The History of Penguin Books

'Railway  discoveries' tour of  Mount washington.

‘Oh no’ I hear my friends sigh. ‘Not another railway item!’ But our speaker, whose subject at the museum today, ‘The History of Penguin Books’, is the renowned travel tour manager for the ‘Railway Discoveries Company’  Mr Barry Edwards of Frome. Before he plunged into his subject, he gave a short autobiography of himself. 39 years a teacher, he ended his career at a private school in Bideford as Deputy Head. He then went abroad to Singapore as an educational consultant. In his retirement he currently organises rail tours, mostly in Europe.

Penguin books

Barry has amassed a collection of 1,440 of the 1,500 published Penguin paperback books; from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. It all started, he explained, with his family shopping trips. He hates shopping so decided to leave the family spend their money while he discovered what interesting things he could find in local charity and antique shops. He was eventually drawn to the Penguin books by their appearance; the feel of the paper; the titles within coloured bands; their range of subjects and the rarity of the war year publications.

Barry Edwards and one of his Penguin paperbacks

Barry said the Penguin book company was founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane. Other publishers had tried in the 1920’s to sell paperbacks, notably Victor Gollancz, but their books were of poor quality, unlike the Penguin brand, which was a high quality, low price product. Initially, they sold for 6 old pence (2½p) as compared to hard backs at 4 shillings (20p). The books took off with the public and were distributed by the Woolworth stores in the UK, USA, Canada and South Africa. A further boost to their popularity was when Lane shrewdly published Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1960 which sold 3.5 million copies! On the 7th July 1970 Sir Allen Lane died and the firm went into decline, it is now owned by a Dutch company.

After an appreciative response from the Friends of the Museum audience, Heather Morrisey, our chairman invited questions from the floor. The Penguin Book Club still exists and issues a magazine; Barry was wearing a Penguin logo tie which has been featured by Tim Wonnacott on ‘Bargain Hunt’ and he was sure Bristol University has a Penguin archive-please see:-

Heather thanked our speaker for an enthralling talk. Our next meeting will be held at the Badger Centre- opposite the Blakehay theatre. For more information on the Penguin book story please follow the link:-



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