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Penguin’s Birthday

1penguin

Happy birthday to Penguin! On this day in 1935, Penguin Books was founded by Sir Allen Lane. At the Penguin archives in Bristol today, visitors can see a picture of the first 10 Penguins ever published, from Lane’s own collection.

I have only read two: A Farewell to Arms and The Mysterious Affair at Styles. All the rest is now on my to-read list. I prefer this simple and iconic original Penguin format.

Returning to London from a weekend at the Devon home of the crime writer Agatha Christie in 1934, the publisher Allen Lane scoured Exeter Station for something to read. All he could find were reprints of 19th century novels and Lane decided to found a publishing house to produce good quality paperbacks sold at sixpence each, the same price as a packet of cigarettes.

Lane’s secretary suggested Penguin as a “dignified, but flippant” name for the company and the office junior Edward Young was sent to sketch the penguins at London Zoo as its logotype. Young was then asked to design the covers of the first set of ten paperbacks to be published in summer 1935 including Ariel and A Farewell to Arms. Considering illustrated book covers to be trashy, Lane insisted on his following a simple horizontal grid for Penguin’s jackets in colors that signified the genre of each book: orange for fiction, green for crime, and blue for biography.

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