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PENGUINS TO PELICANS

Penguins are hunted by bibliophiles and collectors throughout the world. Penguin Books first appeared in 1935, being the brainchild of Allen Lane, a director of The Bodley Head. His secretary thought of the name Penguin when Allen was searching for a name that was "dignified and flippant". The inexpensive paperback was not a new creation. However, Penguin introduced sophisticated authors and editors which previously only occurred in hardbacks. The first Penguins were packed and distributed from an impoverished headquarters in the crypt of Holy Trinity Church in Euston Road. The stock was delivered by a chute from the graveyard.

The wife of the marketing director at Woolworths appreciated this attempt to resurrect important literature in the form of a portable paperback, and convinced her husband to allow the books to be sold in stores. They appeared colour coded in a counter area specifically designed for Penguin Books or from a "Penguincubator" – being a large towering wood and glass vending machine, which increased their accessibility. These machines are, also, highly prized by collectors. I, for one, would love to have a restored unit in my office!

The first Penguin cost 2½d a copy to produce and sold for 6d. The first 100 titles are highly collectible, but few rare book dealers like to handle them, due to their condition and lack of comparative strength to market value. The first ten Penguin Books in Very Good condition might reach an auction value in excess of $500. In collecting paperbacks, one should be aware that they require unique storage and conservation techniques which are, all too often, more expensive and time consuming that the more durable hardbacks.

A large Penguin Society [Penguin Collectors' Society, 18 The Tyning, Widcombe, Bath BA2 6AL, England] publishes a biannual journal. Its "Penguin Collector's Companion", explains all the POINTS to collecting these treasures. To the collector, only numbered Penguins prior to 1965 are usually desirable. First Impressions are sought over later reprints which can, also, influence the price and value. As an example, Agatha Christie's Murder On The Links was published without clearing copyright and was temporarily withdrawn and reprinted with a different number. Some specialists, for example, try to collect the World War II editions [1941-1946 or #s 300-500 – on poor-quality paper], the Puffin children's books, or the green-covered Penguin Books Detective stories. Other bibliophiles like to collect the Penguin company ephemera and posters, with special emphasis on those published during WWII by Topolksi. Scholars, also, collect to read an important editor's Foreword, Introduction, or Preface, as well as, the preferred Translation of text. Many editors were, also, important authors or scholars within the field of the book which they were asked to contribute. It has been rumored that only six people possess the first 1,000 Penguin titles!

Hardback Pelican originals began to appear in 1937, being reprints of authoritative works in science, history, archaeology, politics, and literature. The evolution which was to begin with Pelicans was not checked by WWII. The King Penguins were issued half in text and half in colour illustration. Also, in 1940, the first children's books were introduced in the Puffin Picture Books, which usually consisted of 32 pages of plates. These were followed in 1941 by the Puffin Story Books, being designed for children of this era between the ages of 9 to 13. In the 1950s, The Pelican History Of Art series was edited by Nikolaus Pevsner. Each volume is illustrated by 200 pages of plates and many line drawings and authored by pre-eminent scholars in their field. The infamous art historian and British spy, Sir Anthony Blunt, who was later convicted of treason, authored number Z4 in this series.

In the 1950s Penguin printed the following as attributing to their successful philosophy in publishing.

"There is a unity in all this Penguin diversity. The dominant motive in the firm's endeavour is to provide good reading for people who have acquired a sound taste for books. For those who lack an habitual appetite for reading, Penguins have nothing to offer; they do not deal in those products which aim to excite and contaminate the mind with sensation and which could be more aptly listed in a register of poisons than in a library catalogue. But for every civilized and balanced person there are Penguins to suit each mood and purpose." For example, "In the big department of fiction, which continues to be exclusively a reprint operation, there are no dubious titles chosen because they might profitably sail pretty near the wind; the thrillers are vivid but never sadistic or salacious."
An example of this is Margery Louise Allingham who created the bland, bespectacled, keen-witted Albert Campion, one of the most interesting of fictional detectives. Other authors, too numerous to mention, were made famous by the gerneral public, or were to develop their unique styles, through the availability of Penguin Books to their readers.

BH - 11/30/2006


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