Penguin Book Cover Exhibit Opens

An exhibit has opened at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft devoted to a Penguin Book “modern makeover by designers from the worlds of music, fashion and street art (including Banksy).”  This began in 1998 and is explained by one of the designers, John Hamilton, in an article in The Independent:

The collection of re-branded classics would be called Penguin Essentials: we aimed to persuade new readers to discover these books as well as re-ignite existing readers’ love for them. The brief from my managing director at the time was to ignore everything that had been done before and completely reinvent the covers. This was an exhilarating challenge. I was new at Penguin, full of ideas and felt like I needed to prove myself. I thought of it as a rebirth, a shake-up of a great brand with a long and respected design history.

Evelyn Waugh was one of the Penguin authors whose books were included in the program. Among the others were Anthony Burgess, George Orwell, James Joyce, Kingsley Amis and Vladimir Nabokov as well as more recent writers such as Jonathan Coe and Zadie Smith. Several of these are illustrated in the Independent story. One of most interesting and eye-catching among those illustrated is that for Jonathan Coe’s novel What a Carve Up which was designed by a team of two Israeli skateboarders. None of those for Waugh’s books are shown in the article, but at least two were redesigned as part of the program: Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust. A bookseller list also includes a 2003 Penguin edition of Scoop in this category, but it is not identified as a Penguin Essential in the company’s own advertising based on an internet search. Penguin has recently replaced the “Essential” cover for Brideshead Revisited with a more traditional design. See previous post. The cover for Coe’s novel has also been replaced, but the fate of the others is unknown. In your correspondent’s opinion, the psychedelic Penguin Waugh covers of the 1970s-80s designed by Bentley/Farrell/Burnett were both more attractive and probably more effective in turning the Waugh product into a unified “brand”. Whether the Penguin Essential covers succeeded in shifting more copies is not stated in the article.

The museum is located in East Sussex and the exhibit continues until 29 April. Also on display for the same period is an exhibit of the work of artist Elizabeth Friedlander (1903-84) who was best known for her Penguin cover designs of an earlier period. Opening times and other information are available here.

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