Greer Allen was a Yale University printer from 1971 to 1983 and senior critic in graphic design at the School of Art. Introduced to the world of printing by the hobby press of a grade-school classmate, he acquired his own small press and marketed stationery and cards one summer vacation on Long Island. His printing education expanded in his Yale undergraduate days when he worked as a bursary student under then-University printer Carl Purington Rollins, who encouraged him to pursue a career in the field of scholarly printing. Allen graduated in the Class of 1945W, serving two years in the U.S. Navy with the rank of lieutenant, as an officer on cargo ships in the Pacific theater. He brought along his portable printing equipment on the long voyages at sea.
Leslie Kuo, one of many former Yale students who shared their reminiscences about Allen on the website Design Observer, vividly recalled the printer's description of those days at sea: "Each evening he would set one page of type, ink it up, and print it by a unique seafaring method: he would place a piece of paper and board across the type and a heavyset fellow officer would stand on the board, rock back and forth once with the pitch of the seas, and the page would be printed.
"I tell this story often," Kuo added. "It inspires me that someone loved printing enough that he found a way to print a page every night, even under the most challenging circumstances."
After Allen's graduation, Rollins recommended him for a post as an apprentice book designer at the University of Chicago Press, where he received a solid grounding in typesetting, printing and binding. By 1965 he became head of the press' printing department, then one of the largest scholarly printing offices in the country. Among books he designed in his Chicago years were "The Complete Greek Tragedies," edited by David Grene and Richard Lattimore, and "The Scholarly Printers," for an exhibition of publications created during the transition from hand-wrtten books to letterpress printing in the mid-15th century.
In the 1960s another transition was taking place in book-making technology as offset began to replace letterpress printing -- a change that sent many scholarly publishers (including the University of Chicago) scrambling to re-equip their plants with the newer, more efficient technology. It was while Allen and Chicago's printing department were struggling with this issue that he was offered and accepted the post to become Rollins' successor as Yale University Printer in 1971.
At Yale, Allen managed the Printing Service and oversaw the design of books (except those published by the Yale Press), catalogues, stationery and other materials for the University and its academic departments. He was a member of the graphic design faculty at the School of Art, where he mentored many students who went on to plan scholarly printing in New Haven, as well as throughout the country and the world. He led popular field trips to paper mills with churning vats of pulp and printing presses large and small, often ending up with a visit to the fields of Hancock Shaker Village. For many years he also taught a summer course at the Rare Book School of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.
In 1983 he retired from the Printing Service to begin a prolific period as a freelance designer, specializing in museum and library publications. Notable among these are "Winslow Homer Watercolors" and "Myer Myers: Jewish Siversmith in Colonial New York" for the Yale University Art Gallery; "Goethe the Scientist" and "James Swan: Cha-Tic" for the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library; "George Stubbs" and "The Paul Mellon Bequest" for the Yale Center for British Art; "The Duchess of Kingston's Bigamy Trial" for the Lewis Walpole Library; as well as publications for Colonial Williamsburg, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and many others.
"The most memorable thing about Greer Allen is how much he enjoyed his work and shared that enjoyment with others," says Constance Clement, deputy director of the Yale Center for British Art. "He inspired everyone who consulted with him -- from an important client to an amateur -- with the thrill of designing and printing, entering into every aspect with enthusiasm: estimating, overseeing the printing, delivery of the finished job. No matter the size of the budget, he could always find a way to make the printed piece shine. He had a confident, outgoing nature with a great sense of fun and creativity; with colored paper and scissors, he could swiftly produce a convincing cover design. Everyone who came in contact with him felt enlivened and enriched by his engaging personality."
Allen belonged to the American Printing History Association, the Elizabethan Club, the Columbiad Club and the Manuscript Society, and was a fellow of Branford College.