Pelican Books Take Flight Again

Words by Elizabeth Pollard

With an ambition to make books accessible to the masses, at their launch in 1937, Pelican are famous for reducing the price barrier of books to the cost of a packet of cigarettes; ‘We…believed in the existence in this country of a vast reading public for intelligent books at a low price, and staked everything on it.’ (Founder, Allen Lane)

After less than fifty years, in 1984, Pelican stopped printing it’s non-fiction despite selling over 250 million copies worldwide. However, in April this year, Penguin announced the return of the blue cover which will cover a vast range of non-fiction subjects once again.

It is said that the imprint came about when Penguin founder, Allen Lane, passed by a book stall in Kings Cross station, and overheard a woman for the seller for ‘one of those Pelican books’. Worried about his competitors, Lane quickly secured the imprint for the new series of books. Beginning with The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism by George Bernard Shaw and later Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life (which sold the entire first print order in a week), Pelican proved itself popular with the self educating people of post war Britain.

With a relaunch, comes a rebrand of these iconic pale blue covers, and I really feel the team at Penguin have done them justice. Sticking to a simple, pared back design, they have really captured what makes these books so iconic in the first place, whilst still giving them a contemporary makeover. This was extremely important to the team at Penguin Random House, with accessibility in mind, Matt Young and the team of in-house designers felt it was important to treat the, often heavy, text sensitively;

“We spent ages trying different page lay-outs to strike the right balance between the number of lines on a page (ensuring comfortable, generous leading, making sure the text doesn’t look too dense) and the number of pages in the book (if you space it too generously you risk ending up with a whopping great big spine that could look equally off-putting).
(It’s Nice That, May 2014)

The launch kicks off with Economics: A User’s Guide by economist Ha-Joon Chang, The Domesticated Brain by the psychologist Bruce Hood, Revolutionary Russia by Orlando Figes and Human Evolution by the anthropologist Robin Dunba.

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