Flapping brightly back into view

All good ideas are never completely forgotten. Next month sees the re-launch of Penguin’s celebrated Pelican imprint. The first five to be published are Economics: The User’s Guide by Ha-Joon Chang, Robin Dunbar’s Human Evolution, Orlando Figes’ Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991, Bruce Hood’s The Domesticated Brain, and Greek and Roman Political Ideas by Melissa Lane. In contrast to the original series, which included both affordable reprints and specially commissioned books, the new Pelicans are ‘introductions’, which ‘should be the first books to turn to on a given topic…. Pelicans are books are to lend a hand and, most importantly, to open a door.’


We, of course, have a vested interest in the revival of this series. The Pelican Project was the result of a year or so of scanning and (haphazard) coding. Pelicans were intrinsically collectable things, being both uniform and different, brought together by the slowly foxing shade of blue, the sheer diversity of graphic imagery and – last but not least – the breadth of ideas and subjects within them. Mostly the subject matter was irrelevant at time of purchase, but over time, and with a few hundred titles in our library, themes and strands made themselves clear; the early obsession with modernist art and design, through to popular science and history books, the emergence of psychology and psychiatry and the many books that grew up in response to emerging social issues such as poverty, crime and drugs.


Others have written far more eloquently and informatively about the origins of the Pelican – Pelicans take flight again – and there are also many, many other galleries and collections of Pelican covers. The first five books certainly cover all bases, just as the original series did, but what’s interesting is how they’ve also gone back to first principals in terms of design. Gone are the graphic and photographic imagery of the later books in favour of the strict, uniform simplicity of the pre-war books. Like many contemporary companies, Penguin has made an industry out of its image, hiving off corporate identity into a range of products and accessories, as well as making a great virtue out of graphic and illustrative skills. We hope the new Pelicans are able to stand for themselves, as vessels for ideas and not templates for tea-towels.


An aside, from the linked Guardian article above; the cockney-tinged acrostic of this aclaimed title was never more apt. The above images come from the film, below, The Story of Pelican Books.

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