Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, Allen Press (1988) and Limited Editions Club (1940)

{Ed. Note: Updated on 1/12/2015 with pictures of the Allen Press Deluxe edition, thanks to Jen Lindsay who was the binder for these special editions.}

Romeo and Juliet is, along with Hamlet, the most well known and performed of William Shakespeare‘s plays. Its tragic plot and theme of young love struggling against fate and/or chance is woven into the minds of anyone with even a basic level of familiarization of Western literature. The genesis of the plot stems from an Italian tale called the story of Mariotto and Gianozza by Masuccio Salernitano written in 1476.  Salernitano’s tale was adapted by a couple more Italian writers over the next eighty years, at which point, in 1559, Pierre Boaistuau translated and adapted the tale into French. In 1562, Boaistuau’s version was then translated into English verse by Arthur Brooke as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, from which Shakespeare altered and expanded into the great work that we know today. Shakespeare wrote this early in his career, sometime between 1591-1595, when he was about 30 years old. The first printed copy (Quarto 1) was produced in 1597 though it is quite flawed. Quarto 2 from 1599 is considered the definitive version from which all future editions are based.

The genius of Shakespeare is readily apparent in the first pages of the play. Has ‘love’ ever been better described?

Love, is a smoake made from the fume of sighes,
Being purg’d , a fire sparkling in Lovers eyes,
Being vext, a Sea nourisht with Lovers teares,
What is it else? a madnesse, most discreet,
A choking gull, and a preserving sweet…

Or a young mans yearning when he sees real beauty that trumps any seen before?

O she doth teach the Torches to burne bright:
It seemes she hangs upon the cheeke of night,
Like a rich Jewel in an Æthiops care:
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too deare…
Did my heart love till now, forsweare it sight,
For I were saw true Beauty till this night.

Juliet speaks the most famous lines from the play when she says:

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

and:

What’s in a name? that which we call a Rose
By any other name would smell as sweete…

and:

My bounty is as boundlesse as the Sea,
My Love as deepe, the more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are Infinite:

The ease of the eloquence of Shakespeare is on display throughout the poem, as is shown here when Friar Laurence comes across Romeo awake early in the morning:

Young Sonne, it argues a distempered head,
So soone to bid goodmorrow to thy bed;
Care keeps his watch in every old mans eye;
And where Care lodges, sleepe will never lye:
But where unbrused youth with unstuft braine
Doth couch his lims, there, golden sleepe doth raigne;
Therefore thy earlinesse doth me assure,
Thou art cuprous’d by some distemprature;
Or if not so, then here I hit it right.
Our Romeo hath not beene in bed to night.

Shakespeare’s mastery of words is only equalled by his insight and wisdom, the combination of which is what makes him the greatest playwright the world has ever seen. As for insight, here is Friar Lawrence, in learning of Romeo’s love for Juliet and his forgetting of Rosalind:

young mens Love then lies
Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes...

As for wisdom, the misery that would be saved in this world if all would keep in mind:

These violent delights have violent endes,
And in their triumph die like fire and powder;
Which as they kisse consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his owne deliciousnesse,
And in the taste confoundes the appetite.
Therefore Love moderately, long Love doth so,
Too swift arrives as trade as too slow.

Has philosophy ever been better complemented than in this concise statement below?

Adversities sweete milke, Philosophie

With Shakespeare’s descriptive power, imagery knows no bounds. When Juliet’s father sees her dead:

Let me see her: out alas shee’s cold,
Her blood is setled and her joynts are stiffe:
Life and these lips have long bene separated:
Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.

Romeo drinks the poison in the West’s most famous suicide:

Heere’s to my Love. O true Apothecary:
Thy drugs are quicke.  Thus with a kisse I die.

Escalus, prince of Verona, tells the warring families:

See what a scourge is laide upon your hate,
That Heaven finds meanes to kill your joyes with Love;

The story comes to a close, as beautifully written as it started.

A glooming peace this morning with it brings,
The Sunne for sorrow will not shew his head

For never was a Storie of more Wo,
Then this of Juliet, and her Romeo.

