Literary Locales: Where Allen Lane Invented the Paperback
This is a part of our “Literary Locales” series here at LT. Check out the first post in the series for more information.
What: The Original Penguin Books H.Q.
Where: Vigo Street, London, England
Literary Connection: The first paperback was published here!
Recommended Reading: Anything by Ernest Hemingway, André Maurois and Agatha Christie as they were the first three authors to be published as paperbacks by Penguin
Transgression: Isn’t there something inherently saucy about the paperback in some respects?
As I wandered about Soho with my visiting mother looking for tea, we happened upon the above subtle plaque on Vigo Street. No one else on the street gave it a second glance and, truth be told, my eyes would have skimmed right over it as well where it not for that recognizable penguin figure set off in white at the bottom. Upon reading the plaque, we discovered that we were standing on the place where Penguin Books founder Allen Lane published his first paperback and, as the plaque states in the most grandiose manner possible, “changed reading habits throughout the English-speaking world.”
Now, I’m a historian and one who has studied the history of the book and I must admit that, before seeing this plaque, I never thought twice about the paperback. Now that I have, I’m in awe! Just think about it: before Allen Lane came along Vigo Street, books were heavy, expensive hardbacks. After 1935, you could actually afford to own good literature and you could, in practical terms, take it anywhere with you. It’s a remarkable idea and one which I should think deserves a full museum, not just a little plaque.