Although Penguin Books has been celebrating its 75th anniversary with a number of milestones and manifestations, today is the actual anniversary of Sir Allen Lane’s foray into quality paperback publishing. The idea of making high-end literature affordable to the masses—“splendid value for sixpence each,” according to George Orwell’s review in the New English Weekly—was still reasonably revolutionary, and it’s safe to say Sir Allen made history. I can’t improve much on Penguin’s own timeline:
After a weekend visiting Agatha Christie in Devon, [Lane] found himself on a platform at Exeter station searching its bookstall for something to read on his journey back to London, but discovered only popular magazines and reprints of Victorian novels.
Appalled by the selection on offer, Lane decided that good quality contemporary fiction should be made available at an attractive price and sold not just in traditional bookshops, but also in railway stations, tobacconists and chain stores.
I do wish, though, that along with all the other nice commemorative merchandise Penguin had seen fit to reissue its original 1939 Penguin Donkey bookcase at similarly affordable prices. There are reproductions around, but they run a bit too rich for my blood; books for the people ought to be accompanied by shelves for the people, if you ask me. However, over at The Quivering Pen David Abrams is holding a contest for the people: Email him the title of one of the original 10 Penguins published, and you could win one of 75 Penguin books. The contest ends at midnight on Saturday, August 5, which is plenty of time for a little detective work. And in the meantime, don’t forget Douglas Coupland’s 75th Anniversary project—there’s still room for some more genius in that Flickr pool.