Monday, August 29, 2011

Remembering Sue Allen

We are mourning the passing of Sue R. Allen, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 93. Sue was an inspiring scholar and teacher of book history and an exceptional and gracious individual. She will be missed by all who were lucky to have known her. Sue was a member of the advisory group for the Publishers' Bindings Online project, and it was through taking her Rare Book School course Publishers' Bookbindings, 1830-1910 that my own passion and obsession with the 19th and early 20th century book blossomed. Sue Allen was a personal hero, whose enthusiasm and exuberance were contagious. When she called a book "charming" -- you saw it too. And you were charmed.

The following memorial statement was written by her son, and shared with the Rare Book School community.

Born in Natick, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1918, and raised in the Boston area, Sue was graduated from Girls’ Latin School and the Massachusetts College of Art. As the graphic artist at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, her calendars and other pieces delighted readers with their clarity and spirited liveliness. In 1955, she married Greer Allen, then a designer at the University of Chicago Press, and subsequently University Printer at Yale; their marriage lasted almost 50 years, until his death in 2005.

When Sue came upon nineteenth-century American bookbindings in the early 1970s, she found a small, poorly organized field, dealing with a little-appreciated subject matter. Seeing the importance of preserving and valuing the books that brought mass literacy to the American people, Sue single-handedly defined and structured the field as it stands today. With her artist’s eye, she identified the changing styles of book covers and endpapers over the decades from 1830 to 1910, and placed these styles in the context of broader changes in the decorative arts and the technology and economics of publishing. She also highlighted the work of artists, designers, binders, and publishers, particularly the hitherto little-known work of engraver John Feely and agricultural publisher Orange Judd.

Among the longest-serving instructors at Rare Book School, having taught from its founding at Columbia University, Sue inspired hundreds of librarians, conservators, book dealers, and collectors as she taught them about the bookbindings that became her passion. Her deep knowledge of the subject matter and her lively, engaging style won her the love, admiration, and loyalty of her students and others in the field.

Author and coauthor of several articles about nineteenth-century American bookbindings, Sue was nearing completion of her long-awaited book on the subject at the time of her death. In accordance with Sue’s wishes, her son John will be contacting several friends and former students familiar with her work to assist in finishing the book.

At her son’s instructions, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Sue Allen Fund, Rare Book School, Attn: Danielle Culpepper, P. O. Box 400103, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4103 via check payable to Rare Book School.

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