The first book published by Penguin, Ariel by André Maurois. © Penguin.
Established in 1935 by Bristol-born Allen Lane, Penguin Books quickly grew to be one of the most recognisable and well-loved publishers in Britain.
The early series of sixpence paperbacks, designed to fill a gap in the market for good quality literature at reasonable prices, were incredibly successful and set a new yardstick for publishing.
Now, the company’s archive of more than 2,300 boxes of letters, notes and other papers, housed at Bristol University Library’s Special Collections, is to be studied and catalogued online.
“This archive of the most distinctive, if not the most important, publishing house in the 20th century, is a record of the democratisation of reading,” said project leader Professor John Lyon of the university’s English Department.
“It is thus invaluable for what it can reveal of the history of the book and publishing and, more generally, of Penguin’s undoubted contribution to British culture.”
The archive contains editorial files relating to the publication of each book, including author and editor correspondence, and material relating to the history of the company, book design, and individuals involved in the publishing process. It also holds copies of most of the Penguin books ever published.
A team of researchers is being hired for the four-year project, which is being funded by a grant of £650,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
An exhibition is planned to coincide with the publishers’ 75th anniversary in 2009. In the meantime a fascinating exhibition from the Penguin archives at the Holburne Museum of Art in Bath examines the history of the Penguin book cover, tracing its design from the iconic triple-banded and colour-coded early covers to the multifarious covers of today.
The exhibiton runs until March 24 2008. See www.bath.ac.uk/holburne/exhibit for more information.