Wednesday, 9:00am
24 February 2016

The calm collector

Penguin Scribe: a collection of articles on Penguin Books

By Steve Hare <br> Penguin Collectors Society, £8

A new collection of Steve Hare’s writing demonstrates an erudite passion for the design and content of Penguin Books

The late Steve Hare (1950-2015) was one of those writers that every editor appreciates, writes John L. Walters.

He was someone you could call upon to write almost any kind of article or review, and what he filed was always beautifully written, well researched, even-handed but critical where necessary … and often with a subtle, self-deprecating humour.

For Eye, he wrote about Rathna Ramanathan’s BBC World Service campaign (‘Roadshows and rickshaws’, Eye 64); about advertising’s rediscovery of illustration (‘Drawn into conversation’, Eye 72); and about the future of publishing (‘Predictive text’, Eye 66). However his great passion was for Penguin Books. For many years he was closely associated with the Penguin Collectors Society, as editor or treasurer and a safe pair of hands dealing with the minutiae of his fellow collectors. When I mentioned finding an early Penguin edition at a junk shop – The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze – he immediately quoted its number back to me [no. 201] and then apologised for the sudden outbreak of nerdiness.

‘Hipster’ Christmas card sent by Penguin’s Allen and Richard Lane in 1954.
Top: Steve Hare at home with some of his 15,000-plus Penguin books in 2009.

Christmas Card 1954

Penguin Scribe pulls together ten articles written for a variety of journals and magazines, including Eye, which makes this pocket-sized book a must-read for Penguin fanatics and a handy crib sheet for anyone wanting to learn more about the publishing culture of this highly successful paperback imprint.

‘The Penguin Story,’ published by Book and Magazine Collector in 1995, is a clear account of the company’s origins and the people who made it succeed, including office junior Edward Young, its first designer, and legendary Puffin editor Kaye Webb. Another article focuses upon Noel Carrington’s Picture Puffins, which featured talents such as Kathleen Hale, Edward Bawden and ‘Suffolk artist and Communist’ Paxton Chadwick, who died suddenly in 1961, before completing Life Histories, his book on the metamorphosis of animals. A limited-edition version was finally published in 1995.

Wild Flowers by Paxton Chadwick.


A Paxton Chadwick illustration for Life Histories, early 1960s, but not published until 1995.


Hare connects Penguin’s idiosyncrasies to those of its energetic founder, Allen Lane, whom he describes as ‘intensely curious and naturally interested in every subject. Wherever he went, and whomever he met, there was always the seed of a potential Penguin, or an entire series, just waiting to be discovered.’ Hare has an eye for the hidden stories and oddities (always a delight for the dogged collector) that make the original Penguins so remarkable in form and content.

A rare non-standard Penguin (or Pingouin) edition published in Egypt, early 1940s. Hare writes that Penguin’s local agent was ‘an odd character based in Cairo, W. Jeffery Eady … the Shanks Sanitary and Bath Company representative for the Middle East; it is unlikely he was a publisher through and through.


At the outer reaches of arcane Penguin collectors’ lore, we learn about the oddly designed foreign wartime editions, described by Hare as ‘rough and ready, slightly amateur versions of Young’s classic design,’ which ‘tell a compelling story of wartime exigency’ and about Smear, the Penguin Special that never was (an article first published in Eye 61).

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, cover design by Nottinghamshire-born Paul Smith, 2006.

Designer Classics LadyC_Lge

Other articles deal with Pocket Penguins, which offered 70 designers £70 to each design a book in seven days, and the unexpectedly successful ‘Great Ideas’ series designed by David Pearson under in-house art director Jim Stoddart. ‘Reading the Classics’ (2006) deals with several different visual interpretations of classic texts, from minimal Emma to Paul Smith’s hand-stitched luxury edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Crime and Punishment, cover design by Fuel, 2006.

Designer Classics Crime_Lge

Edward Ardizzone’s cover for his book Paul, The Hero of the Fire.

Porpoise Paul

Cover of Penguin Scribe.


John L. Walters, Eye editor, London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.