Allen Press, of Lewis and Dorothy Allen

{Ed Note:  The following article is another contribution by reader DlphcOracl. Initially written as a comment to a previous post concerning Foolscap Press, DlphcOracl was kind enough to expand on that with photographs and colophon information.  The photos sent to me had spectacular resolution; hopefully the quality still comes through the importing, compression and posting process.}

{Ed Note II, 9/22/2011:  Information and photographs of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue has been added to the bottom of this post.}

Lewis and Dorothy’s Allen Press was one of the finest private presses in the world throughout the 20th Century. This was a remarkable enterprise and was quite literally a “mom and pop” affair with Lewis and Dorothy Allen making each book entirely on their own using either an 1830 Acorn-Smith handpress or an 1846 Columbian handpress in their home. The paper for each book was handmade or mouldmade, each page was printed damp to give it a distinct tactile as well as visual impression, with Dorothy Allen doing the hand sewn bindings.

The first book they published in 1940 called The Trail of Beauty was an homage to Lewis Allen’s father and was a collection of his maxims and philosophical thoughts gathered throughout a lifetime of experience and travel. He had worked for the Grabhorn Press in the early part of the 20th Century. For two decades thereafter they published modest volumes, many as commissions from the Book Club of California. They continued in this manner until 1957 when they decided to make this their full time vocation and pursue making handmade books of the highest quality. At this point they sold everything in California, took a sabbatical and moved to France to learn as much as possible about handmade papers and the art of printing books by hand using the letterpress. When they returned two years later they began making books of extraordinary quality, beginning with their folio-sized edition of Joseph Conrad’s short story Youth in 1959. This marked the beginning of what I refer to as their “Great Folio Series”. From 1959 through 1980 they produced handmade, folio-sized books of the highest quality imaginable, all using handmade papers and materials, printed using a 19th century handpress on dampened paper.

In all, they continued their work until they were well into their 70′s. After over a half century of working by themselves and printing 58 books entirely by hand they finally retired in 1992. This was truly a remarkable enterprise and they have left behind a body of work that is of unquestioned and uncompromising quality. Because they did not have a staff to assist them several characteristics are common to each book:

  1. Most of the volumes were less than 150 pages and they were unable to produce large-scale works such as ‘Ulysses’ or ‘Don Quixote’.
  2. They only published one book each year in most years. Because of this, they could not publish obscure books or books of narrow interest. Fortunately,they didn’t. More than any other private press they consistently published books of classic works or overlooked and forgotten works that were well worth rediscovering.
  3. All of their books were published in small runs of 100 to 150 books per title.

If you are not familiar with the Allen Press you are about to embark upon a wonderful journey and will discover some extraordinary handmade private press books.  Enjoy the pictures and edition information from nine representative Allen Press books below!

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Persian Stories from the Arabian Nights (1980) 

