Saturday 30 August 2014


A Penguin book using the original colour system.

Marilyn went off to her usual Saturday morning car boot sale in Raynes Park this morning. When she came back she brought me two presents. First, a bar of Belgium chocolate made from coffee beans from Madagascar, which sadly, exists no longer, and secondly a copy of Claire Tomlin’s, "Jane  Austen :A life," she picked up from a second hand book stall. This edition was one of a series of books chosen to be republished in Penguins original format  to commemorate Penguin being the publisher of the year in 2007.

I already have the original Penguin paperback version of ,"Jane Austen: A life," with the pale green cover, a print of Steventon Rectory in the background and prominently to the fore, Cassandra’s sketch of Jane. I also have an e-book version on my i-pad for when I take friends to Jane sites so I can easily find quotes from Claire Tomlinson about the place we are at.This 2007 version of Tomlin’s biography of Jane is different from the 1997 edition. Penguin have used, in this commemorative edition, the cover system that they originated when Penguin was founded by Allen Lane in 1935. 

There are  many aspects of the style which are iconic. Penguin books and their distinctive covers were something I was used to when I was growing up in Southampton. Penguin published only the very best in academic writing, in novel writing, philosophy, history, poetry and writing of all types. They were also renowned for helping to develop the best new writing talent and were never afraid to promote new ideas and subjects in philosophy, science and history. One of the key concepts that Allen Lane wanted to promote was the idea that the best writing should be accessed by the whole population. Penguins were first sold in places like Woolworths and W.H. Smiths for 6d.

The style of my commemorative edition of, "Jane Austen; A Life," is simple. The cover is divided into three broad horizontal bands of colour, from top to bottom, navy blue, white and navy blue. The title and authors name are printed within the white band, in a simple black and white print , created as a modern serif type script, Gill Sans named after Eric Gill the artist. The text type is called Monotype Baskerville Roman, created by John Baskerville in 1923. Below this in the lower blue band is the iconic Penguin symbol. The colour bands were designed to denote what type of book they were.  The Claire Tomlin biography of Jane Austen is dark blue because biographys were dark blue. Green, was crime fiction, cerise, travel books, red, plays, yellow was used for that very important genre, miscellaneous, light purple were letters and essays and grey was world affairs.

The layout of a Penguin book was encapsulated in a four page book of instructions that included, indenting of paragraphs, spelling, punctuation, letter spacing and word spacing, capital letters and the use of italics and footnotes.The instructions were called, Penguin Composition Rules, and these guidelines were written by the typographer Jan Tschichold. He stayed with Penguin from 1947 to  1949 before returning to Switzerland.

The story goes that Allen Lane wanted a logo and name that would be attractive to all. A secretary at 8 Vigo Street, just off Regent Street where Allen Lane had his office,, overheard a conversation about using an animal logo. She suggested a penguin. Everybody liked the idea and Edward Young, the illustrator, was sent off to London Zoo where he spent a day sketching penguins in all sorts of poses.

Allen Lane also developed his publishing house with brands called Pelicans and King Penguins.