The Allen Press
A Concluding Descriptive Bibliography
By Gary E. Strong
Gary E. Strong is the founder of the California State Library Foundation and founding editor of the Bulletin. He is now retired and lives near Potlatch, Idaho but is still active in bibliophilic and local history circles. A true bibliophile, he has avidly collected the works of California fine presses. Gary has also compiled an index to the Bulletin and we hope to post it on the Foundation’s webpage in the near future. Before retirement, Strong held positions as University Librarian and Director of the University Library at the University of California, Los Angeles (2003–2012); Director of the Queens Borough Public Library in New York City (1994–2003), and State Librarian of California (1980–1994).
The Allen Press was founded in 1939 by Lewis and Dorothy Allen. They began as The Press of Lewis & Dorothy Allen, then The L-D Allen Press, and finally The Allen Press. Initial books were printed in San Francisco and other locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, one book was printed in France, and the last books were printed in Greenbrae (Kentfield), California. The majority of their fine press books were handset, all were printed on handmade all-rag paper, and bound in boards, usually by Dorothy Allen. Lewis Allen was an early member of the Book Club of California. In 1945, the Club commissioned Heraldry of New Helvetia, the first of eight books that would be produced by the Allens. They would print several pieces of ephemera for the Club and Lewis Allen took on the editorship of the Book Club of California’s Quarterly Newsletter. This relationship ensured that The Allen Press would stand alongside the Grabhorn Press, Adrian Wilson, Lawton Kennedy, and the Greenwood Press among other great printers of the Bay Area. The work with the Club established a long and close association with Mallette Dean, artist and printer.
Lewis Allen stated in the introduction to Printing with the Handpress, “One of the supreme pleasures available to man is knowledge, discipline, intelligence guiding the hand to create beautiful and intellectually desirable objects.” Each book created by Dorothy and Lewis Allen live up to this statement. Likewise, their philosophy in selecting the texts for their books was unique. In writing the introduction to their bibliography published in 1981, Allen stated:
“Regarding the subject of texts, as novice book printers it was desirable to establish a standard for their selection. We favored those noted for their readability, depth of thought, imaginative qualities — virtues set forth in ‘The Printers to the Reader’ a preface to Essays of Montaigne, our first title of this caliber. Choice of text was restricted by several factors: they should not be too long, or published in a de luxe edition for many years; they should be unpublished or out of copyright; they should be by a well-known author, and should be prose rather than verse.”
This is what attracted me to their books. I have enjoyed the work of Lewis and Dorothy Allen since first discovering their books in the mid-1990s. I realized that I might be able to build a comprehensive collection of their work. That would lead me to study their techniques and explore those with whom they would collaborate: Mallette Dean, John DePol, Valenti Angelo, and particularly Blair Hughes-Stanton. I was finally able to find the last item in 2007.
In creating this bibliography, I felt that the work of recording their work was incomplete. It is my pleasure to see it published in this issue of the California State Library Foundation Bulletin.
Bibliographies of their work were included in two issues of the Quarterly News-Letter of the Book Club of California. The first by noted collector William P. Barlow, Jr. was published in the Spring 1960 issue entitled, “The Allen Press — A Bibliography.”(1) The introduction to the listing read:
“Established in 1939 by Lewis & Dorothy Allen, the first imprint was The Press of Lewis & Dorothy Allen, then The L-D Allen Press, and finally The Allen Press. Titles 1 to 5 were printed in San Francisco; 6 to 9 in Hillsborough; 10 in Belvedere; 11 in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, France; 12 to 21 in Kentfield. Numbers 10, 11, 13, 15, 18, 22, 23 (and all future books) were printed on a handpress. Number 21 was designed at The Allen Press, but the printing, binding and publishing were done by Mallette Dean while the Allens were living in France. The books were hand-set except number 6, 7, and 20; all were bound in boards, usually by Dorothy Allen; and all titles were published by the Allens except where specified. (All titles are out of print.)”
Corey, special collections curator at the University of San Francisco, continued the bibliography in the Spring 1976 issue of the News-Letter.(2) His bibliography provided descriptions of book 24 (The Splendid Idle Forties, by Gertrude Atherton) through book 42 (All For Love, the Romance of Antony and Cleopatra, by John Dryden). Corey stated:
“Lewis and Dorothy Allen produce a new edition about every nine months. They now publish only for themselves. … All of the items were printed at their home in Kentfield, California.
“No attempt has been made to list ephemera, either by Mr. Barlow or myself.”
The Allens published a bibliography(3) (Item number 46) of their work in 1981 including all of their books from 1939 through 1980. The Book Club of California published a facsimile of The Allen Press Bibliography in 1985.(4) It updated the bibliography with books 47 (Pictures from Italy), 48 & 49 (The Oresteian Trilogy), 50 (Jonah Judith Ruth), 51 (The Poeticon Astronomicon). The Allens added an epilogue. “A Checklist of Allen Press Ephemera” compiled by D. Steven Corey was included.
