Eric Gill's Canterbury Tales in the September 2011 Antiquarian Book Sale

Published 12th August 2011

 Eric Gill's Canterbury Tales, published in 1929 by the Golden Cockerel Press.

Eric Gill's illustrated Canterbury Tales, published by the Golden Cockerel Press in 1929 as a limited edition of 485 copies could almost be described as the 'perfect' book.

The combination of one of the greatest stories in English Literature, with one of the most innovative illustrators of the twentieth century, and published by the finest of private presses, blend to make this four volume work one of the truly 'great' books, a book to be proud of in anyone's library.

Originally written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century, the Canterbury Tales are a collection of stories told by a group of pilgrims who are travelling together on a pilgrimage from Southwark to the shrine of St Thomas A' Beckett at Canterbury. Through the voices of the various characters the irony and critical nature of the ordinary folk are reflected, not least of all there ambivalence to the church. Something the illustrator of this work Eric Gill with his controversial views on religion and other matters would no doubt have approved of.

The Golden Cockerel Press was founded in 1920 in Waltham St Lawrence. The press quickly became known and highly respected for the quality of the beautiful limited editions of classic works that it published. It employed many of the leading illustrators of the day including, Agnes Miller Parker, Robert Gibbings, Blair Hughes-Stanton, David Jones, John Buckland Wright, Eric Ravilious and Eric Gill. Carrying on in the great tradition of Thomas Bewick, usually the illustrations were from wood engravings, in this the press lead the way in the 20th century revival in of wood engraved illustrations. Combined with the use of specially designed type faces by Eric Gill, the result was book production to the highest standard of typographical excellence.

Nowhere is this more obvious in this edition of the Canterbury Tales, published in four volumes, lavishly illustrated with erotic decorative borders on almost every page by Eric Gill, it took two and a half years to produce. It is generally regarded as one of the most sought after of Golden Cockerel Press titles.

The copy offered by Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood has the added interest of having come from the library of the eminent archaeologist Prof Stuart Piggott (Sutton Hoe), it includes a hand written and signed letter to him from Eric Gill, discussing cave paintings, of which they had a mutual interest. With this provenance bids in excess of £3000 are expected.

Written by Roger Collicott (Book Specialist), 12th August 2011.


  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Eric Gill
  • Golden Cockerell Press
  • Canterbury Tales
  • Antiquarian Books

Subscribe to catalogue alerts & news

Select your interests