Created in 1961, Penguin’s Modern Classics series featured a wide range of titles and authors, from Carson McCullers and Vladimir Nabokov to James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
What defines a modern classic? According to the book’s author, Henry Eliot, it is “a product of more recent times: it was written in response to a world we still live in, and it can be all the more stimulating and exciting because of it. of that ”.
Each of the 1,800 titles included in the series is featured in this compilation, which features the first Penguin Modern Classics cover for each, along with a brief rundown and some information about the author. The chapters are divided into regions and countries, and helpful sidebars connect the themes of different titles.
Modern Classics’ first five covers were designed by typographer Penguin Hans Schmoller, who paired Eric Gill’s Joanna font with a palette of grays, white, and orange. The appearance of the series has varied over the years as different art directors put their own stamps on the jackets. In 1963, Germano Facetti introduced the “Marber Grid,” which put a white, black or green panel on the cover, combined with full-bleed illustrations.
Cherriwyn Magill made a difference again in 1982, with an inset illustration, and then in 1989, Penguin introduced a floating logo in a cockade and a white title box in Jan Tschichold’s Sabon. A brilliant silver period followed in the early 2000s, and then in 2007, Penguin Press Artistic Director Jim Stoddart introduced Avant Garde by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase as the typeface – which is still in use today.
“The thing with Modern Classics is that basically every book is really readable, really recommendable and really exciting – so I think the designers wanted to improve their game to match the quality of the books,” Eliot told CR. “There’s a spirit in the list of people to break the mold and do something different, and I think designers have really reacted to that over the decades. “
For Eliot, much of the charm of these covers is how they work almost like a tour of 20th century visual art – something that can be attributed to Facetti. “He had this principle that you illustrate and represent the book with illustrations roughly contemporary to the text,” Eliot explains.
“It was an idea that cut through modern classics but also penguin classics… what that means is that when you look at them as a whole you basically get a slice of all of the art of the penguin. 20th century…. Part of the show’s appeal is holding this beautifully produced piece of art in your hand, as well as, obviously, the text inside.
If something is missing from this book – which is comprehensive in its organization and level of detail – it is that it does not take a look at the many different covers that designers have created over the years for the same title. . Maybe it’s one for the next compilation.
The Penguin Modern Classics Book is published by Penguin; penguin.co.uk