70 years, 70 books, 70 artists, 70 quid.

cover illustration of man's profile head with black birds inside
Cover design: Darren Haggar, 2005

Pocket Penguins – a 70th year celebration

At every major anniversary of Penguin’s founding in 1935 the company has celebrated with a publishing event that captures some aspect of its heritage. Penguin reached the age of 70 in 2005 and for that significant date it created a unique series of 70 small books by 70 Penguin authors with covers by 70 artists (who were each paid £70).

70 unique titles to celebrate the company’s 70th birthday. The titles in the Pocket Penguins series are emblematic of the renowned breadth of quality of the Penguin list and will hark back to Penguin founder Allen Lane’s vision of good books for all. – Penguin blurb

Publishing Director Simon Winder stated that They’re not supposed to be Penguin’s greatest writers, or greatest hits, just 70 books representative of Penguin. The list came about by trying to show what we’re famous for.”

Pocket Penguin 70_Elizabeth David_Pageants & Picnics/////illustration of young woman made of embroider

Pocket Penguin 70_Beevor_Stalingrad/////Pocket Penguin 70_Waugh_Hailie Selassie

These A-format paperbacks are very slim at 50 pages, many of them just chapters from books on the Penguin list. The choice of writers and texts makes for good reading, and they spread the word about the company’s unmatched literary and educational heritage. But is it book publishing or mere promotion? 

Penguin 70_Borges/////Penguin 70_Primo Levi

Pocket Penguin 70_William Boyd_Protobiography/////Pocket Penguin 70_Wodehouse_Jeeves and Impending Doom

The art direction for this giant project was split between Jim Stoddart and John Hamilton who each supervised 35 covers. The artists were paid £70, a low fee for a book cover. To get around this constraint some artists got clever. Jonny Hannah (Of Pageants and Picnic, below) adapted the artwork to posters which he sold. Derek Birdsall (Young Bysshe, below) recycled the typography from his 1967 cover for Jean-Paul Sartre’s Words, “my favourite of all the covers I ever did for Penguin. Why shouldn’t I celebrate my own Penguin days with a reflection of the same cover. It works you see”.ins which showcased covers from 70 different creatives who worked more for passion for the project than for the terrible payment and tortuous deadlines.

Perhaps the largest and most diverse of all Penguin series, The Pocket Penguins have an impressive range of styles and techniques: stencil art, embroidery, photography, digital art, hand-lettering, typesetting, drawing, painting and even a maps.

grid of 70 covers showing variety of designs
The seventy covers of the Pocket Penguins series

DESIGNERS:

  • Darren Haggar – Anton Chekov, The Kiss (top)
  • Derek Birdsall – Claire Tomalin, Young Bysshe
  • Angus Hyland – Jose Luis Borges, The Mirror of Ink
  • Jim Friedman – Primo Levi, Iron Potassium Nickel
  • Andrew Smith – Evelyn War, The Coronation of Haile Selassie
  • Claire Coles – William Trevor, The Dressmaker’s Child
  • Nathan Burton – Antony Beevor, Christmas at Stalingrad
  • Johnny Hannah – Elizabeth David, Of Pageants and Picnics
  • Harriet Russell – PG Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Impending Doom
  • Gnikram Nevets – William Boyd, Protobiography

Box set of 70 books showing the rainbow effect of the coloured spines
The box set of the complete set of seventy books, showing the rainbow effect of the spines.

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