(Visual) Notes on Culture

Books, not birds.

Penguin books
is still a publishing company today, but their historical importance is often taken for granted. Founded by Allen Lane in 1935, Penguin (and later its imprints like Pelican, Puffin, and Peacock...notice a trend?) sought to bring interesting writing to a mass readership. Originally priced the same as a pack of cigarettes, the company made it possible for nearly anyone with an appetite for books to amass their own personal library. Penguins were sold in bookshops and in non-traditional venues. They had a reputations for being cheap, dependable, and of good quality. With series of art, society, classic literature, crime, and books for children, they became one of the first widely-concerned modern publishers. Their legacy reverberates through used book stores in the USA and UK to this very day.

THE BOY FRIEND, pictured above, reflects the early Penguin design. CULTURE AND SOCIETY above shows the time of acclaimed, abstract design that forms the core legacy of the Penguin image. Later, the company used suggestive photographs and art-prints for their covers. Photomontage (like SEX PSYCHE ETCETERA IN THE FILM) and creative font layout were common.

I had always appreciated Penguin, but recently discovered that there is a society for the history, appreciation, and collection of Penguin books. This group, consisting of members from all over the world, creates original publications about the books and their designers, hosts lectures on the history of the Penguin phenomenon, and has yearly gatherings.

There are a number of great places to see more Penguin/Pelican titles. This blog showcased interesting "found" design objects and is worth a look. This Flickr set has a ton of great books with more interesting covers than anything I've got. Don't forget to read the Wikipedia entry!
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