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British Medievalism: A Subject Guide

Eric Gill and the Golden Cockerel Press

The four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Authorized version of King James I. With decorations by Eric Gill. [Waltham Saint Lawrence, Berkshire] Golden Cockerel Press, 1931. Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division.

Born not long before William Morris died, the British stone carver, printmaker, and type designer, Eric Gill (1882-1940), had no direct ties to Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites, or William Morris. Nevertheless, Gill's work clearly betrays the influence of the William Morris and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. A conflicted and troubled individual, Gill sought meaning by recreating medieval guilds in an attempt to reunite the idea of craftsmanship with the shared sense of purpose found in religious community. His aesthetic harkened back to traditional forms and motifs found in medieval manuscripts, but he borrowed the elongated forms of earlier, Protogothic and early Gothic manuscripts. Consequently, he created minimalist, modern-looking pages from traditional manuscript forms (see the image of his gospel book on the right as an example).

Gill is best known as a type designer. His type faces--Perpetua, Joanna, and Gill Sans--are still in use today. For an example of Gill's Perpetua type, see the image below, taken from a Golden Cockerel Press publication of T.E. Lawrence's Crusader Castles. The Rare Book and Special Collections Division has a Press Collection, which includes more than 4,000 fine press items, and many examples of works from the Golden Cockerel Press. Without the medievalism of John Ruskin and William Morris, the Fine Press Movement in England and America likely would not be what it is today. For more information on the Division's Fine Press holdings and their relationship to William Morris, see Mark Dimunation's article "The Art of the Book" beginning on page 18 of the January/ February issue of the LC Magazine.

T.E. Lawrence. Crusader castles. London : Golden Cockerel Press, 1936. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.