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

25 January 1947: the world’s first video game is patented
This day in history

25 January 1947: the world’s first video game is patented

On this day in 1947, Thomas T Goldsmith and Estle Ray Mann submitted a patent application for their “Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device” – the world's …
25 Jan 2021
23 January 1967: Milton Keynes founded
This day in history

23 January 1967: Milton Keynes founded

The most famous of Britain's garden cities, Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, was founded on this day in 1967.
23 Jan 2021
22 January 1924: Ramsay MacDonald becomes prime minister
This day in history

22 January 1924: Ramsay MacDonald becomes prime minister

Ramsay MacDonald was one of the founder members of the Labour party, which he took to power on this day in 1924.
22 Jan 2021
22 January 1979: Public sector strike cripples Britain
This day in history

22 January 1979: Public sector strike cripples Britain

On this day in 1979, thousands of public sector workers downed tools over the Labour government's unpopular policy to tackle inflation.
22 Jan 2021

Most Popular

The FTSE 100 is set for a makeover with an influx of new tech stocks
UK stockmarkets

The FTSE 100 is set for a makeover with an influx of new tech stocks

The FTSE 100 – the dullest index in the world – is about to reinvent itself as a host of new firms list on the market. The change is long overdue, say…
24 Jan 2021
Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021
House prices

Why we won’t see a house-price crash in 2021

Lockdown sent house prices berserk as cooped up home-workers fled for bigger properties in the country. And while they won’t rise quite as much this y…
18 Jan 2021
Think Tesla is a bubble? This might be the best way to bet on it bursting
Oil

Think Tesla is a bubble? This might be the best way to bet on it bursting

The huge rise in Tesla’s share price means that, by market value, it’s now the sixth-largest company in the US and and the world’s biggest car-maker. …
25 Jan 2021