Penguin Books
Parent company Penguin Group
Founded 1935
Founder Allen Lane, V.K. Krishna Menon
Country of origin United Kingdom
Headquarters location City of Westminster, London
Distribution United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, India, United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa
Publication types Books
Imprints Penguin Classics
Official website
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File:Penguin Crime I.JPG

Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane and V.K. Krishna Menon.[1][2] Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high quality, inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence. Penguin's success demonstrated that large audiences existed for serious books. Penguin also had a significant impact on public debate in Britain, through its books on politics, the arts, and science.[3] Penguin Books is now the flagship imprint of the worldwide Penguin Group and is owned by Pearson PLC.


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 Marylebone. Only paperback editions were published until the Pelican History of Art was undertaken: these were unsuitable as paperbacks because of the length and copious illustrations on art paper so cloth bindings were chosen instead. Penguin Books has its registered office in the City of Westminster, London, England.[4][5]

File:Pelican book covers.jpg

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 Gill Sans 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 Young, 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.

From 1937 and on, the headquarters of Penguin Books was at Harmondsworth 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).

Pelican books, 1937-1944Edit

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 half-century and brought high quality accounts of the current state of knowledge in many fields, often written by authors of specialised academic books.[6] (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[7] was easier to publish than the same quantity 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). Another series which began in wartime was the Penguin Poets: the first volume was a selection of Tennyson's poems (D1) in 1941. Later examples are The Penguin Book of Modern American Verse (D22), 1954, and The Penguin Book of Restoration Verse (D108), 1968. J. M. Cohen's Comic and Curious Verse appeared in three volumes over a number of years.

Post-war historyEdit

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.

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 Harmondsworth west 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).

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.

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.[8]

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.[9][10] Authors lost on sales of their books and hence of royalties. They waged a long campaign against the publisher for its incompetence.[11][12] 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 Angeles, 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.(Citation needed) In June 2010, Penguin Group was rocked by a sex scandal when David Davidar, CEO of Penguin International, a division of Penguin Books based in Toronto which comprises Penguin Canada, Penguin India, Penguin South Africa and Penguin Arabia, was forced to leave Penguin as he was the subject of a major controversy over his alleged sexual harassment of a former employee.[13] In the wake of the scandal, there was also an exodus of senior staff from Penguin Books India, the division that Davidar personally built from the ground up. Among those departing the organization was Ravi Singh, Publisher and Managing Editor. Subsequently, he was replaced by Rudrani Sarkar, better known as 'Chiki' Sarkar, daughter of Aveek Sarkar, owner of Ananda Bazar Patrika Group which is the majority Indian stakeholder in the joint venture with Penguin Books. Chiki Sarkar's appointment raised the fresh concern of nepotism, coupled with her antagonistic attitude to Indian authors, despite being the Publisher of Penguin Books India. In response to Business Standard's allegation that she was deliberately avoiding promoting Indian authors, Sarkar responded: "Indian fiction on the whole is not particularly interesting at the moment." [14] This further fuelled the allegations that Penguin Books India, like the Indian divisions of other multinational publishers, are promoting imported titles at the cost of local authors and books.

First titles Edit

The first ten books published by Penguin under the Bodley Head imprint were:[15]

Books 11 to 20 were:[15]

By April 1938 the first 140 titles had been published as well as 30 Pelicans, 18 of the Shakespeare series and one Special.[16]

Imprints and seriesEdit

For a list of book series published by Penguin, see Category:Penguin Books

Penguin ClassicsEdit

File:Penguin Classics.jpg
Main article: Penguin Classics

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.[17]

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 HandbooksEdit

This series consisted of practical works and included cooking and legal advice. Typical titles were these:

  • PH86 Cooking in a Bedsitter; by Katharine Whitehorn. 1963 (1st ad. as: "Kitchen in the Corner, 1961)
  • PH160 Buying a House; by L. E. Vickers. 1970; rev. ed. 1975
  • PH188 The Cookery of England; by Elisabeth Ayrton. 1974; 1977

The series began in the early days of the second World War as part of the effort to produce adequate supplies of food. PH14 (1941) was Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps: Alan Thompson contributed the poultry section and Claude Goodchild that on rabbits.[18][19]

Popular Penguins Edit

Penguin's Australian subsidiary released the Popular Penguins series late in 2008. The series has its own website.[20] 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,[21] 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 1940s and 50s 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.[22] A further 10 titles written by New Zealand authors were released in March 2010.[23] Another 75 titles were released in Australia in July 2010 to mark Penguin's 75th anniversary.[24]


Publishing houses owned by Penguin in the US[25] and the UK:[26]

United KingdomEdit

Penguin Press
Penguin General
  • ePenguin
Illustrated titles
Travel and Reference

United StatesEdit

Adult Division
Children's Division

See alsoEdit


  • 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
  • Joicey, Nicholas (1993) "A Paperback Guide to Progress: Penguin Books 1935-c.1951", Twentieth Century British History, Vol.4, No.1, pp. 25–56
  • 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


  3. Joicey, Nicholas (1993) "A Paperback Guide to Progress: Penguin Books 1935-c.1951", Twentieth Century British History, Vol.4, No.1, pp.25-56; and Ross McKibbin Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951, Oxford, 1998, ISBN 0-19-820672-0.
  4. "26. What is Penguin Books Limited's company registration number?." Penguin Books. Retrieved on 28 August 2009.
  5. "Maps", City of Westminster. Retrieved on 28 August 2009.
  6. Two random examples: (a) Nicholson, Norman, ed. (1942) An Anthology of Religious Verse; designed for the times. (Pelican Books; A96.) Harmondsworth: Penguin Books (b) Parkes, Colin Murray (1975) Bereavement: studies of grief in adult life. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. The work had been published by Tavistock Publications in 1975; in 1986 a second edition appeared ISBN 0 14 02.2645 1
  7. "Penguin Film Review". Copac. Retrieved 30 November 2009. 
  8. "A Million Penguins Go To Sleep". 2007-03-07. Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  9. "'Supply hits Penguin sales', ''The Bookseller'', 26 May 2004". Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  10. "'Penguin is still learning how to succeed at Rugby', ''The Bookseller'', 28 October 2004". Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  11. 'Authors get their own back', The Bookseller, 30 September 2004Template:Dead link
  12. "'Authors to press Penguin', ''The Bookseller'', 21 October 2004". Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  13. John Barber (2010-06-12). "Sexual harassment suit rocks Penguin Canada, former CEO". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). 
  14. . 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Byrne, Donn (1936) Hangman's House. London: Penguin Books; (list of books 1-30 on back cover)
  16. Meynell, Francis & Vera (eds.) (1938) The Week-end Book. 2 vols. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books; advts & back cover listing
  17. Caldwell, Christopher (2003-03-07). "Why English books are crummy. - By Christopher Caldwell - Slate Magazine". Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  18. Goodchild, C.; Thompson, A.. "Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps". Copac. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  19. "Penguin + handbook search results (includes some unrelated items)". Copac. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  20. "Popular Penguins". Popular Penguins. Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  21. Posted by booktagger (2008-11-18). "". Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  22. "Penguin Books New Zealand". Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  23. "New Zealand Popular Penguins" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  24. "List of 75 Popular Penguin titles for July 2010 release". Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  25. "". 2001-09-04. Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  26. "". Retrieved 2010-12-04. 

External linksEdit

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