30 July 1935: Penguin sparks the ‘paperback revolution’

On this day in July 1935, the first mass-market paperback books bearing the penguin logo were published. Each book cost sixpence.

A waddling, surprised-looking bird probably wouldn't make most people's list of working-class heroes. But maybe it should. We are, of course, talking about the penguin or rather, the penguin that still stares out blankly from the covers of Penguin books published today.

Before Penguin caused a flap in the book trade, if you wanted to buy a book, you had to go to a stuffy bookshop. The less well-off had to make do with borrowing one from the public library. All that changed in the summer of 1935.

Allen Lane found himself at Exeter railway station, having spent the weekend in the company of Agatha Christie. He nosed around for something inexpensive to read on the train home, but couldn't find anything – just reprints of Victorian novels, and magazines.

Back in London, Lane decided to set up a company selling contemporary fiction cheaply. He wanted a logo that was "dignified but flippant". Why not a penguin, his secretary suggested. An employee was dispatched forthwith to London Zoo, clutching a sketch pad.

On 30 July 1935, the first books bearing the ubiquitous penguin were published orange for fiction, blue for biography and green for crime. Each book cost sixpence. Ernest Hemingway, Andre Marois and Agatha Christie led the rollout.

It's not too surprising the traditional publishers turned up their noses at the popular paperback revolution. But that didn't stop Penguin selling millions of books to avid readers of A Farewell to Arms and The Mysterious Affair at Styles in its first years.

Nor has Penguin ever been afraid of courting controversy. In 1960, it successfully overturned a ban and published Lady Chatterley's Lover. Investors were presumably still hot under their collars when Penguin listed on the London Stock Exchange a year later. The shares were 150 times oversubscribed a record for the exchange.

Recommended

20 October 1935: Mao’s Long March ends
This day in history

20 October 1935: Mao’s Long March ends

Almost exactly a year after setting off, Mao Zedong and his army of communists arrived at the foot of the Great Wall of China on this day in 1935.
20 Oct 2020
19 October 1960: US begins its trade embargo on Cuba
This day in history

19 October 1960: US begins its trade embargo on Cuba

In retaliation for Cuba seizing American property, President Eisenhower banned exports to the island on this day in 1960.
19 Oct 2020
16 October 1995: The toll bridge to Skye opens
This day in history

16 October 1995: The toll bridge to Skye opens

A new bridge connecting the Isle of Skye to the Scottish mainland opened on this day in 1995, but the toll soon became a bone of contention.
16 Oct 2020
16 October 1834: Houses of Parliament burn down
This day in history

16 October 1834: Houses of Parliament burn down

An attempt to modernise Parliament's system of accounting for debt led to both Houses being destroyed by fire on this day in 1834.
16 Oct 2020

Most Popular

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm
Bitcoin

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm

The Bank of England could win the race to create a respectable digital currency if it moves quickly, says Matthew Lynn.
18 Oct 2020
Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts
Bank accounts

Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts

Negative interest rates are likely to mean the introduction of fees for current accounts and other banking products. But that might make the UK bankin…
19 Oct 2020
What would negative interest rates mean for your money?
UK Economy

What would negative interest rates mean for your money?

There has been much talk of the Bank of England introducing negative interest rates. John Stepek explains why they might do that, and what it would me…
15 Oct 2020