The Allens would publish seven books from 1986 to 1992. I have provided a listing of the seven herewith. I am not in the league of William Barlow nor Steven Corey, but with apologies, felt the listing of their books should be completed.(5)
52. THE ALLEN PRESS | mcmlxxxvi [ornament of a tree in green, gold, and red] BARLAAM & JOSAPHAT. [Half Title: BARLAAM AND JOSAPHAT | a Christian legend of the Buddha [ornament]
This book is one of an edition of 140 copies. The text typeface is Menhart Unciala, set by hand; the prolegomenon typeface is GARAMOND BOLD. The all-rag paper was handmade and watermarked especially for The Allen Press at the Richard de Bas Mill, France — established 1326. This paper was printed damped on an 1882 model Albion handpress. The Caxton initials were colored by hand by Dorothy Allen. The binding cloth is from Holland. Translated into English and first printed by William Caxton, 1484. | Prolegomenon by Lewis Allen | Designed, printed, and bound by Lewis and Dorothy Allen | Greenbrae, California. [11 by 7 inches. Running heads in red type. Traditional colors of India — vermilion, purple, and mustard. There are two or more colors on every page plus many initials. The press mark of William Caxton and eight illustrations printed in black.]
53. ALEXANDER PUSHKIN | FOUR STORIES | The Squire’s Daughter The Queen of Spades | The Blizzard The Shot | Wood engravings by John DePol [ ornament] Produced by Hand at | THE ALLEN PRESS | Greenbrae, California — 1987. [Half Title: Alexander Pushkin | FOUR STORIES]
This book is one of an edition limited to 145 copies, of which 8 are hors de commerce. The typeface is Monotype Van Dijck, set by MacKenzie-Harris, and re-set by hand; the display typeface for page headings is Garamond Bold. | The all-rag paper was made by hand especially for this edition, at the Richard de Bas Mill, France, and printed damp on an 1882 Albion handpress. | the binding cloth is an eighteenth-century design, printed by silk-screen process in Switzerland. | Designed, printed and bound by Lewis & Dorothy Allen. [There are 112 pages, 11 by 7 inches. The page headings (part Russian language characters and part story title) have a different color for each tale: green for the pastoral The Squire’s Daughter, purple for the flamboyant The Queen of Spades, blue for The Blizzard, and red for dueling in The Shot. Each of the four stories is illustrated with striking wood engravings by the eminent artist John DePol, who has embellished many deluxe editions; also for this book, he engraved a portrait of Pushkin, and a vignette (based on the binding cloth motif) for the title page, hand-colored by Dorothy Allen.]
54. [Set in a heart shape] ROMEO [set in red] | A TRAGEDY BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE | JULIET [set in red] | Pen and Ink Drawings by Michele Forgeois | Calligraphy by Mark Livingston | THE ALLEN PRESS | Printed by Hand | mcmlxxxviii. [Half Title: ROMEO | [Line] | JULIET.]
This book is one of an edition limited to 115 copies. The typeface is Monotype Bembo, based on the type originally cut for Aldus Manutius of Venice in the century preceding Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. For the present edition, the Bembo was set by MacKenzie- Harris and re-set by hand. The display typeface is Centaur, designed by Bruce Rogers. | The all-rag, mould-made paper is Rives, from France, and printed damp on an 1882 Albion handpress. | Binding for the standard edition is a full gray cloth; for ten special copies, full manuscript vellum, bound by hand by Jenifer Lindsay, London. Designed, printed and bound by | Lewis and Dorothy Allen | Greenbrae, California. [There are 144 pages, 11 x 7 inches. Each of the five Acts opens with a full-page provocative and imaginative drawing by Michele Forgeois of Paris, eminent official artist of the French government. To introduce color to every text page, margins are enlivened by a series of calligraphic initials by Mark Livingston.]
55. [Egyptian drawing hand-colored by Dorothy Allen] | Egypt [set in red] | HERODOTUS | THE ALLEN PRESS | Greenbrae, California | mxim. [Half Title: EGYPT | HERODOTUS.]
This book is one of an edition limited to 121copies. | The typefaces are Menhart Unciala for the text and Solemnis for display; both types were set by hand.| The all-rag paper was made by hand especially for The Allen Press, and so watermarked at the Richard de Bas Mill, France, established in 1326. | This paper was printed damp on an Albion handpress made in 1882 in Scotland. | The one hundred percent cotton cloth for binding is nymph, designed by Joan Kessler for Concord Fabrics; bound by Cardoza-James Binding Co. | Designed and hand-produced by Lewis and Dorothy Allen. [There are 80 pages, 11 by 7 inches. There are two or three colors on all text pages.]
56. NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE | RAPPACCINI’S DAUGHTER [set in red] | REFLECTIONS ON HAWTHORNE BY | EDGAR ALLAN POE — ANTHONY TROLLOPE — HENRY JAMES | WOOD-ENGRAVINGS BY JOHN DePOL [ornament] MADE BY HAND AT THE ALLEN PRESS | Greenbrae, California. [Half Title: RAPPACCINI’S DAUGHTER [set in red] 
This book is one of an edition limited to 115 copies. The typeface is Romanee, and the display running headlines is Cancelleresca Bastarda: both faces were designed by Jan Van Krimpen in Holland; both faces were set by hand at The Allen Press. The paper is all-rag and acid free; it is mould-made Rives from France, and printed damp on an 1882 Albion handpress made in Scotland. It was found in London by Caroline & Victor Hammer while we were living in the south of France. The wood- engravings were cut by talented John DePol. [Approximately 100 pages, 11 by 7 inches. There are at least two colors on every page. It is bound in a colorful Italian pattern, on cotton tapes, by Cardoza-James Binding Company.]
57. MICHELANGELO: [set in red] | HIS SONNETS [set in red] | Translated into English by | John Addington Symonds | Produced by Hand at The Allen Press | Greenbrae, California, 1991. [Half Title: MICHELANGELO: | HIS 87 SONNETS.]
This book is one of an edition limited to 115 copies. The typeface is Bembo set by M & H TYPE, and then re-set by hand. Pietro Bembo, humanist and Tuscany contemporary of Michelangelo, was also a Medici favorite, as well as a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. | The display typeface is Solemnis, also set by hand. Dover, the durable paper, was handmade 1980 at the Barcham Green Mill at Maidstone, England. It was created actually for book conservators, and therefore a significant proportion of flax and jute were added for strength. And of course it was printed damp on our 1882 Albion handpress. The books have been bound in a Fortuny fabric, hand-blocked in Italy, and bound by the Cardoza-James Binding Company | Designed and produced by Lewis & Dorothy Allen. [There are two colors on almost every page, usually a medium blue. There are approximately 100 pages, 11 x 7 inches.]
58. GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO | THE LIFE OF DANTE [set in red] | Revised Translation by Philip Henry Wicksteed | [woodcut] | Wood-engravings by John DePol(6)| Produced by Hand at The Allen Press | Greenbrae, California — 1992. [Half Title: THE LIFE OF DANTE.]
This book is one of an edition limited to 109 copies. The typeface is Italian Old Style designed by Frederic Goudy, and set for us at M & H Type; then re-set by hand. Our author Giovanni Boccaccio was the most famous Italian fiction writer of the 13th century, especially noted for his ‘Decameron’ or 100 tales by men and women waiting for the Black Death epidemic to depart. The display type is Menhart Unciala from Czechoslovakia. | The J. Whatman handmade paper from England was produced many years ago from cotton rags, not the more recent cotton lint; it was hand-dampened by us for laborious printing on our 1882 Albion handpress from Edinburgh, Scotland. | These books have been bound in a Fortuny fabric again, hand-blocked in Italy, and bound by the Cardoza-James Binding Company of San Francisco. | It should be explained that many famous book designers and printers have been seduced by the great ‘The Life of Dante’ — including Bruce Rogers, John Henry Nash, Giovanni Madersteig, and others. | Designed and hand-made by Lewis & Dorothy Allen. [There are two colors on almost every page. Approximately 75 pages, 11 by 7 inches.]
1. William P. Barlow, Jr. “The Allen Press — A Bibliography.” The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter. Vol. XXV, №2, Spring 1960. Pages 34–40.
2. D. Steven Corey. “The Allen Press — A Bibliography” Continued. The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter. Volume XLI, №2. Spring 1976. Pages 27–37.
3. The Allen Press Bibliography with artwork, sample pages from previous editions. Mcmlxxxi. Produced by hand.
4. The Allen Press Bibliography | A Facsimile with original leaves and additions to date including a checklist of ephemera. San Francisco, The Book Club of California, MCMLXXXV. Publication Number 180.
5. Lewis Allen designed one final book (1993) for the Book Club of California: An essay by Gary F. Kurutz on A bibliography of California and the Pacific West, 1510–1906 by Robert E. Cowan, with an original leaf from the Club’s 1914 First Edition. San Francisco, The Book Club of California, 1993.
6. Portfolio of four wood-engravings by John DePol for The Allen Press edition of Boccaccio’s The Life of Dante. Printed in black, each signed. These are artist’s proofs, printed by DePol before he knew the proposed publication date of the book. A cover sheet (bearing a small engraving of DePol’s desktop) lists their titles: Dante, Boccaccio, The Ponte Vecchio, The Duomo. Now in my collection.
This article came from Foundation Bulletin #129, pp. 8 to 13. See the foundation website (cslfdn.org) for more info.