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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 19:00 GMT
Chaucer edition goes online
Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer died in October 1400
A rare first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, believed to be the first book ever printed in England, is to be published on the internet.

The British Library has agreed to digitise the volume, worth 4.6m, so scholars and the public can access it.

The book was first published 500 years ago by the man considered the father of the printing press in England, William Caxton.

A team from Keio University in Tokyo, the project's sponsor, are photographing the work into 1,300 high-definition images which will then be put on the web.


Kristian Jensen, head of Western European Printed Collections at the British Library, said: "This project follows the library's successful digitisation of its two copies of the Gutenberg Bible, a site which received one million hits in its first six months.

"This is the beauty of digitisation, to take something of great intellectual value which is rare and fragile, and make it available to anyone and everyone."

A second edition of the book, which contains a set of crude woodcuts, is also being digitised.

The text of the book is already available online and CD-Roms of the book are also available.

The first edition of The Canterbury Tales is extremely rare and a copy in 1998 sold for 4,621,500, the highest price ever paid for a printed book.

The British Library holds two copies, the first of which is part of the collection of King George III, which came to the nation in 1828.

Wealthy merchant

It is the only original complete copy surviving.

The Canterbury Tales was first printed in 1476 or 1477 by Caxton, a wealthy merchant who made contact with the world of printing in Cologne, Germany.

Chaucer was a knight of the shire for Kent and as a member of the king's household, Chaucer was sent on diplomatic errands throughout Europe.

His travels formed the basis of many of the often humorous tales.

See also:

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Ancient manuscript goes on CD
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The animator's tale
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