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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 03:00 GMT 04:00 UK
Canterbury Tales go online
The Canterbury Tales
Only 425 copies of the book were ever produced
Internet users will be able from Friday to view the first editions of The Canterbury Tales online rather than having to visit the British Library where the original versions are kept.

Geoffrey Chaucer's work - worth 4.6m - is made up of 24 stories told by pilgrims who are travelling from London to the shrine of St Thomas a Beckett in Canterbury.

It has been a best seller since William Caxton first printed the stories - including The Miller's Tale and The Wife of Bath - in the 15th century.

It is hoped the digitisation of the volume on the 603rd anniversary of its author's death will make it easier for scholars and the public to access it.


Chaucer's work is celebrated as much for its use of language as for the timelessness of its characters.

The BBC recently updated The Canterbury Tales, believed to be the first book ever printed in England, for television.

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

The Canterbury Tales - BBC
The BBC recently recreated the tales for modern times
A team from Keio University in Tokyo, the project's sponsor, have photographed the work into 1,300 high-definition images which have been 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, has also been 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.

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