Edward Young's design for the first ten covers of the newly established reprint series in July 1935 proved to be more than just a sensible response to the demand for cheap, effective layout. The combination of Gill Sans-Serif Bold, broad colour bands and convenient size was to become the formula which Penguin would keep for its fiction titles until the early fifties, and its ghost would haunt even later reforms.
Good typefaces, based on the classical faces of the Renaissance and seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had been made available for machine composition increasingly during the 1920s by the work of Beatrice Warde and Stanley Morison at the Monotype Corporation. Instilled with the principles of the Arts and Crafts reform movement, which had their earlier impact on the private presses, the revision of old types was complemented by the commission of new faces. In this way Eric Gill had been asked to translate to a typeface Edward Johnston's sign lettering, seen since 1916 on the stations of the London Underground. For the texts, the first Penguins made use of Stanley Morison's Times New Roman of 1931. Therefore, as they appeared in the first series of ten, the books had a happy combination of novelty and familiarity: they evoked something fresh and modern, while not being so rarefied or 'moderne' as to discourage the customer from picking them up.
Richard Hoggart has analysed his initial reaction:
"Just why Penguins were able to enlist this degree of enthusiasm – and to command a kind of loyalty – is worth teasing out. They were very cheap of course and attractively presented – they looked neither meretriciously glossy nor ponderously dull. They gave us the chance to own, say, some good contemporary novels and essays .... whereas before we had been almost confined to secondhand copies of older writers."
Richard Hoggart: 'The Reader', Penguins Progress 1935-1960, Penguin Books, 1960.
Hoggart isolates the books' cheapness and contemporaneity as two important features which attracted him and would determine their success. They were aspects which the rest of the publishing world had forecast as their potential undoing. However, Allen Lane was convinced that his estimate of the likely market and the quantity of reprints that would be needed was right. Hoggart at this time was a sixteen-year-old grammar school boy in a provincial town. His interest in such a series symbolizes a reaction against Edwardian culture and the stuffiness and insularity in which he had grown up.
In terms of design, Allen Lane acknowledged the influence of German reprint series. Many of the characteristics of Penguin's design were already evident in the Albatros series of reprints. Albatros books, themselves based on the Tauchnitz editions of Leipzig started in 1842, were founded in Hamburg in 1932 by J.Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch. Albatros had been the first to colour-code their series by genre – blue for love stories, green for travel, orange for novels and short stories and so on. The size (181 x 111 mm) was based on the requirements of standardized production, but also happens to relate approximately to the Golden Section, a feature which was to satisfy designers for Penguin throughout its subsequent developments. Albatros, like Penguin, had typographical covers with the title in sans-serif capitals and made a feature of their bird colophon. The typographer was Hans (Giovanni) Madersteig, who produced a well-spaced, evenly toned page, in contrast to Tauchnitz's rather badly crowded page.
At first Penguin books were produced with dust-jackets covering the paperback covers. They also included a description of the author and a small photograph, initially inside of the dust-jacket, then on the rear cover.
The look of Penguins was partly determined by the facilities the printer could provide and partly by the specifications of the production team. In the early years, design fell into the sphere of production, with Edward Young, Bob Maynard and John Overton, as successive Production Managers, devising layouts and making decisions about typography. The separation of design from production and then cover artwork from typography at Penguin reflected broader changes which acknowledges the growth of the graphic design profession in Britain which was to accelerate after 1945.home