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Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935 by Allen Lane. Lane's idea was to provide quality writing cheaply, for the same price as a packet of cigarettes. He also wanted them to be sold not only in bookshops but in railway stations, general stores and corner shops. Its most emblematic products are its paperbacks. The first Penguin paperbacks were published in 1935, but at first only as an imprint of Bodley Head (of Vigo Street) with the books originally distributed from the crypt of Holy Trinity Church Marylebonemarker. Penguin Books has its registered office in the City of Westminstermarker, Londonmarker, Englandmarker.

Penguin Books is now the flagship imprint of the worldwide Penguin Group and is owned by Pearson PLC. Penguin is the lead publisher for the United Kingdommarker, New Zealandmarker, Republic of Irelandmarker, Australia and Indiamarker.


The publication of literature in paperback, then associated mainly with poor quality, lurid fiction, did not appear viable to Bodley Head and the deliberately low price of 6d. made profitability seem unlikely. This helped Allen Lane purchase publication rights for some works more cheaply than he otherwise might have done since other publishers were convinced of the short term prospects of the business. The purchase of 63,000 books by Woolworth paid for the project outright, confirmed its worth and allowed Lane to establish Penguin as a separate business in 1936. By March 1936, ten months after the company's launch on 30 July 1935, one million Penguin books had been printed.

From the outset, design was essential to the success of the Penguin brand. Eschewing the illustrated gaudiness of other paperback publishers, Penguin opted for the simple appearance of three horizontal bands, the upper and lower of which were colour coded according to which series the title belonged to; this is sometimes referred to as the horizontal grid. In the central white panel, the author and title were printed in Eric Gill's sans serif and in the upper band was a cartouche with the legend "Penguin Books". The initial design was created by the then twenty-one-year-old office junior Edward Youngmarker, who also drew the first version of the Penguin logo. Series such as Penguin Specials and The Penguin Shakespeare had individual designs (by 1937 only S1 and B1-B18 had been published).

The colour schemes included: orange and white for general fiction, green and white for crime fiction, cerise and white for travel and adventure, dark blue and white for biographies, yellow and white for miscellaneous, red and white for drama; and the rarer purple and white for essays and belles lettres and grey and white for world affairs. Lane actively resisted the introduction of cover images for several years. Some recent publications of literature from that time have duplicated the original look.

Pelican books; World War II, 1937-1944

From 1937 the headquarters of Penguin Books was at Harmondsworthmarker north of London and so it remained until the 1990s when a merge with Viking involved the head office moving into London (27 Wrights Lane, W8 5TZ). Lane expanded the business in 1937 with the publication of George Bernard Shaw's The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism under the Pelican Books imprint, an imprint designed to educate the reading public rather than entertain. Several thousand Pelicans were published over the next sixty years and brought high quality accounts of the current state of knowledge in many fields, often written by authors of specialised academic books. (The Pelican series, in decline for several years, was finally discontinued in 1990.) The war years continued the company's success with healthy sales of titles, meaning that Penguin suffered less from the paper rationing which afflicted other publishers; paper was sometimes more easily available for a serial publication so Penguin Film Review was easier to publish than the same quantiy of books. Aircraft Recognition (S82) by R. A. Saville-Sneath, was a best seller. In 1940, the children's imprint Puffin Books began with a series of non-fiction picture books; the first work of children's fiction published under the imprint was Barbara Euphan Todd's Worzel Gummidge the following year. Many Penguin Specials were published (from 1937) dealing with the immediate political problems, e.g. Edgar Mowrer's Germany Puts the Clock Back (S1); Shiela Grant Duff's Europe and the Czechs (S9).

Penguin Classics; Tschichold's designs

In 1945 Penguin began what would become one of its most important branches, the Penguin Classics, with a translation of Homer's Odyssey by E. V. Rieu. Between 1947 and 1949, the German typographer Jan Tschichold redesigned 500 Penguin books, and left Penguin with a set of influential rules of design principles brought together as the Penguin Composition Rules, a four page booklet of typographic instructions for editors and compositors. Tschichold's work included the woodcut illustrated covers of the classics series (also known as the medallion series), and with Hans Schmoller, his eventual successor at Penguin, the vertical grid covers that became the standard for Penguin fiction throughout the 1950s. By this time the paperback industry in the UK had begun to grow, and Penguin found itself in competition with then fledgeling Pan Books. Many other series were published such as the Buildings of England, the Pelican History of Art and Penguin Education.

