for her novel Nightwood (1936).
  • Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven papers
    • Personal papers of avant-garde artist and poet Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927). She is associated with Djuna Barnes and the Dada movement.
  • Ernest Hemingway collection
    • A large portion of the collection consists of serials that include stories and nonfiction written by and about Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). It also includes some original correspondence to and from Hemingway. In addition, there are manuscripts and proofs of Hemingway’s work and biographies of Hemingway.
  • Literary First Appearances
    • Periodicals containing the “first appearance,” or first public dissemination, of many noteworthy 20th century literary works.
  • French Pamphlet Collection
    • Approximately 12,000 pieces dating from 1620 to 1966, covering many key episodes in the history of France. The largest part of the collection is made up of 7000 pamphlets from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, 1788-1815.
  • African American Pamphlet Collection
    • 20th century materials on African, African-American, and Caribbean culture and literature. The collection spans the years 1905-1979, although the majority of the pamphlets date from the 1960s and 1970s.

Subject Guides

Rare Book Collections

Our rare book collections contain books printed from the 16th century to modern times. Most are searchable in the online catalog. Below are some highlights from the collection:

  • German Expressionism collection
    • Contains serials and books that reflect German Expressionism, a culural, literary, and artistic movement that began in Germany prior to the First World War.
  • William Morris collection
    • Works by 19th century British author, socialist, designer and founder of the Kelmscott Press, William Morris (1834-1896).
  • Eikon Basilike
    • Guide to the Eikon Basilike and related materials held by Special Collections and University Archives

Want to learn more? Explore our literary special collections online or visit the Maryland Room to speak to a librarian. You can also contact us via email.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter for updates and images from our collections.

William Morris, Walter Crane, and Socialist Art


Walter Crane

Walter Crane (1845-1915) was a well-known painter, book illustrator, and socialist. He was heavily influenced by the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as his study of Japanese wood-block color printing.  His decorative work and illustrations often featured garden themes, bold lines, and detailed imagery.   Along with  Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott, Crane was one of the premiere illustrators for children’s books in the nineteenth century. His trandemark style was also influential in the burgeoning Arts & Crafts movement in England.

Crane was introduced to fellow artist William Morris (1834-1896) in 1870, and the two later became close friends and collaborators. Crane’s illustrations most notably appear in the 1894 edition of The Story of the Glittering Plain printed by Morris’s Kelmscott Press.

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‘Story of the Glittering Plain’ by William Morris. Illustrated by Walter Crane. Kelmscott Press, 1894.

Both Morris and Crane were ardent socialists.  They joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the first organized Marxist groups in England, in 1884. Frustrated by SDF leadership, Crane left the SDF to join Morris’s new organization, the Socialist League.

Like Morris, Crane believe that art should become a part of everyday life.  For both men, art provided a meaningful and creative force in society, and it should be shared by all classes.  Crane scowled at what he viewed as the commercialization and mass production of “false art” for profit.  He used his own artistic talent to create illustrations that brought beauty to the Socialist cause.  According to Henry Hyndman, leader of the SDF, the impact of Crane’s art was undeniable:

“Nobody, not even William Morris, did more to make Art a direct helpmate to the Socialist propaganda. Nobody has had a greater influence on the minds of doubters who feared that Socialism must be remote from and even destructive of the sense of beauty.”

Crane designed many of the header images that appeared on pamphlets for the Socialist League and Hammersmith Socialist Societ, each Socialist organizations started by William Morris.  Crane also designed a membership card for the Socialist League. The card features Crane’s illustration of a blacksmith, which was purportedly modeled after William Morris.  Do you think  the bearded worker bears a resemblance to Morris?

Socialist League Membership Card

Socialist League membership card designed by Walter Crane


Socialist League header designed by Walter Crane, taken from ‘Chants for Socialists’ by William Morris


Hammersmith Socialist Society header designed by Walter Crane, taken from ‘Useful Work Versus Useless Toil’ by William Morris

Look for additional Crane illustrations in How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris exhibit and on Flickr.

