Happy Birthday paperback book-75 years ago Penguin brought out the first modern paperback

I have it from the The Baltimore Sun  and a crime blog called The Rap Sheet that 75 years ago this week  Penguin Books “brought out the first modern paperback." Seeing as the idea came from British publishing executive Allen Lane,  why have I seen nothing about this in the UK media? Perhaps I've missed it. Perhaps the book trade media has been too overwhelmed by all the guff about ebooks to bother about this epoch breaking news but I wonder what the media said about the modern paperback when it first came out? Did some declare it as the end of civilisation as we know it?  Did others fear it would ruin reading habits?  And perhaps some even thought it would be the end of the hardback? Sound familiar?

None of these things happened and the cheap, colour-coded format caught on with readers and within months Penguin books were selling in the millions. Orange was for fiction, while green was for crime, and staring at my bookshelves I have a wonderful collection of green Penguin paperbacks. Some are first editions, sadly not from 1935, but from the 1950s.

Penguin's corporate history describes how Lane got the inspiration for his Penguin paperbacks after visiting Agatha Christie in Devon.  "He 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. He also wanted a 'dignified but flippant' symbol for his new business. His secretary suggested a Penguin and another employee was sent to London Zoo to make some sketches.

"The first Penguin paperbacks appeared in the summer of 1935 and included works by Ernest Hemingway, André Maurois and Agatha Christie. They cost just sixpence, the same price as a packet of cigarettes."

Well done Mr Lane, a novel idea. And thank you Penguin paperbacks for publishing such classic crime fiction from great writers including Josephine Bell, Raymond Chandler, Josephine Tey, Georges Simenon and hundreds of others. Happy Birthday.


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