Bewick on my knee

Cover of Penguins Progress Easter 1947

You see before you a booklet called Penguins Progress from Easter 1947. It has a yellow cover. Of course it does. The attention to detail and the humour packed in to the text and design of this little number is immense.

The cover (apart from being yellow) shows a penguin perched in a Thomas Bewick engraving. Inside there is an article on the forthcoming King Penguin about Bewick, showing the original engraving with its owl in tree residence. The Bewick article is delightful. It tells us not so much about the Bewick book coming out but that in the ‘recent’ film Jane Eyre, the young Jane has a book thrown at her head by her ‘unpleasant schoolboy cousin John.’ And that the book was a Bewick. More than that, that it must have been Bewick’s History of British Birds, as it was in reprint around the time Charlotte Bronte was a child, in 1825. In the book Jane Eyre writes: ‘With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy.’

The endpapers of this booklet show a Bewick elephant, stretched, as it were, across the width of the book. With a manicule and the words ‘For front, see back’ on the front endpaper and on the back endpaper another manicule, pointing the other way, and the words “For back, see front.’ I very much like this conceit. Such a simple thing.

But then a lot of what attracts me to Penguin book designs is detail, attention to detail and humour. The confidence to be self-referential about their name Penguin Books seems to have been something they ran and ran with. And I, for one, haven’t got bored with it yet. Probably because it was most often done (accompanied by light and talented copy) by someone with a masterful grasp of graphic design – which is as much about knowing when to stop as when to start.

The back cover has a more typical illustration of a librarian penguin refilling shelves. What could be nicer than that?



Oh oh, trying to contain my excitement. I have this too. Purchased entirely for the charm and wit of the Penguin of all literary and graphic penguins sat in a a tree in an 18th century vignette. From what I’ve seen, the illustrators run wild with the Penguin in the Penguin’s Progress.

Jennifer Kennard

This has to be the hand of Jan Tschichold. I love such subtleties as you mention about the endpapers, and the contrast of the front and back illustrations is delightful. A real gem!


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