  • Pages measure 13 by 8 ½ inches, Pagination: Pp. 34 in folder 1; 26 in folder 2; 34 in folder 3 (all unnumbered).
  • The binding is in the tradition of the French edition de luxe: the sheets are unsewn and sections gathered in three folders of green all-rag Canson & Montgolfier cover paper from France; these are contained in a hinged box covered with a silk-like fabric imported from Paris.  Green label with title in blue.
  • The text type-face is Arrighi, based on an Italian Renaissance cursive, set by Monotype, then re-set by hand.
  • The all-rag paper was handmade and watermarked in England exclusively for the Allen Press at St. Cuthberts Mill in England, and printed damp on an 1846.
  • Columbian handpress.  There are twelve Persian calligraphic symbols and figures stamped in 23 carat gold leaf.  There are seven full-column pen and ink drawings, Islamic in style by the noted artist Michele Forgeois, an official artist of the French government.
Persian Stories from the Arabian Nights, Allen Press, Solander Box
Persian Stories from the Arabian Nights, Allen Press, Folders
Persian Stories from the Arabian Nights, Allen Press, Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
“The Transposed Heads” by Thomas Mann (1977)
  • Book measures 13 by 8 ½ inches, 108 pages, limited to 140 copies.
  • Type face is Goudy Thirty, set by hand.  All-rag paper was made by hand at St. Cuthberts Mill in England, to our specifications, including watermark of this Press.
  • Paper was printed damp on an 1846 model Columbian handpress.
  • Fifteen illustrative decorations are by early Indian artists, printed in black over a mustard color tint block with an orange color inner frame.
  • Cloth for the binding was hand-blocked in India.
The Transposed Heads, Allen Press, Cover
The Transposed Heads, Allen Press, Title Page
The Transposed Heads, Allen Press, Sample Page with Text and Illustration
“Quartet”: Four Stories by Edith Wharton (1975)
  • Book measures 13 by 9 inches, 126 pages, limited to 140 copies.
  • Type face is Romanee, designed by Jan Van Krimpen for Joh. Enschede en Zonen of the Netherlands, set by hand.  The display type is Dorchester Script.
  • All-rag paper from St. Cuthberts Mill in England, handmade to our specifications with the watermark of the Allen Press, printed damp on a Columbian hand press made in England in 1846.  The binding cloth is Fortuny, hand-blocked in Venice.
Quartet, Allen Press, Cover
Quartet, Allen Press, Title Page
Quartet, Allen Press, Sample Pages with Text and Illustration
“The Bacchae” by Euripides (1972)
  • Book measures 14 by 10 inches, ninety pages, limited to 130 copies.
  • Type faces are Unciala for the text and Solemnis for display, both set by hand.
  • All-rag paper made by hand especially for the Allen Press and so watermarked, at the Richard de Bas mill established 1326 in France.
  • Paper was printed damp on a 1846 model Columbian handpress.
  • Binding hand-sewn on tapes is an unusual combination of five pieces: for the spine (and slip-cases), olive green cloth from Paris; for the sides, a black strip of All-rag Italian paper with the title stamped in gold; the balance of the sides are covered with a rich brown, grained wood veneer.
  • Three full-page three-color etchings by French artist Michele Forgeois, printed by hand at the Atelier Clot Bramsen et Georges, Paris.
  • The etchings are numbered, signed by the artist, registered in Paris, and the plates cancelled.
The Bacchae, Allen Press, Cover
The Bacchae, Allen Press, Sample Illustration
The Bacchae, Allen Press, Sample Text
“Jealousy” by Alain Robbe-Grillet (1971)
  • Book measures 11 by 8 ½ inches,  56 pages unnumbered, limited to 140 copies.
  • Text type face is Univers, set by hand; display type is Garamont.
  • All rag paper made by hand at the Wookey Hole Mill in England, to our specifications, with watermark of the Allen Press.
  • Printed damp on an 1846 Columbian handpress.
  • All-rag cover (binding) paper is Charter Oak, also hand made in England.
  • Pen and ink drawings and illustrations by Michele Forgeois.
Jealousy, Allen Press, Cover
Jealousy, Allen Press, Sample Illustration
Jealousy, Allen Press, Sample Text
The Book of Genesis (King James version) – This is one the Allen Press’ most spectacular editions and one of my personal favorites.
  • Book measures 13 by 9 inches, 120 pages. Limited to 140 copies (only 136 for sale).
  • Type face  is Menhart Unciala, set by hand, founded on sixth century manuscript forms.
  • Decorative page headings in Hebrew calligraphy are sentences from the first chapeter of Genesis.
  • All-rag paper is Umbria, made by hand in Italy, printed damp on an 1846 Columbian handpress.
  • End papers are oriental handmade, in emerald green.
  • Guard sheets for the engravings (illustrations) are handmade in the Orient.
  • Twenty-four full page illustrations engraved by Blair Hughes-Stanton at Manningtree, England.
  • Cloth for the binding, of Iranian design, was hand-blocked in Venice by Fortuny.
  • Book is enclosed in a slipcase with a special cloth from Paris.
The Book of Genesis, Allen Press, Cover
The Book of Genesis, Allen Press, Title Page
The Book of Genesis, Allen Press, Sample Page with Text
“The Fall” by Albert Camus (1966)
  • Book measures 15 by 10 inches, 112 pages, limited to 140 copies.
  • Type face is Goudy Modern, hand-set.  Paper is all-rag, mould made Arches from France, printed damp on an 1830 Acorn-Smith handpress.
  • Six almost full-page illustrations and an elaborate title-page decoration by Lewis Allen, involving three to six colors each using wood, linoleum, cloth, and black line.
  • Binding hand-sewn consists of five panels of all-rag paper from Italy.
The Fall, Allen Press, Cover
The Fall, Allen Press, Title Page
The Fall, Allen Press, Sample Page with Text and Illustration
“The Splendid Idle Forties” by Gertrude Atherton (1960)
  • Book measures 13 ½ by 9 ½ inches, 120 pages.  150 copies.
  • Seven very large initials and nineteen divisional ornaments engraved by Mallette Dean, hand-illuminated in a variety of colors by Dorothy Allen.
  • Type face is Romanee, set by hand.  All-rag Rives paper from France, printed damp on an 1830 Acorn handpress.  Ink imported from Germany.
  • Bound in a Fortuny print, hand-blocked in Venice.
The Splendid Idle Forties, Allen Press, Cover
The Splendid Idle Forties, Allen Press, Title Page
The Splendid Idle Forties, Allen Press, Sample Page with Text and Illustrations
‘Youth’ by Joseph Conrad (1959)
  • Edition of 140 copies.  Book measures 16 by 11 inches.  Hand-set in Goudy Modern types and printed  in two colors on an 1830 Acorn-Smith handpress.
  • Handmade paper (printed damp) by the Richard de Bas mill, established 1326 in France.
  • Eight illustrations engraved by English artist Blair Hughes-Stanton, each required nine inkings.
  • Binding, hand sewn on tapes, of full Chatham parchment, handmade in England.

