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Allen Davenport Bragdon ’52

January 25, 2023, in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts.

Allen was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and educated at the Putney School in Vermont. At Reed, he wrote his thesis, “The Comic Vision of Christopher Fry,” advised by Prof. William Alderson [English 1943–64], and then went on to Harvard Business School for a year. He entered the U.S. Navy as an officer and was stationed in Naples, Italy, from 1955 to 1957, where he claimed to have survived attempts on his life by an organized crime syndicate that took umbrage at his inspection of goods shipped through the harbor.

In Italy, he met Chicago native Gloria Scala, who became his first wife, and they had two children. He later met and married food author Irena Chalmers, and they made a home in Port Washington, New York.

Allen enjoyed a long and fruitful career in publishing, including stints as editor and executive at Doubleday and Company, Macmillan Publishers, and American Heritage. In 1974, he established Allen D. Bragdon Publishers, which he ran from his Upper West Side home in Manhattan. One of his early projects was Family Creative Workshop, a 24-volume craft encyclopedia for Time-Life Books, which found its way to families across the country and continues to inspire home craft projects to this day. His Brownstone Library imprint, inspired by the location of his publishing house, included many cooking and crafts titles featured as main selections of book clubs such as Better Homes & Gardens and Book of the Month. During his long career in publishing, Allen created an eclectic array of books and materials on varied subjects including craft, food, how-to, fairy tales, baby clothes, and the brain.

In the late 1980s, he moved his publishing company to his family home on the Bass River in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he collaborated with Field Enterprises on a multiyear card and binder series sold by subscription to craft hobbyists all over the country. The financial success of this collaboration allowed him to branch out in new directions inspired by his own interests and whims, including Ingenious Inventions of Domestic Utility, which landed him on the David Letterman show in 1990. During this period, he teamed up with David Gamon ’84 to form the Brainwaves Center on Cape Cod. They embarked on a series of books presenting insights from the world of brain research to the lay person, starting with Building Mental Muscle (published by Barnes & Noble) and continuing with half a dozen other titles under the Brainwaves Books imprint.

Allen had a knack for not only dreaming up ideas for books but also mastering the technical details of their subject matter and working in close collaboration with their authors, designers, and editors to shepherd them through the production process. Most importantly, he had a strong faith in the innate skill, creativity, and dignity of ordinary folks and a belief in the importance of respecting his audience by ensuring the workability and authenticity of everything that went into his books.

Along with other sporting activities, Allen was an avid mountain biker and often rode his bike to work in Manhattan—long before it was fashionable. On a ride through the mountainous heart of Tuscany, he came upon a medieval “castello” and spent five years renovating the four-story home, after which he split his time between Tuscany and Cape Cod.

A passionate sailor, Allen was very involved in the New England Beetle Cat Boat Association and the Bass River Yacht Club, where he held the position of commodore. He was known by his walking stick with the head of Giuseppe Verdi, his favorite composer.

He is survived by his two children, Allen Clifford Bragdon and Sara Capstick.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2023

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