A NEW major exhibition at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery will explore rare books that have been kept hidden from the public eye.

Holding the Vision: Collecting the Art of the Book in the Industrial North West will run until Saturday, May 16 and features unique books with histories rooted in the North West.

Actor Nickolas Grace opened the exhibition with a reading on Friday.

The books and illustrations displayed in the exhibition are from collections that were created during the early twentieth century.

It features items from John Henry Spencer and Joseph Pomfret, both from Preston, James Dunn from Blackburn, and Edwin James Hardcastle from Halifax, who gathered substantial collections of rare books and illustrations.

The free exhibition contains around 30 books that are usually displayed at The Harris, Preston.

These include a private press book, The Life and Death of Jason, containing an illustration of a poem composed by William Morris in 1867. Printed and crafted by hand by William Morris’ own Kelmscott press in 1895, it was produced on handmade paper and bound in soft vellum.

Another book on display is The Revolt of the Rebel Angels, by Anatole France. This volume was very controversial at the time and resulted in all the author’s books being banned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Several ‘chap books’, small cheap booklets that were sold on the streets, are also being exhibited. These books covered a range of subjects for both children and adults.

Councillor Damian Talbot, Executive Member for Public Health and Wellbeing, said: “It’s fantastic that these books, so rich in history, will now be on display for the public. The exhibition features some striking illustrations and tells the story of the books themselves and the people who collected them.

“We are thrilled to have these books here in Blackburn.”

The exhibition has been curated by Dr Cynthia Johnston from the University of London and has been made possible by the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art, the Society of Antiquaries and Arts Council England.

The exhibition is being supported by staff from Lancashire County Council.