The University Library is fortunate to have a collection of Penguin Books which is almost complete from 1935 (when the first Penguin was published) up to 1961. The collection was donated by Penguin collector, Dr Angus Mitchell, who was formerly Chair of the University Court.
Penguin Books was founded by Allen Lane, who in 1935 was Director of the publishing firm, The Bodley Head. The story goes that he was travelling by train from Exeter to London and could not find any suitable reading matter at the railway station. He realised that there was a lack of good contemporary fiction available at an affordable price. This gave him the idea to produce paperback books and sell them for 6d (about the same price as a packet of cigarettes in 1935). The first books were all reprints of biographies and novels by contemporary writers. They sold very well, and so Penguin Books became a separate company in 1936.
Allen Lane wanted a trademark for his books, something which would be easy to reproduce pictorially in black and white, and which people would remember. He and his staff were apparently sitting around a table trying to think of an animal or bird which would be suitable. One story relates that it was the secretary, Joan Coles, who suggested a penguin. Another member of staff, Edward Young was sent off to the London Zoo to sketch a bird which still appears on all Penguin books to this day.