Of all the publishers who rushed to copy Penguin after 1935, one of the quirkiest was surely the Queensway Press with their series of Chevron books. As far as I can tell Queensway was a fairly small-scale publisher, issuing classic reprints of Dickens and Shakespeare amongst others, as well as a series of typical pre-Penguin paperbacks with lurid covers and a price of 3d. It was somehow associated with (or just another name for?) The Readers Library Publishing Co. Ltd., which in turn was associated with the printers Greycaine in Watford, set up in part by the family of the author, Hall Caine. I’d like to know more about the links between these various businesses. All Queensway and Chevron books seem to have been printed by Greycaine.
When Penguin launched in July 1935 though, the UK paperback market was thrown into turmoil. Suddenly illustrated covers looked horribly old-fashioned as well as down market. Now standard designed covers were all the rage, and the standard price for a paperback was 6d. In one sense, Queensway must have thought Christmas had arrived. They could not only double the price of their paperbacks, but they could eliminate the expense of illustrated covers. The difficulty was that they now had to cope with a formidable new competitor. They also had to adapt in other ways to the new market conditions. Penguin had introduced a new standard paperback size, colour-coded covers, a seabird as a logo and dustwrappers on their paperbacks – all innovations copied from the continental Albatross books, and all taken up by other competitors within a matter of months.
Queensway resisted the temptation to choose another bird as a logo (many others didn’t – Toucan Books, Wren Books and Jackdaw Books all appeared soon after). They settled instead for Chevron Books and a complicated logo composed not only of a chevron, but also a small portrait (of a queen?) in a shield and two flowers. They adopted designed covers and colour-coding for genre, as most others did, although to me the design looks over-fussy and not very attractive. The first Chevron Books appeared on the market in February 1936, just 7 months after the launch of Penguin. The selection of titles looked fairly similar to Penguin. Number 1 was ‘Grand Hotel’ by the Austrian writer Vicki Baum, followed by ‘Peter Ibbetson’ by George du Maurier, a late Victorian novel recently re-popularised by a film starring Gary Cooper. In the first few months there were novels by Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Wharton, Alec Waugh, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Jerome K. Jerome and Arnold Bennett, and of course there was a sprinkling of crime titles.
In two respects though Queensway chose to differentiate themselves. Their early books were slightly smaller than the new standard size, and instead of using paper dustwrappers with the same design as the book, they opted for transparent dustwrappers, rather shorter than the book and with coloured stripes across them. These were held in place with a small dab of glue, front and back, so that the coloured stripes lined up over the title and author name. In some ways they were a throwback to the wrap-around bands, with which Tauchnitz had first introduced colour-coding.
The dustwrappers were very fragile, would not have lasted long after first opening, and of course are rarely seen nowadays. They were not a success, and were abandoned within a matter of months. They appeared only on the first 18 books and by August 1936 had been replaced by Penguin-style paper covers in essentially the same design as the books, except that the colour-coded stripes continued to appear only on the dustwrapper and not the underlying book.
Book and dustwrapper
The alternative book size lasted only a little longer, as far as volume 30, before it too was abandoned. Presumably sales had not been going well. The first 24 books had appeared in a rush between February and August 1936, but numbers 25 to 30 were not issued until February 1937 and by the time the next batch appeared in August 1937, there had effectively been a re-branding and a re-launch. From volume 31 onwards, the books were branded as the ‘New Chevron Series’, with a new simplified design and logo, in the standard Penguin size, with paper dustwrappers in the same design and colour as the books. The design looks much better to me, but frankly more Penguin-like and the colours are very Penguin-like orange, green and blue, no longer linked to genre.
New Chevron books continued from volume 31 up to around volume 115 by 1941 and several of the earlier books were also re-issued in the New Chevron format. The progression of the series may not have been as smooth as it appeared though. The linked businesses of Greycaine and Queensway seem to have run into serious problems, with a winding-up order for Greycaine in 1938. The business continued to operate though in the hands of the receiver, and it looks as if the publishing business eventually became part of the Hutchinson Group, while the printing business was acquired by Taylor Garnett Evans and Co. Ltd.
New Chevron branded books continued to be issued well into the war though, even after the end of the numbered series in 1941. Books priced at 1/3d and seeming to come from around 1944 still use the same design and branding, still refer to the Queensway Press, the Readers Library Publishing Co. Ltd and to Greycaine, although there are references to the new owners as well.