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Publishers' Collection

Penguin paperbacks and the 20th century explosion of print.

Penguin Books had its beginnings in 1935, when the publisher Allen Lane found himself with nothing to read at an Exeter train station. The result was the Penguin paperback, which spearheaded the drive for quality mass-market publishing in the 20th century. This collection includes many early examples and first editions of what are now fragile books, giving an excellent overview of these developments in publishing.

The basis of the collection was a collection of over 500 Penguin titles published before 1960, which were bequeathed to the Library by Kenneth Swanson Ryrie in 1979. Ryrie was a native of Thurso, who graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1942 (MA Hons in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy). He worked on radar and navigational aids during the closing years of the Second World War, and spent the rest of his engineering career at Ferranti Ltd. He was a devoted Freemason and historian of the Craft, and collected books.

The collection has developed through donation, exchange and purchase to include various series such as Pelicans, Puffins, King Penguins and Penguin Specials. There are also examples of the work of other publishers who like Penguin sought to bring good literature to the masses, such as Gowans & Gray, Père Castor, Insel Bücherei, Stead’s Books for the Bairns, Zodiac and Albatross. It is particularly interesting to see how the Second World War impacted on publishing in terms of titles, content and aspects of physical production such as paper quality.

There are now some 2,300 volumes, which are not yet catalogued, but a listing is available from staff.