I wrote on here recently about my love of books. Real books, rather than e-readers. As part of my on-going battle with the clutter in my house, many of my books have had to go off to charity. Some of them had not even been read. I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself about it, even though I know that I can get hold of most of them through the local library anyway. The creation of space and peace in the house is worth it.
During yet more de-cluttering (will I ever get to the end of it?) I’ve found several other collections of books, and I’ve come to realise that it’s not just the reading of books that makes them so special to me, nor even the smell. It’s also the design. Although they say you should never judge a book by its cover, I have definitely chosen books in the past based purely on that.
One of my collections is definitely all about the design.
I don’t choose the books for my collection of vintage Penguin paperback solely on their looks, it has to be a book I will read – which is why you can see Nancy Mitford, PG Wodehouse and Maigret novels here, alongside a book about paying for recovery after WWII (I studied political history and it still remains a subject of fascination) and a book on growing fruit.
Alongside their obvious aesthetic appeal, I love the history of the company. Penguin books were established in 1935 and were the first mass market paperbacks. The idea was that of Allen Lane, managing director of The Bodley Head publishers, who initially marketed the books before they became independent in 1936. At Exeter train station, on the way back from a visit to Agatha Christie, Lane searched in vain for a cheap book to read. His failure to find one lead to the incredible story of Penguin paperbacks. Penguins published in that first year (the first eighty titles) have The Bodley Head across the middle white section of the cover, and the covers from the early period are colour coded too: orange for fiction, green for crime, cerise pink for travel and adventure, dark blue for biography and red for plays.
Amongst other titles, Penguin also produced Pelican books (written to be serious works for the interested public) and Puffin books for children, both of which began during the Second World War. Penguin didn’t suffer so much from paper rationing as other publishers because the books were already economical to produce, and they produced quite a lot of books during the war period to explain to the public what was happening around the world. Happily for them, the books turned out to be exactly the right size to fit into a service uniform pocket too.
The books I collect range in period from those early 1930’s editions through to 1960, but the covers continue to have strong design appeal later on too – it’s just that I love the iconic horizontal tripartite covers. Definitely a collection of books to be judged, favourably, by their covers…
If you’re interested in learning more about Penguin books, then I recommend “Penguin By Design: A cover story 1935-2005′ by Phil Baines and I also love the new boxed postcard collection of famous covers, which may be coming to live amongst my clutter…