Pelican book cover design

 Projects 1960S 1964-Hypnosis,-Fact-And-Fiction---F.L.Marcuse  Projects 1960S 1963-Techniques-Of-Persuasion---J.A.C.Brown
When I was looking for more info about The Intelligent Woman's Guide To Atomic Radiation, I stumbled across Things Magazine's gallery of Penguin's Pelican book covers from the 1930s to the 1980s. In my opinion, the 1960s examples are absolutely stunning and represent a high point in book jacket design. For more on this, the book Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2000 goes into great depth on the publisher's iconic look-and-feel. The Pelican Project


  1. They really are super aren’t they? In my town in England there is an Oxfam bookshop that has stacks of these in wonderfully obscure titles that I’ve been buying for 49p a pop.

    A few of my favourite’s are Freud’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci and The Hidden Persueders about American culture being imported into Britain and how to avoid being sucked in.

    It’s such a shame there is no major publisher brining out these kind of titles now, whatever happened to Pelicans?

  2. The Penguin book covers of science fiction seemed to me to be some of the finest examples of graphic arts I’ve seen.

    One in particular stays with me as perfectly evocative of the book’s content and style (surely the first job of cover art is to expound the story and style of the novel! – I hate abstract covers). Besides being beautifully rendered, it is spare and dark and frightening.

    The cover of JG Ballard’s ‘The Wind From Nowhere’ perfectly dramatizes the book’s theme. The slightly stylized image of a Challenger tank flying through the air is inseparable in my memory from the experience of reading the book.

    Five minutes searching on Google found a good image of this and several other Ballard covers on this blog:

    If you love good graphic art you should take a look – these covers are stunning.

  3. Jan Tschichold, Derek Birdsall, Romek Marber, David Pelham, Germano Facetti. I’d say the high point in book cover design.

  4. Way back when I actually worked for a graphic house, I remember being super excited as we trainsitioned from bromides and plates for colour work to PostScript RIPS and CTP.

    But as we went on I noticed both the art and the ideas from clients got lazier and lazier, visually lkess interesting and eventually homogenous – in regards to style, identity etc etc.

    Working with coarse halftone printers and clunky GTOs, creating bromides on 300PPI lasers, having to use pasteups – they can create a much more interesting effect. Hell give me “four colour process” on four copiers with different coloured toners over a Fiery RIP and a Xerox A-series.

    I think it’s sad that many course now seem to skip the hands on visual studies and design fundamentals – which include pasting up type, so you can get a feel for kerning and leading, negative space etc – in favour of easily available technology.

    Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage is a great example of paste-up / early typesetting smacking down the notion that technology has somehow made for a richer visual landscape, rather than glossier colours and substanceless pap.

  5. Wow. Hadn’t seen Entropy Tango before but it is *fantastic.* Maybe I’ll post about that tomorrow! : ) Thanks!

  6. You really can tell from these why everybody had gotten sick and tired of Helvetica by the mid 1980s

    For me, the odd gem notwithstanding, these pale in comparison with the illustrative genius of Dick Bruna (who does the Miffy books which were blatantly ripped off by Sanrio’s Hello Kitty.)

  7. Yes, the covers were great — but what about the books?

    Pelican books were an incredible resource of learned information; a whole reference library available from your local bookshop, at prices realistic even at pocket-money levels

    I wonder how many of those titles made money for Penguin?

    It’s just wonderful that the series existed at all; publishing at its very, very best.

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