Sunday, 1 November 2015

Penguin - not just a flightless bird.

Penguin by Design – a cover story 1935 – 2005. Phil Baines.  Penguin Books, pp 256.  Richly illustrated.  

This book was presented to me by Paddy and Julie Mackie on the 13th of July 2012 on the occasion of my 90th birthday.  There is quite an amount of text scattered amongst the illustrations which describes the origin of paperback publishing from 1935 and which continued with increasing success up to 1946 as described in chapter 1.  My interest in the book was largely due to my own experience of attributing my education to a very considerable extent to my reading of the sixpenny paperbacks issued by Penguin in the 1940s and the 1950s.  I counted about 300 of these old books in my library at home and my daughter Barbara has about the same number in her library in Ranelagh.  She tells me that my son Hugh may have some as well in his home.  They were all collected when we were living in Lissenfield and were divided amongst us after Lissenfield was sold in 1988. It would be difficult to exaggerate the important role these early classics had on my education, on my increasing interest in reading and on my gathering interest in the history and evolution of the English language.

The illustrations in the book are mostly those of the various front cover titles, some of which showed the different coloured paperbacks of the early years. The colouring depended on the nature of the subjects – fiction, literature, science, etc.   The Penguin motif was presented with the bird in different postures and other birds, such as the pelican and the puffin, were added to special subjects. The books were an absorbing source of interest and included all the great fiction writers of the mid-century including Maugham, Forester, Waugh, H. G. Wells, Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf, and the works of Bernard Shaw and other literary authors. Many of the older classics included such favourites of mine as The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, an Essay on The Principle of Population by Malthus and the Rights of Man by Thomas Paine.

The editors are certainly justified in saying that the Penguin paperbacks have played an important and evolving part in Britain’s culture and design history.  It claims the distinction of providing inspiring images in its cover designs and rightly states in its first introduction “Filled with inspiring images, Penguin by Design demonstrates just how difficult it is not to judge a book by its cover”.

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