Last week I visited a small but perfectly formed exhibition at The Holburne Museum of Art in Bath entitled ‘Seventy Years of Penguin Design’ which runs until 24 March.  Penguin books were the first mass-produced paperbacks in Britain and the exhibits tell the story of the development of the cover designs and Penguin’s branding, including some wonderful original drawings of logos, typography and cover illustrations.


Unfortunately photography was not permitted inside the exhibition, but with the aid of a brilliant book ‘Penguin By Design – A Cover Story 1935 – 2005’ by Phil Baines, I have had fun plotting the design developments of our own Penguin collection.


It all began in 1935 with the Horizontal Grid, devised by Edward Young.  The colour orange was used for fiction titles.


A particularly appealing exhibit was sketches of penguins in various poses.  Apparently the logo was redrawn several times in the first 12 years of publication and I was excited to find that we have an example of the very first one by Edward Young, in use from 1935 – 1938.  Although lifelike, it was considered awkward.

The Vertical Grid, 1951 begun by Jan Tschichold and perfected by Hans Schmoller.


The Marber Grid, 1961 designed by Romek Marber, commissioned by Penguin Art Director, Germano Facetti.


left to right: Illustration by Dorrit Dekk, John Reynolds and Germano Facetti.

Modern Classics – 20th century literature in new covers.  Various cover designs from 1963 – 1975.


left to right: Engraving by Cecil Keeting, drawing by Quentin Blake, detail from ‘Mechanical Elements’ by F Léger, detail from portrait of James Joyce by Jacques Emile Blanche, detail from ‘Montparno’s Blues’ by Kees Van Dongen and detail JMW Turner’s ‘A Venetian Scene – San Benedetto’.

A selection of fiction covers from 1967 to 1982 including David Pelham’s non-grid approach.


left to right: Illustration by Paul Hogarth, Shirley Thompson, Harry Willock, David Pelham, Paul Hogarth.

I love the practice of giving certain authors their own distinctive treatment which began in the 1950s (the phoenix and flames for D H Lawrence, for example) and was continued during Pelham’s time as Art Director.  These are my favourites – the covers for Evelyn Waugh titles designed by Bentley/Farrell/Burnett.


Modern Classics, 2000 template by Jamie Keenan


left to right: photography by Véronique Rolland, Philippa Bogle, illustration by Clare Skeats.

I’ve been intrigued by the fact that the penguin logo is often transposed.  It took me a while to work out the logic of the penguin facing left or right on any particular cover; I have concluded that it faces into the book. Therefore if it is printed on the left hand side of the cover it looks to the right and if it is printed on the right hand side it looks to the left.  Can anyone verify this theory?

I also unearthed a few patterned covers that caught my eye. First two patterns by Stephen Russ – a 1963 restyle of Schmoller’s popular poetry design of 1954 and Facetti’s updated typography in 1966.


And finally, a King Penguin hardback dated 1943 with a cover design by William Grimmond of the Bayeux Tapestry.


The Design Museum website has further information on the history of Penguin.  The Creative Review blog has the transcript of a talk by designer David Pelham which is extracted from the book Penguin by Designers, published by The Penguin Collectors’ Society.  Penguin has its own online bookstore which includes the 2007 Penguin Celebrations featuring the distinctive Horizontal Grid cover design.

I’m off to scour my local second-hand bookshops to find an example of the dancing penguin!


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