In this, the 400th year since his death, PRINT celebrates all things Shakespeare.
In 1935 English publisher Allen Lane launched the Penguin imprint with André Maurois’ Ariel, and several other reprint titles, thus introducing the mass-market paperback. Procuring rights cheaply from hardcover publishers, Penguin was able to keep costs down with fairly large print runs of around 20,000 and was an immediate success, distributed in both the United Kingdom and the United States. These early Penguins did not feature cover illustrations, simply displaying the title, author and logo on a flat color field, and were all priced at sixpence in the U.K. and 25¢ in the U.S.
The first ten titles sold over three million copies in the first year. Two years later, Penguin began publishing the complete works of Shakespeare, beginning with Twelfth Night in April 1937, followed soon after by five others. The cover design was by Edward Young, and featured Times Roman type. The illustration on the front cover was a wood-carving by Robert Gibbings. The only change from cover to cover was the title type. Then in 1951, Jan Tschichold redesigned the format, with portraits by Reynolds Stone, which lasted until 1959. Now on a white background with a black border, all the covers were again identical except for the titles.
Soon thereafter an American living in England, Ian Ballantine was hired to establish an American office for Penguin and publish paperbacks stateside. German designer Lucien Bernhard created the first American Penguin format, while his compatriot Tschichold refined the Penguin trademark, and Elaine de Kooning—Willem’s wife—designed the company’s flying-pelican colophon.
In 1939 Robert de Graaf, partnered with Simon & Schuster to form Pocket Books and the term “Pocket Book” entered the mass-market paperback lexicon. Following Penguin’s lead in England, Pocket Books also published works by Shakespeare. Other publishers followed suit, often using classical paintings to adorn their covers. These four-color full bleed covers held sway until Signet books hired Milton Glaser in the early 1960s for their Signet Shakespeare series. Glaser’s covers featured elegant, fine lined cross hatching with a spare use of color. Possibly in a nod to the second edition of Penguin covers he enclosed the image within a black border.
Perhaps in response to Glaser, illustrator David Gentleman was commissioned by Penguin to produce 32 wood engravings for the New Penguin Shakespeare, also sparsely colored on white backgrounds. Eventually Glaser wound up competing with himself with his four color painted Pelican Shakespeare series.
Shakespeare Book Covers for the 21st Century
Over the decades there have been many variations on Shakespeare paperbacks, including various editions by Penguin. Then, at the end of March of this year, in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Penguin introduced 5 new editions, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear and Othello, featuring the design and illustrations of Manuja Waldia, and art directed by Executive Creative Director Paul Buckley. Waldia, a recent Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design grad is only 24 years old. In contrast to all that has gone before, these five tragedies feature front and back two color graphic line illustrations on black backgrounds. The effect is akin to neon. Reducing the content to sparse symbols, these covers once again reinvent and reintroduce these plays to a modern audience. Appropriately the two comedies to be published this summer, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer’s Nights Dream will have a white field. Manuja even animated the symbols for a trailer for the series. Going forward she only has another 33 plays to go.