In 1934, after a weekend in Devon with Agatha Christie, Allen Lane—chairman of the eminent British publishing house, Bodley Head—found himself on a platform at Exeter station, searching its bookstall for something to read on his journey back to London.
So goes the story.
All he could find were tacky titles. That’s when his mind turned to the possibility of publishing quality books at reasonable prices. He was adamant that they should cost no more than a packet of cigarettes, but always look distinctive.
The first Penguin paperbacks appeared in the summer of 1935, featuring the now-famous Penguin Classics book cover design: three bold horizontal stripes. They were color-coded: red for drama; orange for fiction; green for mystery and crime; dark blue for biographies; purple for essays; cerise for travel and adventure; gray for world affairs; and yellow for miscellaneous—and cost just sixpence.