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Penguin Times Sixty Five

To borrow an analogy from my previous trade, book collecting is a ‘background batch’ activity – undertaken to no fixed timescale – a bookish weekend, say, or looping in and out of charity shops on the High Street. It is not until now a ’real time’ task where one has to be in a certain place by a certain time, to perform a specific transaction. Such has been the case in recent weeks for me and my colleagues who find themselves within the M25. For brand new ’horizontal grid’ Penguins are being published faster (one a weekday), cheaper (90p, less than a packet of ciggies) and bigger (B format) than they were seventy years ago. One has to be up in time before they run out at ’selected outlets’ (M&S, Smiths – but not all of them) to buy a copy of the weekday Times in a poly bag with a Penguin inside it. The poly bag has a ’triangle’ label like the ones shown below.


The first set were reprints of the 2007 Celebrations series with The Times replacing the spine number. Fifteen of the original 36 appeared thus in summer 2008. Then ten monochrome ’Film Classics’ were issued in February 2009 – including the three mega sellers, 1984, Animal Farm and Lady C. These, unlike the others, lack both ISBNs and reprint dates.

To someone (we have no idea who) it appeared to be a good idea and weekly sets began appearing at intervals from July 2009. There were eight such sets in the year making 40 titles in all. There are new categories (Chillers, Science..) and new colour codes. Why, one wonders, should Crime now be violet? Note that several titles have been mildly mutilated, one Celebrations title lacks the original illustrations and is noticeably thinner, another references an introduction which is not there. Overall, however, they are an elegant and colourful restatement of the Penguin tradition.

So by the end of 2009 there had been 15 Celebrations, 10 Film Classics and then eight sets of five = 40, making 65 titles in all. Meanwhile we continue to accumulate examples still in their bags to donate to the Bristol archive. Whatever one’s views on such things, they are the latest slice of Penguin history – and, given their limited distribution, could be rare one day.


Since this article was written, five further books were issued by The Times in February 2010, celebrating The Oscars

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