Judging Books by Their Covers

This week’s cover of the week goes to a entire publisher, Penguin, and the role they have played in why we have book covers to begin with.

penguin collectionPenguin are associate with the classics. Their editions of paperback classic novels, linked together through illustrative covers, are collectors items. Penguin’s long history of collectable book began over eighty years ago when Allen Lane founded the publishing house. Design was instantly a focus for the publishers as they focused on creating affordable books for everyone. This developed into creating affordable works of art, and collections of art, as images of modern art began to appear on the covers. Most recently Coralie Bickford-Smith (The Fox and The Star) created beautiful block print designs for the Penguin English Library series. These beautiful designs use symbols from the books in repeat patterns, subtly suggesting content and setting. The colour schemes are simple but bold, keeping the traditional Penguin orange as a streak down the spine.


I am fascinated by the idea of creating books in to works of art. I have mentioned this many times before. Penguin manage it in a different way from other books I have looked at, whose beautifully illustrated pages make them art objects in themselves. Penguin use the covers to link the works into a collection of works. Each book is beautiful in it’s own right, but it is as a collection that the work really comes together. The detail of the striped spines creates a beautiful set even when they are on the shelf.

penguin classic 4

I love that Penguin have kept design as an important part of their publication process. Everyone can picture the style of a Penguin Classic with it’s artwork at the top, black band and title along the bottom with the iconic penguin in the middle. It seems that Penguin’s design has become just as classic as the books they publish.

To learn more about the history of penguin design see this article from the BBC last year.

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