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The Penguin Modern Classics Book: Celebrate the Legacy of Design

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The Penguin Modern Classics Book: Celebrate the Legacy of Design

30 November 2021

Established in 1961, Penguin’s Modern Classics series has featured a huge array of titles and authors from the 20th century including Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

This stunning book encompasses over sixty years worth of iconic literature covers and celebrates the relationship between design and literature. 

What defines a modern classic? According to the book’s author, Henry Eliot, it’s “a product of more recent times: it was written in response to a world we are still experiencing, and it can be all the more challenging and exciting because of it”.

Every single one of the 1,800 titles included in the series is featured in this compilation, which displays the first Penguin Modern Classics cover for each, alongside a brief summary and some background on the author. Chapters are divided into regions and countries, and helpful sidebars connect themes across different titles.

The first five Modern Classics covers were designed by Penguin typographer Hans Schmoller, who paired Eric Gill’s Joanna typeface with a grey, white and orange palette. The appearance of the series has varied over the years, as different art directors put their own stamp on the jackets. In 1963, Germano Facetti introduced the ‘Marber Grid’, which put a white, black or green panel on the cover, paired with full-bleed artwork.

Cherriwyn Magill changed things up again in 1982, with an inset artwork, and then in 1989 Penguin introduced a floating logo in a roundel and a white title box set in Jan Tschichold’s Sabon. A glossy silvery period followed in the early 2000s, and then in 2007 Penguin Press art director Jim Stoddart introduced Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase’s Avant Garde as a typeface – which remains in use today.



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