Penguin Books was the brainchild of British publisher Allen Lane, back in 1935. Urban legend speaks of his fruitless quest to find a good book to read at an affordable price at the Exeter Railway Station, which, among other factors, led to the inspiration for Penguin Books and the production of a range of affordable and high-quality paperback books. At the time, paperbacks weren’t the chosen format for anyone wishing to publish serious, well-written literature. But surprising initial sceptics, the books soon found a market in the UK, setting the tone that would fundamentally change the publishing world forever.
In 1925, Bennet Cerf, aged 27, and Donald S. Klopfer, aged 23, purchased the 109-volume Modern Library. After two years they decided to expand their publishing activities – ‘We just said we were going to publish a few books on the side at random’ and founded Random House. In 1934 they published the first authorised edition of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses in the US, starting a long history of ground-breaking publication.
THE PENGUIN LOGO
In 1935, on an otherwise unremarkable day, a 21-year-old called Edward Young visited the London Zoo. He was probably one of many visitors that day, and one of millions during the zoo’s lifetime.
But what made Young’s trip significant is that the birds he went to see would become the inspiration for one of the most iconic logos in the world: Young’s drawing of the penguins went on to be the logo for the books company that shares its name with the flightless bird.
Although the Penguin logo has changed slightly since Young’s original – in which the penguin was plumper than it is now and appeared to be in the midst of moving – it has endured for decades. Few publishers’ logos are as recognised around the world; after all, we’re too busy reading books to be staring at the spine or the imprint page. But the Penguin logo is instantly recognisable, and seeing it, readers know exactly what they’re getting: An excellent book from a company that cares about reading.
To know more about the complete story behind the transformation of this iconic logo over the years, please click here.