Penguins March into April

From quite early days, the advertising and marketing for Penguin Books was associated with a kind of whimsy, a gentle sort of humour, both in terms of words and pictures.  Cartoon penguins appeared in all sorts of guises to illustrate text that didn’t seem to take itself too seriously.  Other companies still try to use the same kind of style today – somebody like Ben & Jerry’s for example, so maybe Penguin were ahead of their time.  Here’s an example of Penguin’s (sometimes quite wordy) style, taken from an American Penguin in 1943.

Old Man blurb

It’s hard to say exactly where and when they started using this style.  It probably developed gradually rather than arriving fully formed.  But by March 1937 there were at least the first signs of it, as shown by the small advertising booklet illustrated below.

Penguins March into April 1937

Penguin had launched in July 1935, so was almost 2 years old by this time and had already published 80 books in its main series.  It had also already attracted several serious competitors.  Hutchinson had launched their Pocket Library in a very similar style in November 1935 as well as their ‘Crime Book Society’ series in June 1936.  The first paperback Chevron Books were on the market by February 1936 and the Collins White Circle series was only just behind in March 1936.  Other competitors were certainly on the horizon.

Penguin had a head start, but there was a relatively short window of opportunity for them to establish their brand, not just as one of many types of paperback books, but as the name that customers associated with the whole idea of paperbacks.   They did that, not only by pushing ahead with an ambitious programme of new titles in the main series, but by diversifying away from general fiction and crime fiction into other areas.

Penguins March into April 1937 inside front cover

This little brochure as well as promoting the next ten main series titles (volumes 81 to 90, published on 19th March), also announces the launch of both the Penguin Shakespeare and Pelican books.  Six of Shakespeare’s plays were to be published on April 23rd, Shakespeare’s birthday, and the first Pelican Books were to appear on May 21st.  The Penguin Shakespeare is still published today, and Pelican Books ran for 53 years to 1990 before being recently revived.  So not a bad three months work really, with volumes 91 to 100 of the main series to follow shortly after.

Penguins March into April 1937 rear

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Posted on November 23, 2015, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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