Last week my novel The Bookman’s Tale was published as a trade paperback by Penguin, USA. I am so proud to have that little penguin on the cover of my book. He (or she) has a long history that dates back to what was something of a publishing revolution in 1935. Allen Lane, of the Bodley Head, was discouraged by the poor quality of reading materials available at the Exeter train station, and thought there might be a market for inexpensive paperback editions of great literature and other quality writing. At the time hardcovers cost seven or eight shillings (a shilling containing twelve pence). He decided to publish ten books, including works by Enrnest Hemingway, Dorothy Sayers, and Agatha Christie in paperback and charge sixpence for them. The Penguin paperback was born.
The first book issued (which, interestingly, included a dust jacket even though it was a paperback) was Ariel: A Shelley Romance by André Marois. Next came the first orange Penguin, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Penguin was launched as a separate publishing entity the following year and within a year they had sold over 3 million paperbacks. The iconic design of the Penguin paperbacks of the 1930s and following decades can still be seen in virtually any used bookshop in the UK. I have a shelf of Penguins in my cottage in England—Angela Thirkell, G. K. Chesterton, E. M Forster, and others.
Penguins come in several colors, but most of mine, and indeed the majority of those you will come across, are orange—this was the color that indicated fiction. The color-coding (orange for fiction, green for crime novels, blue for biography and so on), the instantly recognizable design, and the original Penguin logo were created by a 21-year old named Edward Young. It’s unlikely that any single design in the history of publishing has been (or will be) seen by as many readers. Phil Baines takes a look at the history of the Penguin covers in his book Penguin by Design.
While the price is now more than sixpence and the original design is gone, my book is still part of that tradition of Penguin paperbacks. Penguin still uses orange in the design of their paperback novels (usually on the spine) and that little penguin who graced the first Penguin paperbacks in the series in 1935 appears in a slightly modified version on the cover of the paperback of The Bookman’s Tale. There’s not doubt that I am proud to be a Penguin.