You can keep your Kindle – for me there’s nothing better than seeing, holding and poring over an actual book, and cover design plays an essential part in that experience. Penguin Modern Classics were first launched 50 years ago and to celebrate that milestone, the company has printed 50 mini modern classics in an understated yet authoritative grey. But over half a century the books have undergone radical redesign, as this slideshow proves.
Since the modern classics series was launched in 1961, there have been five eras as the cover designs evolved to keep pace with the artistic, literary and consumer cultures of the back end of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.
Using a bold, striking image has been at the heart of the book covers since the earliest days of the Hans Schmoller/Eric Gill series. This was replaced in the mid 1960s by the grid designed by Romek Marber for Penguin’s crime novels. Helvertica replaced Joanna as the typeface and this design endured right up until the cusp of the 1990s.
When the series was renamed the Twentieth Century Classics, the information was pushed into a box and Sabon was used for the writing, but that seemed passe by the turn of the milennium when the type was pushed into a bar at the base of the sleeve allowing the image to dominate unobstructed.
But that principle was turned on its head in 2007 when a grid designed by Penguin art director Jim Stoddart put large text over the image, to powerful effect.