William Morris Built the Foundation for Historic Preservation

Kelmscott Manor

Morris preserved his beloved summer home, Kelmscott Manor, using non-invasive techniques.

Did you know that May is National Preservation Month? We can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to recognize the work of William Morris (1834-1896), one of the pivotal figures in the early preservation movement in the West. Many people know Morris for his role as a designer, printer and socialist, but this opinionated Englishman was also a preservation activist, founding the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in the UK in 1877.

Morris began his crusade to protect old buildings after observing the invasive restoration techniques in use by architects and restorers of the 19th century. He held restorers responsible for what he called the “reckless stripping” of buildings resulting in the destruction of their original characteristics. The SPAB came to be called “Anti-Scrape” for its insistence that historic structures be preserved without altering their original structures. Of course, restorers themselves thought they were improving structures by replacing decaying elements with new materials.

For Morris, beautiful, authentic architecture provided a benefit to society. He felt that individuals had a responsibility to preserve these structures without changing them. Do you believe we have a social responsibility to save historic buildings? If so, do you approve of Morris’s no-change approach, or are you in favor of the restoration approach?

Kelmscott Press Inspires Imitators

Kelmscott Press 'Poems of John Keats'

Kelmscott Press ‘Poems of John Keats’

“…that we of this age should generally produce ugly books, shows, I fear, something like malice… a determination to put our eyes in our pockets wherever we can.”

William Morris (1834-1896) believed that books should be both useful and beautiful, and he didn’t mince words in his critique of the bookmakers of his time. Most books produced in the 19th century were printed through mass industrial processes, and assembled by wage laborers. Morris accused industrialists of removing beauty from the experience of reading. In the ideal world that Morris envisioned, workers should be able to offer their artistic contributions to the quality products they helped produce. He founded his Kelmscott Press in 1891 to reintroduce beauty and originality to book production.



A lot has changed since William Morris established his Kelmscott Press in the late 19th century, but the mass industrial approach to book production—whether in physical or digital format— has not. Today the conversation about books inevitably turns to technology: digitization, eBooks, tablets, iPhones. Do you think William Morris’s ideas about books are irrelevant in today’s tech-focused world, or is there still room for discussion about the aesthetic of books, whether printed or digital?

‘How We Might Live’ features Art Nouveau Edition of ‘The Defense of Guenevere’

Jessie M. King's illustration for 'Guenevere'

Jessie M. King’s illustration for ‘Guenevere’

How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item every month.

Visit the Maryland Room Gallery in March to view a stunning edition of William Morris’s first published volume of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems. This 1904 edition features beautiful, nighly detailed illustrations by Scottish artist Jessie M. King.  King was known for her Art Nouveau designs and contributions to the Arts & Crafts Movement that flourished in Britain and American in the late 19th and early 20th century.

William Morris was an influential figure in the Arts & Crafts movement.  His emphasis on nature and simplicity in his designs, as well as the importance of  craftsmanship and natural materials became characteristic of the movement.  Read more about Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement in our online exhibit, or visit Hornbake Library in person to view  How We Might Live, This Vision of William Morris.

Love is in the Air: ‘How We Might Live’ features ‘The Boke of Cupide’!

Every month, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item.

'Boke of Cupide' Colophon

In February, we share the love with The Boke of Cupide, God of Love, or, The Cuckow and the Nightingale, printed by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press in 1896. Morris was fond of medieval literature, and was naturally drawn to this poem about the nature of love written by Sir Thomas Clanvowe in the 15th century. Clanvowe was heavily influenced by the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. So much so, that The Boke of Cupid was attributed to Chaucer for nearly three centuries. Morris’s colleague and friend F.S. Ellis first made this distinction in the when he edited the Kelmscott Press edition of The Floure and the Leafe, & The Boke of Cupide, God of Love, or, The Cuckow and the Nightingale.  Take a look at the special note in the colophon pictured on the right.

Read the full text of the Kelmscott Press The Boke of Cupide online, or visit the Maryland Room Gallery and marvel at the large illuminated letter designed by Morris. Does it excite your passion for typography?