Earlier Editions of Penguin Classics

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Earlier Editions of Penguin Classics

maig 4, 2007, 1:59 pm

Because of the well-documented problems with the new era of Penguins, as well as their inflated prices in used book stores, I've collected the earlier editions of the series for some time. I'm not even sure there are titles for each run, but they basically break down into four categories:

1. first edition, 1946: colorful, without art on the front.
2. second edition, 1964: black spines, photographs on the front.
3. third edition, 1985: black spines with colored stripes on top, art on the front.
4. new edition, 2003: black spines with orange, snazzy art and photos on the front.

There's a free catalogue for the recent edition, but Penguin seems to disavow all knowledge of any series out of print. I'm wondering if anyone knows of a checklist for any of the first three runs, especially the 1985 edition.

maig 4, 2007, 2:32 pm

I have a few of each of the 1985 and current editions (no overlap, though -- wouldn't that defeat the purpose?). I was kinda interested in figuring out the logic behind which color they used for the stripe on the older version. I'm under 30 and was definitly NOT a reader until after I'd gotten out of high school, so I only got as far as noticing the existance of some kind of pattern before they changed the covers.

maig 4, 2007, 3:48 pm

Although there are a few inconsistencies (Sophocles shows up with both a purple and a red stripe), the color code in the 1985 edition aligns with the original language of the text.

Green: Eastern languages
Purple: Greek/Latin
Red: English
Yellow: Continental European

Compare that with the 1947 version, which had seventeen different colors (there's even one for Flemish).

maig 4, 2007, 3:52 pm

OK, that makes sense -- and it explains why most (if not all, most of my books are still in boxes) of what I have in that sub-series had either red or yellow stripes.

maig 5, 2007, 12:47 pm

I have a catalogue from c.1995 which will have the 1985 editions in. I'll fish it out...

jul. 3, 2007, 4:15 pm

I have three lists of penguin classics. The earliest is in The Penguin Story published in 1956 (Penguin's 21st birthday). This contains a complete list of all Penguins published between 1935 and 1956. The classics list runs from L1 (the Odyssey) to L65 (Maupassant's The Mountain Inn and other stories).

The next catalogue - "The complete range of titles published in the black classics series" - is undated and has no publication information other than stating in the introduction that Penguin had been the leading publisher of classics of world literature for nearly fifty years. The books are identified by 6 digit SBN numbers.

Finally there is a free catalogue, given away at Waterstone's stores, giving a complete listing as at spring 1999. Its ISBN is 0149021429.

A bookseller named Richard Williams used to produce typescript listings of Penguins from his Dragonby Press in Scunthorpe. Googling him did not produce anything very helpful - I hope he survives even if his business doesn't!

jul. 5, 2007, 9:44 am

I work at Penguin, and as far as I know none of the series are out of print.

jul. 27, 2007, 3:57 pm

The choice of the phrase "Out of print" was probably an unfortunate one on my part. Because each edition of Penguin classics utilize the same ISBN for each work, it's difficult to get checklists based on previous editions. I've tried contacting Penguin several times, but they've rather steadfastly denied me any information on the subject.

Aboottthomas, I would love to get my hands on those first two catalogues you mentioned. It's good to know that they're out there somewhere: I'll have to keep my eyes peeled.

ag. 20, 2007, 6:32 pm

To add a bit of detail- yellow also included Geoffrey of Monmouth (Welsh, writing in Latin) and an anthology of Celtic writing, so strictly speaking it seems to have been everything European that wasn't originally written in English. Although on the other hand, Bede's Ecclesiastical History and More's Utopia were in red as I recall (presumably as they're considered part of the English literary tradition).

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set. 6, 2007, 10:30 am

Don't know about the cover site, but I have just come across this on the Penguin Classics website:


This is labelled as a complete list of all Penguin Classics - I haven't checked whether or not it goes back to the beginning of the series but it looks as if all the entries have ISBN numbers, so perhaps not.

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set. 6, 2007, 11:12 am

There was a newspaper article last month about book covers and it included this about a book which describes some of the Penguin covers:

This month Seven Hundred Penguins, a collection of paperback covers from the publisher's birth in 1935 up to the millennium, is published. It's a sort of Heat magazine for bibliophiles, an opportunity to gawp at what our favourite books were wearing in 1945, 1987 or 1992, as well as a chance to look at some oddities, some fleeting one-hit wonders, some "do you remember whens?" I hit my biggest emotional experience on page 95, where I found the 1974 cover I can never separate from my reading of The Great Gatsby. As a student, I had been delighted to discover a copy of the book in a charity shop. Set in a Mills & Boon-ish border of primrose yellow, it features a still from the film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. I recall with blushes the day I took it to a seminar only to have the tutor sniff at it.
In case anyone is wondering I'm afraid I'm sad enough to download and save some articles I'm interested in.

set. 6, 2007, 11:21 am

Just adding to above: Article is still on the Daily Telegraph website.
Search for "Helen Brown" which brings up quite a few hits and the article (18th August) was called "What's behind the cover".

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set. 6, 2007, 12:30 pm

Just checked the Odyssey entries in the 2006 PDF document above - 3 versions listed not including the original E V Rieu translation from 1945, but including the revision by Dominic Rieu which was the 'Black Classics' version in the 1990s as well as two versions of the newer Fagles translation. I think you are right, desideo.

18Makifat Primer missatge
nov. 20, 2007, 2:00 am

I have a book in the Penguin format, undated (apparently 1995) called "Penguin Classics: A Complete Annotated Listing of Penguin Classics and Twentieth-Century Classics". But clearly some of the older editions are no longer in print (example: Lucan's Satirical Sketches).

I'm new to this group and am glad to have found it.

abr. 28, 2008, 12:18 am

In reply to the original post: I have just copied a pretty comprehensive (but outdated, in some places) list of 1985 editions that have not been reprinted, on another thread in this forum. The list was compiled by a prodigious Penguin Collector, a certain Peter J. Renshaw who resides in Tasmania. Click on this link to see the list!