This article takes a look at two fine press editions of Romeo and Juliet. Both are nicely done, though I would not say either comes real close to being worthy of the play itself. The first edition we will look at is from the Allen Press of Lewis and Dorothy Allen. Readers of Books and Vines know Allen Press as one of the greatest American fine presses of the twentieth century. A bibliography of the press is here, with links to many reviews. Romeo and Juliet was done in the twilight of the Allens’ career, being published in 1988 as their 54th (of 58) publications. We will then take a look at the Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition of Romeo and Juliet from 1940, it being part of the marvelous Bruce Rogers designed thirty seven volume The Plays of William Shakespeare.

The Allen Press Edition

Designed, printed and bound in 1988 by Lewis and Dorothy Allen, this edition, like almost all Allen Press publications, is completely hand-made and livened up by judicious and appealing use of color. The text is based on the second Quarto, with a few word changes to “render the drama more intelligible” to modern readers. There are pen and ink drawings introducing each of the five scenes done by French artist Michéle Forgeois, who tells us in the preface that:

It was my wish that the five drawings would be in the manner of Inter-Hearts — the heraldry of family arms always in the same ‘heart-passion’ which provides the framework sustaining the text, a text whose richness flows and supports me in explosion and identification — in exaltation.

Frankly, I am not sure I understand exactly what Mr. Forgeois means by this. Nor can I say I understand the illustrations shown below, though for your benefit I have included his own descriptions of such, so perhaps you can enlighten me.

Mark Livingston provides calligraphic initials to introduce color to every text page in the margins. I really do like this device, as it adds beauty and continuity to the text. Speaking of text, it is done in Monotype Bembo (based on that originally cut by Aldus Manutius) set by Mackenzie-Harris and then re-set by hand, with Centaur (designed by Bruce Rogers) for display. The paper is wonderful, it being all-rag, mould-made Rives paper. Like always with Allen Press works, it was printed damp, this time on their 1882 Albion handpress. The book is bound in cloth, light gray over the front boards and spine, and a panel of black on the back board, with title printed in vermilion on the gray (note, there were 10 special copies hand-bound in full manuscript vellum). There were 115 copies produced in total. This is a fairly difficult book to find in the resale market, and will usually cost you between $500-700 if you can find it. While I am not a huge fan of the illustrations (though I must say, if you look below, on the pages with the illustrations and scene openings it all does come together pretty beautifully), I am a huge fan of Allen Press, so you can count me as a fan of this edition.

About the Edition (Allen Press)

  • Designed, printed and bound in 1988 by Lewis and Dorothy Allen
  • Text based on the second Quarto, with a few word changes to “render the drama more intelligible” to modern readers
  • Pen and Ink drawings by Michéle Forgeois
  • Calligraphic initials by Mark Livingston
  • Monotype Bembo (based on that originally cut by Aldus Manutius) set by Mackenzie-Harris and re-set by hand, with Centaur (designed by Bruce Rogers) for display
  • All-rag, mould-made Rives paper
  • Printed damp on an 1882 Albion handpress
  • Bound in cloth, light gray over the front boards and spine, and a panel of black on the back board, with title printed in vermilion on the gray (note, there were 10 special copies hand-bound in full manuscript vellum by Jen Lindsay, which are also shown below)
  • 144 pages, 11″ x 7″
  • Limited to 115 copies

Pictures of the Edition (Allen Press)

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. 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 or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

{Ed. Note: For a few pictures and background on the Special Deluxe binding, see below the pictures of the standard edition.}

Romeo and Juliet,,Allen Press, Book in Slipcase
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Book in Slipcase
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Spine and Covers
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Spine (Standard Edition) and Covers
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Spine
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Spine (Standard Edition)
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Side View
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Side View
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Colophon
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Colophon
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, DRAMATIS PERSONÆ
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, DRAMATIS PERSONÆ
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text (The Heart of Conflict – The confrontation between the two families/enemies, symbolized by Samson and Abraham, and illustrating ‘War and Death’)
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Text Scene 1
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Text #1 with Calligraphy
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Text #1 with Calligraphy
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text (
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text (The Heart of Passion – The Vital impulse of love. The meeting ‘Romeo and Juliet’ above and beyond the conflicts and the pre-judgments and hatred of their families)
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text (The Heart of Captivity – Marriage and operation. A double tearing apart, exalted by the negation of their secret nuptial feast)
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Text Marco #2
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Text Marco #2
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #4 with Text (The Heart of Illusion – Liberating poison, fusing Heavan and Hell. The promise of illumination from Friar Laurence; and the omnipresent tragedy of their destiny).
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #5 with Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #5 with Text (The Heart of Triumphant Sepulcher – ‘The Palace of the Night’ where Romeo and Juliet rejoin and renourish their love for eternity)

