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

Imperial Brands has an 8.3% yield – but what’s the catch?
Share tips

Imperial Brands has an 8.3% yield – but what’s the catch?

Tobacco company Imperial Brands boasts an impressive dividend yield, and the shares look cheap. But investors should beware, says Rupert Hargreaves. H…
20 May 2022
What's behind Sri Lanka’s crippling debt crisis?
Emerging markets

What's behind Sri Lanka’s crippling debt crisis?

Sri Lanka has been hit by a triple whammy of economic shocks and has gone to the IMF for a bailout. It may just be the first domino to fall in a globa…
20 May 2022
Investing in drugmakers: uncommon profits from curing rare diseases
Share tips

Investing in drugmakers: uncommon profits from curing rare diseases

Treatments for medical conditions with only a small number of sufferers can still be very attractive for pharmaceutical companies and investors becaus…
20 May 2022
Share tips of the week – 20 May
Share tips

Share tips of the week – 20 May

MoneyWeek’s comprehensive guide to the best of this week’s share tips from the rest of the UK's financial pages.
20 May 2022

Most Popular

The ten highest dividend yields in the FTSE 100
Income investing

The ten highest dividend yields in the FTSE 100

Rupert Hargreaves looks at the FTSE 100’s top yielding stocks for income investors to consider.
18 May 2022
Aviva: a share for income investors to tuck away
Share tips

Aviva: a share for income investors to tuck away

Insurance giant Aviva is one of the highest yielding stocks in the FTSE 100 – and it’s cheap, too, making it a tempting target for income investors. R…
18 May 2022
Despite the crypto crash, bitcoin still has a bright future
Bitcoin & crypto

Despite the crypto crash, bitcoin still has a bright future

Cryptocurrencies have crashed hard, with bitcoin down by more than 50% from its peak. But, says Dominic Frisby, bitcoin still has a future – it is the…
19 May 2022