Gateshead Shipley Museum Marks 70 Years Of Penguin Books

By Culture24 Staff | 20 January 2009
A picture of the front cover of A Clockwork Orange, a colourful jacket with a cartoon figure in a black hat with one eye missing

A Clockwork Orange is one of Penguin's best-known releases. Pic courtesy Penguin

Exhibition: 70 Years of Penguin Design, Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead , until May 31 2009

When Penguin Books founder Allen Lane sought a symbol for his new business in 1935, he wanted a “dignified but flippant” mascot.

Enraged by the magazines and reprints of Victorian novels he was offered at Exeter station while returning from a weekend at Agatha Christie’s Devon abode, Lane was determined to take quality fiction to the masses, eventually dispatching a minion to sketch penguins at London Zoo following a suggestion by his secretary.

A picture of the front cover of 1984, with an eye peering through a tunnel

George Orwell's 1984, which was part of the orange-coloured fiction publications. Pic courtesy Penguin

70 years on, Lane’s aquatic centrepiece has been the subject of dozens of designs reflecting decades of affordable literary publishing at Penguin. At first they were colour-coded and cost less than a packet of fags – “we believed in the existence in this country of a vast reading public for intelligent books at a low price, and staked everything on it,” said Lane – winning immediate praise from luminaries such as JB Priestley, Bernard Shaw and George Orwell.

A picture of Penguin designs through the decades, showing the bird in various stages

The pelican symbol has undergone some playful redesigns since the 1930s. Pic courtesy Penguin

The company has made some brave decisions over the years, facing a charge under the Obscene Publications Act in 1960 for Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a libel suit from revisionist historian David Irving in 2000 after the publication of Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust and the threat of a ban in the US over Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men exposé in 2002.

A picture of the front cover of Lady Chatterley's Lover, featuring bold lettering, red borders and a bird sitting on top of a fire

The publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover provoked legal controversy for the company. Pic courtesy Penguin

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was a Penguin publication in the 1980s, a 51% stake in Rough Guides became whole ownership in 2002, and its anniversary will be marked with £1.50 pocket versions of books by authors including Homer, Anton Chekhov, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jamie Oliver.

A picture of the front cover of Edna O'Brien's Girls In Their Married Bliss, featuring a girl lying on a bed

Edna O'Brien's Girls In Their Married Bliss. Pic courtesy Penguin

Shipley Art Gallery’s retrospective, described by curator Amy Barker as “a trip down memory lane” of “iconic graphic design”, winds through classic covers including Anthony Burgess’s villainous Clockwork Orange and the monochrome jacket for Ulysses, drawing on archive material from the University of Bristol, the V&A Museum and Penguin archives.

A picture of the front cover of Ariel by Andre Maurois, featuring bold print and blue borders in a simple early design

Andre Maurois's Ariel was published by Penguin in 1935. Pic courtesy Penguin

Family activities feature heavily across the exhibition, with storytelling sessions, jacket design and book swaps on offer over the next few weeks.

After-school story sessions run 3.30pm-4.15pm between February 2-6. Jacket design (bring your own book) with Alizon Bennett takes place on February 17 & April 9 between 10am-12pm & 1pm-3pm. Book swaps take place on April 16 between 10am-12pm & 1pm-3pm. Tours of the exhibition take place at 10am & 1pm on May 5. Call for further details.

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