Penguin Books was launched in 1935 as a paperback imprint of The Bodley Head and became a separate company early the following year. The books were extremely popular and instantly recognizable by their eye-catching covers, which featured two horizontal bands of color – orange for fiction, green for crime, blue for biography – separated by a third, white band containing the title and author’s name. This simple yet striking cover design gave the books a modern look and remained in use for many years, eventually acquiring iconic status as a design classic.
Penguin Books and its banded covers has played its part in our cultural heritage, and the books themselves have influenced generations of readers. In the 1950s the covers changed to vertical bands and illustrated covers were introduced, followed by a radically new cover design, the Marber grid, in the early 1960s. Then came the launch of a science fiction series featuring abstract and surrealist cover art by Max Ernst, Paul Klee, René Magritte and others, a pairing of sf and modern art that is all the more intriguing for the subtle and often ingenious connections between each book’s cover painting and its contents.
In the 1970s Penguin sf turned to covers inspired by Op Art and Pop Art, while the Penguin Modern Classics linked sf with paintings by Léger, Malevich and Edward Hopper. But to put these developments in perspective it is best to begin in the 1930s, for these early covers, now celebrated on a stamp, are themselves regarded as pocket-sized artworks.
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