by Rebecca Rego Barry, reprinted with permission from Fine Books & Collections
This year marks the 350th anniversary of the publication of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The sixteenth-century Buckinghamshire house where he completed the epic poem is now a museum known as Milton’s Cottage, which debuts today an exhibition titled Paradise Lost & the Private Presses. Curated by James Freemantle, who collects private press books (see his Bright Young Collector profile), the exhibition focuses on editions of Paradise Lost from the likes of Doves Press, Golden Cockerel Press, and Arion Press, among others.
As stated in the introduction to the 80-page illustrated exhibition catalogue: “The aim of this exhibition is to show a selection of fine printing produced during the twentieth century … through the choicest private press editions of Milton’s Paradise Lost.”
In addition to the books on display, broadsides specially commissioned for the exhibition will be on show from Nomad Letterpress and The Salvage Press, as well as artwork by Florian Bertmer. The exhibition also features ephemeral items, such as vellum printed leaves, trial pages, prospectuses, and original artwork.
In the catalogue’s Curator’s Note, Freemantle explained his reason for undertaking such an exhibition: “My own interest in Paradise Lost began at school, whilst studying Books I and II as part of my English Literature A-levels. We were using an edition edited by John Broadbent (Cambridge Milton Series for Schools and Colleges) and the cover featured an illustration by William Blake. The image fascinated and stayed with me, as did the story and the imagery it evoked, and in the years following I began to collect antiquarian illustrated copies of Paradise Lost. I had never heard of the Golden Cockerel Press before, nor the Doves Press, but on discovering their editions of the poem I was transported into the world of private press printing and it has become a passion ever since. It is therefore a pleasure to be combining these two passions, Paradise Lost and private presses, into one exhibition.”
The exhibition remains on view through September 30.
Images: Renderings from the exhibition catalogue, courtesy of James Freemantle.
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