The Special Deluxe Edition:

As mentioned above, there were 10 special copies hand-bound in full manuscript vellum by Jen Lindsay. Ms. Lindsay gave me some background on this:

On a visit in 1988 to Lewis and Dorothy in San Francisco (with my friend and colleague Denise Lubett, who had done several one-off designed bookbindings for them), I had with me a limp vellum binding which I had done on a copy of ‘Messer Pietro Mio’ (1987), a limited edition from The Libanus Press in Marlborough, Wiltshire, England. They were much taken with it and asked me to bind ten copies of their forthcoming Romeo and Juliet similarly.  The stitching going through the front and rear covers at head and at tail is done with pearl threading silk and serves a structural as well as decorative function.The title lettering was done by the calligrapher, Alison Urwick (Banbury, Oxfordshire, England).

These copies sold at $700 as opposed to $310 for the standard edition. I think you will see below, however, that these were well worth the extra cost. They are simply beautiful. I think it is nearly impossible to ever find one of these for sale.  If you find such, do let me know so I can do my best to add it to the Books and Vines library! Thank you to Ms. Lindsay for providing these pictures.

Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Spine (Deluxe Edition) and Covers
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Spine (Special Edition) and Covers
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Spine (Deluxe Edition)
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Spine (Deluxe Edition)
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Deluxe Edition
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Special Edition

The Limited Editions Club Edition

This edition of Romeo and Juliet is part of the marvelous 1939/1940 thirty seven volume The Plays of William Shakespeare by the Limited Editions Club (LEC), which was designed by the great Bruce Rogers. Like all editions in this set, it uses the text of the First Folio, with Quarto insertions, edited and amended where obscure by Herbert Farjeon. The type is an 18 point close facsimile of Janson, made by the Lanston Monotype Company, with the italic used being a creation of the Monotype Company since Bruce Rogers did not like the Janson 18 point italic; italic small capitals were made by re-cutting the Italic capitals of the Monotype Garamond Bold in a special size and with slight alterations of a few of the characters with a close new type face. It is bound with gilt tops and uncut edges in backs of American linen, with the titles stamped in gold on the spine. The cover design is based on a decorative wall design in a house that that Shakespeare was thought to have stayed at frequently.

A different artist was used for each of the 37 volumes in this set. Romeo and Juliet was illustrated by American artist Ervine Metzl. Metzl is mostly known as an illustrator of posters and postage stamps in the first half of the twentieth century. His only other work for the LEC was in 1952’s The Evergreen Tales, for Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. For Romeo and JulietMetzl did line drawings, focused on the characters. I have to say, like in the Allen Press book above, I am not a huge fan of these illustrations, though I do like the backgrounds. I do not feel the portraits portray the comedic or tragic elements of the play, and seem somewhat stiff. Perhaps this edition was just fated to struggle with illustrations. George Macy tells us that: 

We had originally arranged hat these illustrations, for Romeo and Juliet, should be made by a famous French artist named Pierre Falké. He made a series of wood engravings. Greatly to our astonishment, because we know and admire Mr. Falké’s work, because he once illustrated The Three Musketeers for us, we rejected his engravings; we thought them empty of passion and meaning. So Mr. Falké worked them over; he made new drawings, he added color to them. We could only decide that he did not know what Romeo and Juliet looked like, since he always drew them from the rear; and we rejected his second set.

Then we turned to T.M. Cleland, that truly great American artist who draws the scene of the Italian Renaissance so beautifully. Mr. Cleland promised to make the pictures, then had to break his promise; for he was appointed art director of the new New York newspaper, PM, and found himself working day and night upon typographic layouts.