1960 and after

By 1960, a number of forces were to shape the direction of the company, the publication list and its graphic design. On 20 April 1961, Penguin became a publicly listed company on the London Stock Exchange; consequently, Allen Lane had a diminished role at the firm though he was to continue as Managing Director. New techniques such as phototypesetting and offset-litho printing were to replace hot metal and letterpress printing, dramatically reducing cost and permitting the printing of images and text on the same paper stock, thus paving the way for the introduction of photography and novel approaches to graphic design on paperback covers. In May 1960, Tony Godwin was appointed as editorial adviser, rapidly rising to Chief Editor from which position he sought to broaden the range of Penguin's list and keep up with new developments in graphic design. To this end, he hired Germano Facetti in January 1961, who was to decisively alter the appearance of the Penguin brand. Beginning with the crime series, Facetti canvassed the opinion of a number of designers including Romek Marber for a new look to the Penguin cover. It was Marber's suggestion of what came to be called the Marber grid along with the retention of traditional Penguin colour coding that was to replace the previous three horizontal bars design and set the pattern for the design of the company's paperbacks for the next twenty years. Facetti rolled out the new treatment across the Penguin line starting with crime, the orange fiction series, then Pelicans, Penguin Modern Classics, Penguin Specials, and Penguin Classics, giving an overall visual unity to the company's list. A somewhat different approach was taken to the Peregrine, Penguin Poets, Penguin Modern Poets, and Penguin Plays series. There were over a hundred different series published in total.

By the end of the 1960s, Penguin was in financial trouble. Ultimately, the company was bought out by Pearson Longman on 21 August 1970, some six weeks after the death of Allen Lane. A new emphasis on profitability emerged and, with the departure of Facetti in 1972, the defining era of Penguin book design came to an end. Later changes included the disappearance of 'Harmondsworth' as the place of publication: this was replaced by a London office address. From 1937 the headquarters of Penguin Books was at Harmondsworthmarker north of London and so it remained until the 1990s when a merge with Viking involved the head office moving into London (27 Wrights Lane, W8 5TZ).

Controversial publications -- Lady Chatterley to Denying the Holocaust

Just as Lane well judged the public's appetite for paperbacks in the 1930s, his decision to publish Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence in 1960 boosted Penguin's notoriety. The novel was at the time unpublished in the United Kingdom and the predicted obscenity trial not only marked Penguin as a fearless publisher, it also helped drive the sale of at least 3.5 million copies. Penguin's victory in the case heralded the end to the censorship of books in the UK, although censorship of the written word was only finally defeated after the Inside Linda Lovelace trial of 1978. Other controversial titles published by Penguin include Spycatcher and The Satanic Verses. In the same tradition of courting controversy, Penguin published Deborah Lipstadt's book Denying the Holocaust which accused David Irving of Holocaust denial. Irving sued Lipstadt and Penguin for libel in 1998 but lost in a widely publicised trial.

A Million Penguins

In 2006, Penguin attempted to involve the public in collaboratively writing a novel on a wiki platform. They named this project A Million Penguins. On March 7, 2007, the Penguin Books UK blog announced that the project had come to an end.

Recent problems

The publisher has encountered several problems of late, especially in distribution of its books in the UK during much of 2004, when a new computerised system at its Rugby warehouse failed to identify the books needed by booksellers. Authors lost on sales of their books and hence of royalties. They waged a long campaign against the publisher for its incompetence. Most recently, its US associate, Penguin Riverhead has published a fabricated autobiography, known as Love and Consequences, by the new author Margaret Seltzer. It was a tale of sex, drugs and gangs in Los Angelesmarker, but turned out to be a hoax when the author's sister revealed the extent of the deception. It has been withdrawn as of March 2008, and a book tour cancelled. The genre is well populated by similar works of deception, and is known as Misery lit. Penguin failed to check the background of the author, who turned out to be affluent and middle-class, and one who attended creative writing courses.

First titles

The first ten books published by Penguin under the Bodley Head imprint were:

Books 11 to 20 were:

By April 1938 the first 140 titles had been published as well as 30 Pelicans, 18 of the Shakespeare series and one Special.

