Birmingham: John Baskerville, 1758. Two octavo volumes, measuring 8.75 x 5.5 inches: , 416; , lxix, , 3-390. Full contemporary calf, raised bands, red morocco spine labels ruled and lettered in gilt. Inscription of subscriber Abraham Darby to front pastedowns; ownership signature of Sarah Darby to title pages. Tiny wormhole to lower margin of Volume II, not affecting text; expert repair to spines; small chip to foot of Paradise Regain’d. With publisher’s octavo prospectus, measuring 7.75 x 5.25 inches: . Prospectus disbound and creased, with trace of paper wrapper at spine; a few stray spots to title.
First edition of John Baskerville’s edition of John Milton’s major works, an original subscriber’s copy, accompanied by Baskerville’s prospectus for the book. An eccentric Birmingham industrialist who made his fortune manufacturing Japanware, Baskerville never made much profit from his sideline as a self-taught type-founder and printer, but his innovations in type design, printing technology, and book design had far-reaching impact. His typeface was generously proportioned, with clean edges and high contrast. Baskerville’s modern sense of proportion extended beyond type to the layout of the page itself, where a striking use of white space and absence of ornament displayed his printing to advantage. Baskerville’s prospectus contains the first appearance of his preface to Milton, in which he outlines his own publishing project: “It is not my desire to print many books; but those, books of Consequence, of intrinsic merit, or established Reputation, such as the public may be pleased to see in an elegant dress, and to purchase at such a price, as will repay the extraordinary care and expence which must necessarily be bestowed upon them.” Baskerville’s Milton did in fact please the public: the subscription list in the first volume runs to eighteen pages, and includes the names of William Blackstone, Erasmus Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, and Horace Walpole. This copy belonged to original subscriber Abraham Darby (1711-1763), partner in the Coalbrookdale ironworks in Shropshire; he has signed and dated the front pastedown of each volume. The title pages bear the signature of his daughter Sarah Darby (1752-1821), who assumed control of the Coalbrookdale Company after the death of her brother, making her an early woman industrialist. Gaskell 4.a (Paradise Lost), 5.a (Paradise Regain’d), and vii.b (prospectus). Cancels as called for in both Milton volumes. Gaskell records four states of the prospectus; this is the second. An excellent subscriber’s copy of an important edition, complete with Baskerville’s scarce prospectus.