So we turned to Ervine Metzl. Possibly because M. Falké had avoided a definite portraiture of the characters, we encouraged Mr. Metzl to make portraits of the characters. And that is what he did, interesting and provocative portraits of the six leading characters, if the city of Verona can be admissibly considered one of the leading characters, against backgrounds indicative of the importance of each character to the play.

None-the-less, the edition is well worth owning, especially so since the entire set is so worth owning!

About the Edition (Limited Editions Club)

  • Part of the 1939/1940 thirty seven volume The Plays of William Shakespeare by the Limited Editions Club
  • Designed by Bruce Rogers
  • Text of the First Folio, with Quarto insertions, edited and amended where obscure by Herbert Farjeon
  • Illustrations from line drawings by Ervine Metzl
  • Note concerning the play (in the prospectus) by Sir Paul Harvey, from The Oxford Companion to English Literature and a second by William Allan Neilson, from The Cambridge Shakespeare
  • Preface to the play (in the prospectus) by Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, from “Ariosto, Shakespeare, and Corneille” (Holt 1920)
  • Printed at the Press of A. Colish in New York
  • Type is an 18 point close facsimile of Janson, made by the Lanston Monotype Company, with the italic used being a creation of the Monotype Company since Rogers did not like the Janson 18 point italic; italic small capitals were made by re-cutting the Italic capitals of the Monotype Garamond Bold in a special size and with slight alterations of a few of the characters with a close new type face
  • New paper created for this edition by the Worthy Paper Company of Springfield
  • The binding was done by Russell-Rutter Company in New York
  • Bound with gilt tops and uncut edges in backs of American linen, with the titles stamped in gold on the spine
  • Cover design based on a decoration wall design in a house that that Shakespeare was thought to have stayed at frequently (a friend of his)
  • 8 3/4″ x 13″, 106 pages
  • Limited to 1950 copies

Pictures of the Edition (Limited Editions Club)

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided, under fair use, to highlight and visualize the review/criticism of the work being reviewed. A side benefit, hopefully, is providing education on the historical and cultural benefits of having a healthy fine press industry and in educating people on the richness that this ‘old school approach’ of book publishing brings to the reading process. Books and Vines has no commercial stake or financial interest in any publisher, retailer or work reviewed on this site and receives no commercial interest or compensation for Books and Vines. 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 or material found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Romeo and Juliet, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine
Romeo and Juliet, Limited Editions Club, Cover and Spine
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Series Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Series Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Frontispiece
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Frontispiece
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Title Page
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Text #1
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Text #1
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Macro of Sample Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #1 (Romeo) with Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #2 (Juliet) with Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Sample Illustration #2 (Juliet) with Text
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Colophon
Romeo and Juliet, Allen Press, Colophon

13 thoughts on “Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, Allen Press (1988) and Limited Editions Club (1940)

  1. The Allen Press edition with the manuscript vellum binding by Jen Lindsay is sensational and you are correct – we will never see one of these ten special editions in our lifetime.

    1. Well, one just sold at Heritage Auctions this past April for only $650 — probably we’ll never see another on offer….

      1. The deluxe binding is just a manuscript sheet that’s been attached to the bound text block at a couple of points. It’s not an integral binding, just a nice loose cover. The attraction is that it is flexible and makes the book pleasant to hold, but it’s also prone to wear.

  2. If you look in the Allen Press Bibliography (I have the Book Club of California edition), you will find that Michele Forgeois is a woman.

  3. As for the Allens, twilight of their career or not, I’m very pleased that they chose such a lovely, readable type for their R&J. (Some of the publications of their prime years used Uncial types which, while fun to look at, are not at all fun to read.)

  4. Chris, is that a custom slipcase on the Allen Press edition? I just recently managed to acquire a copy, after much searching, but mine only has the typical clear acetate jacket.

      1. “Simple”, huh? It matches perfectly, and replicates the Allens’ RJ logo! I wonder if Starr would simply run off another copy for me and ship it?

      2. Hmmm, they may be able to….if you can remind me at the end of the week, I can put you in touch with them (or ask them myself). Would do so now, but I am in travel for work.

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