Penguin Classics

Penguin Classics editions

The imprint publishes hundreds of classics from the Greeks and Romans to Victorian Literature to modern classics. For nearly twenty years, variously coloured borders to the front and back covers indicated the original language. The second period of design meant largely black covers with a colour illustration on the front. In 2002, Penguin announced it was redesigning its entire catalogue, merging the original Classics list (known in the trade as "Black Classics") with what had been the old Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics list, though the silver covers for the latter have so far been retained for most of the titles. Previously this line had been called 'Penguin Modern Classics' with a pale green livery.

The redesign — featuring a colourful painting on the cover, with black background and orange lettering — was well received. However, the quality of the paperbacks themselves seemed to decrease: the spines were more likely to fold and bend. The paperbacks are also printed on non-acid-free pulp paper which, by some accounts, tends to yellow and brown within a couple of years.

The text page design was also overhauled to follow a more closely prescribed template, allowing for faster copyediting and typesetting, but reducing the options for individual design variations suggested by a text's structure or historical context (for example, in the choice of text typeface). Prior to 2002 the text page typography of each book in the Classics series had been overseen by a team of in-house designers; this department was closed in 2003 as part of the production costs rationalisation of the Classics list, and any design work is now done by editors and outside suppliers.

Penguin Celebrations

In 2008, Penguin re-released 36 modern popular works using Penguin's distinctive late 1940s style, rebranded 'Penguin Celebrations'. Following the 1940s style; Green is for 'mystery', Orange for 'fantastic fiction', Pink for 'distant lands', Dark Blue for 'real lives' and Purple for 'viewpoints'.

The 'Penguin Celebrations' books are as follows:-


Science and non-fiction


Mystery and crime

Adventure and travel


Essays and belles lettres

Popular Penguins

Penguin's Australian subsidiary released the Popular Penguins series late in 2008. The series has its own website. It was intended to include 50 titles, many of which duplicate those on the Penguin Celebrations list but this was reduced to 49 titles as one of the 50, Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky. , had to be withdrawn after its initial release as Penguin discovered they no longer held the rights to it.

Popular Penguins are presented as a return to Lane's original ethos-good books at affordable prices. They have been published with a cover price of $AUD9.95, less than half of the average price of a paperback novel in Australia at the time of release.

Popular Penguins are presented in a more 'authentic' interpretation of the Penguin Grid than that of the Celebrations series. They are correct size, when compared to an original 'grid-era' Penguin, and they use Eric Gill's typefaces in a more or less exact match for Jan Tschichold's 'tidying' of Edward Young's original three panel cover design. The covers are also printed on a card stock which mirrors the look and feel of 1940's and 50's Penguin covers. On the other hand, all of the Popular Penguins series are in Penguin Orange, and not colour coded in the manner of the original designs and the 'Celebrations' titles.

In July 2009 another 50 Popular Penguins were released onto the Australian and New Zealand markets.


United Kingdom

Penguin Press
Penguin General
  • ePenguin
Illustrated titles
Travel and Music

United States

Adult Division
Children's Division

Trademark disputes

Penguin Books has been in some disputes over names and trademarks. In 1986, it pushed Penguin Software to give up its name. More recently, it published a book which caused problems for the unrelated user of that domain, and then tried to acquire the domain.

See also


Further reading

  • Baines, Phil (2007) Penguin by Design: a Cover Story 1935-2005. London: Allen Lane ISBN 0-7139-9839-3 (Published to accompany the exhibition "Penguin by design" held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 8 Jun - 13 Nov, 2005)
  • Penguin by Illustrators
  • Cinnamon, Gerald (1987) "Hans Schmoller, Typographer", The Monotype Recorder (New Series), 6 April, 1987
  • Graham, Tim (2003) Penguin in Print - a Bibliography. Penguin Collectors' Society.
  • Hare, Steve (1995) Penguin Portrait: Allen Lane and the Penguin Editors, 1935-1970. London: Penguin Books
  • Lewis, Jeremy (2005) Life and Times of Allen Lane (Penguin Special) ISBN 0-670-91485-1
  • Morpurgo, J. E. (1979) Allen Lane: King Penguin. London: Hutchinson
  • Penguin Books (1985), Fifty Penguin Years. ISBN 0-14-008589-0

External links

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