Penguin Modern Classics.

When I was in Argentina in the late ’60s and starting to buy Serious Books, I loved the Penguins in the bookstores that stocked English books (mostly from England itself, with prices in shillings and pence on the cover, which intrigued me). Emma Tucker at Creative Review reviews The Penguin Modern Classics Book, which “celebrates the series’ design legacy”:

Every single one of the 1,800 titles included in the series is featured in this compilation, which displays the first Penguin Modern Classics cover for each, alongside a brief summary and some background on the author. Chapters are divided into regions and countries, and helpful sidebars connect themes across different titles.

The first five Modern Classics covers were designed by Penguin typographer Hans Schmoller, who paired Eric Gill’s Joanna typeface with a grey, white and orange palette. The appearance of the series has varied over the years, as different art directors put their own stamp on the jackets. In 1963, Germano Facetti introduced the ‘Marber Grid’, which put a white, black or green panel on the cover, paired with full-bleed artwork.

Cherriwyn Magill changed things up again in 1982, with an inset artwork, and then in 1989 Penguin introduced a floating logo in a roundel and a white title box set in Jan Tschichold’s Sabon. A glossy silvery period followed in the early 2000s, and then in 2007 Penguin Press art director Jim Stoddart introduced Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase’s Avant Garde as a typeface – which remains in use today.

I (of course, being an old fart) prefer the old ones, but they’re all good, and seeing those covers makes me intensely nostalgic (and raises my bibliophilia level to 11).


  1. Christopher Culver says

    Ah, Penguin. Never has such memorable publication choices and design been combined with such awful-quality paper.

  2. Thanks for sharing the story!

  3. David Marjanović says

    Cherriwyn Magill

    Now that’s an interesting name.

  4. The artwork on many of those books was wonderful. I no longer have my ancient paperback copy of 1984 but the painting on the cover remains a vivid memory.

  5. Now that’s an interesting name.

    It is, isn’t it? I can find no other Cherriwyns, and no information about her other than that she worked as an art editor at Penguin and Macmillan.

  6. ə de vivre says

    Eric Gill’s Joanna typeface

    Named, of course, after the only of his daughters that he did not sexually abuse (Gill’s typefaces are gorgeous, but I can’t bring myself to use them knowing what kind of person he was)

  7. This book follows The Penguin Classics Book, which covers an earlier era of design, a very different kind of wonderful.

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