A Venetian Story, Lord Byron, The Allen Press (1963)

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 Pilgrimagealong 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

Pictures

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A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Prospectus
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Solander Box
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of Solander Box
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Portfolio
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of Portfolio
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, End Paper
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of End Paper
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Illustration #1 and Text
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of Sample Illustration #1
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Introduction with Initial Lettering
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of Intro Text
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Half-Title
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Frontispiece
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of Frontispiece
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Colophon & Biographical Note
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of Biographical Note
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Illustration #2
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Text #1 with Decoration
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of Decoration from Sample Text #1
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Illustration #3
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Text #2 with Decoration
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Illustration #4
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Text #3 with Decoration
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Macro of Sample Text #3 Decoration
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Text #4 with Decoration
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Illustration #5
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Text #5 with Decoration
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Text #6 with Decoration
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Text #7 with Decoration
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Text #8 with Decoration
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Sample Illustration #6
A Venetian Story, The Allen Press, Endpaper

8 thoughts on “A Venetian Story, Lord Byron, The Allen Press (1963)

  1. Love owning this book! As charming as the poem itself is, I love to pour over the fabulous illustrations not infrequently. At some point I’d like to frame the four bonus duplicate prints and hang them in my dining room opposite a tapestry showing the Doge’s palace and adjacent structures. My godfather who gave me the tapestry also did a painting from it which sadly seems to be lost, or it would make for quite display! With Quartet that makes two AP books, time to lay aside funds for a third!

  2. This book reinforces what I have thought about the Allens since I first discovered their work: they are not so much publishers as artists of the Book. Often, the content of the book itself is not so important, but the overall design and execution is what makes the book a work of art in itself.

  3. If I were at the age to begin a new collection of fine press books, it would certainly be those of the Allen Presss. So many young collectors, including my younger self, get bogged down with below par books from Easton or the Folio Society. One book from the Allen Press is worth all 100 (or more) of the Easton Press Greatest Books: greatest ever writtrn but not yhe greatest printed. The lesson from this is to be discriminating in collecting. It is not how many books you posses, but the quality of the ones you do have,

    1. As a collector of fine press, I agree Don; though as a lover of literature first I think it is great that EP and Folio provide access to outstanding works of literature in nice volumes, to a much broader audience then could ever get Allen Press, Arion, Barbarian, Golden Cockerel and even LEC. I think they do a great job at their price point, and for those just wanting very nice editions to collect and actually read, they are fantastic. Now those into the ‘book as art’ or as the pinnacle of a craft, then certainly looking at fine press is the way to go.

    2. I’m not sure I would describe Folio Society books as ‘below par’ Don. The Allen press and The Folio Society are two different things.

      The Allen Press were two exceptionally talented people with the skills, artistic vision, resources, time and desire that spent their lives slowly producing small editions of books using methods that resulted in very beautiful (and expensive) ‘objets ‘d’art’ that are at the pinnacle of book production, which some people are fortunate enough to own and many others admire, but can’t afford (and in any case the amount of people that can own them is limited to the small limitations of this type of book).

      The Folio Society understands that many people want well designed, illustrated and produced books, but at a price point that many can afford.

      The two different visions, by definition, mean that the end products will be quite different to each other.

      Due to the number of books a business like The Folio Society publish, they will have some ‘hits’ and some ‘misses’. In my experience they have far more ‘hits’. The best of The Folio Society books exhibit design and typography standards that are every bit as good as those from many private presses. They don’t have the same quality of material (hand-made paper etc), they are not hand-set, they are not letterpress printed and the illustrations are usually reproductions (although often commissioned and original) – but, in many cases, they are well designed, well produced volumes that are a pleasure to read. For what they are in relation to their stated objectives, they can be exceptional books.

      Hindsight has a habit of being 100% accurate!, but we all go through life gaining knowledge and sometimes increasing our ability to afford better things. I would own many more private/fine press books had I known about them earlier and been able to afford them – or had the patience to save and buy one or two books a year. I think I probably had an experience that many people have of discovering literature and as a ‘side issue’, learning about design, production values and typography and, in turn, becoming more discerning as I got older. During this process I discovered The Folio Society and their books widened my reading experience and gave me my first lessons in typography, design, illustrative art, and production values, and for that I am grateful. The collection of books I have ended up with goes from a humble paperback to some of the finest private press books I can afford. I can’t go back in time and change that – and have no desire to do so. Each and every book I have bought was for a reason and I can honestly say that some of my more ‘humble’ purchases have given me as much joy as some of my more expensive ones. As a collection they hold memories about my past that I wouldn’t want to discard.

      The Folio Society does not aspire to be The Allen Press. I would love to own all of The Allen press books (what bibliophile wouldn’t?), but never will. That does not make Folio Society books ‘sub par’.

  4. The L&D Allen Press edition of Lord Byron’s ‘A Venetian Story’ is one of their most beautiful and highly sought after publications, and with good reason. It is flawless in concept, choice of materials, and execution. The illustrations reproduced from rare eighteenth century copperplate engravings in the Harvard College Library are stunning and the presswork, as usual, is beyond compare. This book certainly ranks amongst my top half dozen in the Allen Press body of work performed over half a century. It is still difficult for me to grasp that these books were produced one page at a time on a 19th century hand press by only two extraordinarily dedicated and talented individuals.

  5. I agree with you Chris. I do not own any Allen Press books, but as a result of Book and Vines (and DlphcOracl) I have made a point of looking through the few that can be found in UK bookshops.

    They were always discerning in their choices of text and illustrator/illustrations and their design and production values put them, in my opinion, amongst the very best of the private presses from any country at any time.

    They don’t appear to be particularly well known here, but those that do know about them always speak very highly of them

    The images you have taken for this edition do get the beauty of the printing across and I could look at that ‘A’ all day; and every now and then it it’s always entertaining to read something from a maverick like Byron!

    Great to see another article about The Allen Press.

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