HOLDING the VISION: Collecting the Art of the Book In the Industrial North West

Monday 10 February 2020

HOLDING the VISION:

Collecting the Art of the Book In the Industrial North West

Dr Cynthia Johnston and the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery open up the art of the book from hidden collections in the North West.
31 January- 16 May 2020

 

Left and Right: William Morris, The Life and Death of Jason: a poem, (Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1895), ink on paper, 300 x 220 x 43mm, the Harris Private Press Collection (Haslam bequest), the Harris Museum and Library

Featuring: William Morris’ Kelmscott Press, illustrations by Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane and Harry Rountree, and an unidentified plot written on notepaper from Charles Dickens’ home, Gad’s Hill Place.

Dr Cynthia Johnston, Lecturer in Book History and Communications, with Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery has opened of Holding the Vision: Collecting the Art of the Book in the Industrial North West, the first major exhibition to explore the hidden collections of rare books in the North West. Featuring collections held by the Harris Museum, Preston, the Blackburn with Darwen Library and Information Service, Blackburn, Towneley Hall Museum and Art Gallery, Burnley and the Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, the exhibition tells the stories of the books themselves and the people who collected them.

The books and illustrations displayed in this exhibition come from collections created during the first half of the twentieth century by men whose lives began towards the close of the Victorian era and end with the Second World War. James Dunn of Blackburn (1857-1943), John Henry Spencer (1875-1952) and Joseph Pomfret (1878-1944) both of Preston, and Edwin James Hardcastle (1876-1920) of Halifax created substantial collections of rare books and illustrations.

The money these collectors spent was generated by the Industrial Revolution, directly, from employment in the cotton mills, and indirectly, through the supply of goods or services to those who had money to spend. Not one of these individuals fits the profile of the wealthy mill owner spending his way into a cultured elite class. While each of them had some expendable income, none had the deep pockets of well-known collectors of the North West like Mrs. Henrietta Rylands of Manchester or Lord Lever of Bolton. Blackburn’s most well-known collector of both books and coins, the rope-maker Robert Edward Hart (1878-1946), had far more money at his disposal than the group of collectors who are the focus of this exhibition. James Dunn worked in the family drapery business in the centre of thriving Blackburn, John Henry Spencer as the ‘Engineer’s Foreign Language Clerk’ for a cotton mill in Preston, Joseph Pomfret, originally from Blackburn, worked as Preston Borough Librarian, and directed the newly established Harris Free Library in Preston, and Edwin James Hardcastle, worked for the family’s umbrella manufacturing business, the Crown Umbrella Works, owned by his father, Wright Hardcastle.

Above: (left) Anatole France, The Revolt of the Rebel Angels, translated by Mrs. Wilfrid Jackson, illustrated by Frank C. Pape, (London: John Lane at the Bodley Head, 1914), ink on paper, 245 x 160 x 38mm, the Harris Private Press Collection, the Harris Museum and Library, , (right) Harold Copping (1863- 1932), The Brothers, watercolour, ink, gouache on card, 20.3 x 30.3cm, the Edwin James Hardcastle Collection of Original Art for Book Illustrations, Towneley Hall Museum and Art Gallery

Each of the collections in this exhibition feature illustrated books, a key attribute for those who sought them out. For while we now admire these books and their art through the glass of a case, most once sat on modest book shelves in ordinary homes. They were read and held in the hands of their owners, poured over by firelight, or as one later recollected, until the candle for the evening had burnt to its end.

This exhibition brings these collections together for the first time, and opens up the art they hold, to the public that they were intended to delight when they were bequeathed to the people of the region over 70 years ago.

 

Above: (left) The Reaper, by S. B. De La Bete, watercolour and pencil on paper, 17 x 23.5cm, the Edwin James Hardcastle Collection of Original Art for Book Illustrations, Towneley Hall Museum and Art Gallery, Burnley and (right) Edward Harding, Costume of the Russian Empire, London, 1811, printed by Thomas Bensley for John Stockdale, hand-coloured engravings, ink on paper, 373 x 276 x 48mm, the James Dunn Collection, Blackburn with Darwen Library and Information Service.

An interview with Jacquie Crosby, head of the Lancashire County Archives, can be seen here.

Exhibition Credits

The exhibition has been curated by Dr Cynthia Johnston at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. The exhibition and catalogue have been made possible by the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art, the Society of Antiquaries and Arts Council England.

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery is the local museum service for the borough of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

https://blackburnmuseum.org.uk/

 

Left: Anonymous plot written on stationery from Charles Dickens’ home, Gad’s Hill Place, from a volume of correspondence between the writer, Percy Fitzgerald, and various members of the Charles Dickens family, James Dunn Collection, the Blackburn with Darwen Library and Information Service