The beautiful New English Library

Design by Coralie Bickford-Smith, Penguin English Library, 2012


One of the more ambitious series produced at Penguin in recent years is the Penguin English Library of 2012, a presentation of 100 classics in beautiful patterned covers.

The art director was Jim Stoddart, but the design work was done by twenty two artists who worked on the project over a period of nine months. They were led by Coralie Bickford-Smith, an in-house designer at Penguin. Her book covers have been recognised by AIGA in New York and D&AD in the UK as well as featuring in the New York Times and Vogue. You can see why.

The designs are firmly planted in Penguin tradition, the vertical stripes and centred text echo the Penguin typographic covers of the 1950s. The pattern of each cover is made out of symbols that cleverly sum up the book – see the cutthroat razors in the Edgar Allan Poe cover below.

cb-s-10b         cb-s-1

cb-s-15         cb-s-2

cb-s-13         cb-s-14

One member of the team was  Viki Ottewill who designed one of the covers and was responsible for working up all the designs following the detailed layout guidelines. She then had the technical job of making the designs ready for press. You get a sense of the sheer labour involved in a project of this size.

Set of complete covers, Penguin English Library, 2012


Below, the style settings for the spine

Style settings for the spines of the Penguin English Library


The project has been very successful, especially in the UK where they are everywhere in bookshops. In 2018 a further set of 25 were added with more following. And they have attracted much publicity and many prizes. The Penguin English Library cements the tradition of intelligent, classy design in highly collectable series.

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