With their distinctive blue covers and pelican logo, Pelicans represented a publishing revolution when they were introduced by Penguin Books in 1937. They were aimed at a broad readership, covering a wide range of topics and priced at a level which made them accessible to the ‘man in the street’. The ethos behind the imprint was that intellectual literature should be available to all, regardless of class and wealth and the new phenomenon seemed inextricably linked to a new social and political optimism, or perhaps idealism. Pelican published some of the big names among intellectual thinkers of the time such as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Margaret Mead but it was also an eager promoter of young up-and-coming writers and this added to the almost evangelical spirit behind the movement.
Vision & Design 1937; Adventures of Ideas 1948; Digging Up the Past 1954; Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific 1957; The Pyramid Climbers 1965; Mathematician’s Delight 1967; Britain and the World Economy 1971
As with Penguin books, design was integral to the Pelican imprint and there were similarly distinct eras of cover design. The first batch retained the triband design so familiar from the early orange and white Penguins, though replacing the orange with blue. This cover template continued until after the second world war, when Jan Tschichold, with his background in Bauhaus, was engaged to redesign the look. The simple blue and white was retained but this time with a central panel in white, surrounded by a blue border. This was often accompanied by a line sketch and of course the familiar, though modified Pelican logo. In the 1960s the covers changed again, this time replaced with striking graphic designs, often employing additional colours.
The popularity of the Pelican books in their heyday was remarkable, with some editions selling out so fast that booksellers often found it hard to keep abreast of demand. They maintained a high level of popularity into the 1970s before a gradual and steady decline in interest which finally led to their discontinuation in 1990.
Pelican has had something of a niche cult status since Penguin ceased their publication and collectors and booklovers continue to be attracted by their particular history and striking design. Perhaps due to a recent resurgence in interest, Penguin made the decision in 2014 to reissue the imprint. New Pelicans are back on the shelves in a whole new design format.
Long live the Pelican!
Return to Shop
Return to Home