Every time I stumble across a book from the L&D Allen Press, I am more and more convinced they are truly one of the all time greats in the fine press world. Their choice of works to publish was almost always spot on and the end quality of each work was consistently outstanding. Their publications look, feel and read almost perfectly. The methods used in creating these works can only be described as classic, text-book fine press. Everything hand done, using the finest of papers, with excellent design and typography. The latest work from Lewis and Dorothy Allen to be highlighted on Books and Vines will no doubt help prove the point.
A Venetian Story was written by Lord Byron in 1817 during his three ‘romantic and notorious’ years in Venice. This long, narrative poem, based on a true anecdote, was told to Byron by the husband of his amour. The poem tells the story of a Laura, a lady from Venice, whose husband, Beppo, was thought lost at sea, having been missing for three years. She eventually ends up with another man (‘the Count’) as her Cavalier Servente (lover), which was standard custom in Venice at the time. It turns out that Beppo is alive; he had been captured and enslaved but escaped with a band of pirates, with whom he made much money. He returns and reclaims his wife. As Laura returns to Beppo, he and the Count become friends.
As mentioned in the prospectus for this edition, A Venetian Story, when published in 1818, became immediately popular as a lively and witty account of Venetians in their Golden Age. Its comparison of English morals to that in Venice is done in a splendid fashion. While Laura’s actions fit well within Venetian custom, in England such conduct would be considered adultery. Byron forces one to question which custom is more beneficial — with him clearly on the side of the Venetians.
Lord Byron (1788-1824) remains one of the most important, influential and widely read Romantic poets. His narrative poem Don Juan is one of the most important poems ever written in English. Another narrative poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, along with a number of shorter poems, such as She Walks in Beauty, are very highly thought of and popular to this day. Byron’s personal life was certainly colorful. Byron spent most of his life running up huge debts. He was known to have numerous love affairs including, rumor has it, a liaison with his half-sister. He left England in 1816, mostly to escape allegations of sodomy and incest. The Greeks consider him a national hero, as Byron traveled to Greece to fight against the Ottoman Empire in the Greek War of Independence. Byron died at 36 years old, of a fever contracted when he was in Greece.
The reproduction quality of the eighteenth century copperplate engravings is outstanding. The paper has fantastic texture (be sure to select one of the macro shots below, which will enlarge the picture showing you the texture) and seems perfect for highlighting the text and illustrations. The large size of the paper allows the entire work to shine at a scale appropriate to ease of reading and beauty of execution. As with many Allen Press books, initial lettering is fantastic; in this case the ‘V’ in the introduction, as shown below. Simply marvelous design.
About the Edition
- Includes 35 illustrations reproduced from eighteenth century copperplate engravings selected from three rare volumes personally collected by Philip Hofer of the Harvard College Library; illustrations reproduced by The Meriden Gravure Company
- Series of vignettes on the text pages are details from various plates in the Gran Teatro, Marieschi and Canaletto-Visentini albums not included in the 35 full page illustrations in the book
- Hofer and Eleanor M. Garvey provide an informative introduction covering details of the engravings
- These are large plates, averaging 10″ high by 15″ wide
- Produced by hand in two colors: Goudy Modern & Cochin types, hand-set; all-rag, mould made Rives paper from France, printed damp on an Acorn-Smith handpress
- Pages are 13″ by 19″ and are unsewn in the French manner
- Contained in a portfolio, from The Allen Press bindery, covered in a Fortuny print of eighteenth century design, hand-blocked in Venice
- The portfolio is enclosed in a hinged box covered in a rich, golden-brown cloth, and lined with a blue-gray binders’ suede; all imported from Paris
- Originally $40 on release in 1963
- Limited to 150 copies, 138 for sale
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