{ED Note:  eventually, I will have a post specific to this edition, once I have a chance to read it and admire it myself!}

Youth, Allen Press, Cover
Youth, Allen Press, Sample Page with Text
Youth, Allen Press, Sample Page with Text and Illustration
Youth, Allen Press, Second Sample Page with Text and Illustration

‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ by Edgar Allen Poe (1958)

  • The typeface is Didot
  • The paper is Richard de Bas, handmade in France
  • Illustrated and printed by on an Albion handpress by Lewis & Dorothy Allen
  • Pagination: Pp. 82; Leaf (page) size, 9 ½ x 6 inches
  • Edition limited to one hundred fifty copies
  • Published at a temporary residence at the Villa El-Nil, Antibes, France, just after the Allen’s had arrived to begin their two year sabbatical in France
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Allen Press, Cover and Spine
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Allen Press, Cover
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Allen Press, Title Page
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Allen Press, Sample Page with Text and Illustration
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Allen Press, Second Sample Page with Text and Illustration
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Allen Press, Third Sample Page with Text and Illustration
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Allen Press, Sample Page with Text
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Allen Press, Colophon

12 thoughts on “Allen Press, of Lewis and Dorothy Allen

  1. I’m seeking information about the Hoe acorn-frame hand press the Allens used, since I believe it may have been acquired by William Beaverson or by UC Santa Cruz after the Allens use of it. I am trying to document its uses for the North American Hand Press Database. If any reader here can cast light on this, please contact me at bobtheham@adlibpress.us. Thanks!

  2. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when not burden by economic woes. I assume making a profit was not a concern.

    1. Thanks to DlphcOracl, I have become a huge fan of Allen Press. Sometime in the coming weeks, look for pictures and a review of Lord Byron’s Venetian Story. Simply a beautiful, stunning work by Allen Press. I am slowly starting to pick up some others, having just gotten Conrad’s Youth, and expecting Tolstoy’s What Men Live By later this week. Hopefully DlphcOracl is reading this and can chime in if he is aware of if they ever made much profit…

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