Monday, May 2, 2022

The Tired Tourist Finds Some 1930s Penguins


Whether a 1939 Penguin copy of Hilaire Belloc's But Soft:  We Are Observed is a collectible I do not know.  All I can say is that it was collectible by this tired tourist!  

 I paid  £1 in the UK for this.  Good price, yes?  I was stunned by the cheapness.  I bought it because I vaguely knew of Hilaire Belloc, having read The Bad Child's Book of Beasts as a child.  And so I was willing to give this satiric adult novel a try.  A blurb from The Daily Telegraph on the book jacket says, "In the main the story is a burlesque on the crime story." Now you know I cannot resist a comic crime story!  And it is illustrated with  37 drawings by G. K. Chesterton. 

 It also has a book jacket.  I've never seen this with a Penguin.


The jacket cover is exactly like the orange book cover.


I am also a fan of ads in the back of books, and here we have a two-page ad for bookcases designed for Penguins. They were available in Plain Plywood, Plain Cedar, Flat-Painted Plywood, and Glossy-Painted.  And there were 20 colors.  I've decided on orchid, but I may to time-travel to get it.  I imagine myself in a tiny flat in the '30s, gazing through a lorgnette at my orchid bookcase.   

Here's the ad copy for the bookcase:

In response to hundreds of requests from readers who find their Penguins outgrowing their shelf space, we have designed a special Penguin bookcase on the unit principle:  in four different sizes and three different styles.  The construction is simple but well-finished:  the corners are dovetailed, avoiding the use of unsightly nails or pins.

I purchased another 1939 Penguin for
£1, Helene by Vicki Baum, an Austrian novelist best known for Grand Hotel.  I chose Helene because  I had heard of Baum.  When I got back to my room and discovered  it was also published in 1939,  I realized the bookseller probably had a fabulous collection of old Penguins (though some were in poor condition) and I should have searched more thoroughly.  I really was a tired tourist, though. I lay down in my room for just a few minutes... you know how that goes... and the next thing I knew it was 2:00. 

This copy (pictured on Google) is more pristine than mine!

Many paperbacks advertise books on back pages.  On the back of Helene, there is a list of Penguins published in January 1939, Pelicans of March 1939, and Penguins of March 1939.  On the back of the Belloc, the Latest Edition are September 1939 Penguins, October 1939 Pelicans, and November 1939 Penguins. 

Do you suppose this bookseller also sells the old bookcases?


  1. Kat, where is this bookshop? When I was in London last week I checked Charing Cross Road as usual and found yet another second-hand bookshop had closed. There are now two where there used to be half a dozen. Round the corner in Cecil Court are several more but they specialise in expensive first editions rather than old paperbacks.

    1. I wish I could remember! I do love those bookstores on Charing Cross, and did notice some were closed. It's a shame, but London still has a wealth of bookstores. Persephone is gone, and I had looked forward to shopping there.

  2. gina in alabamaMay 4, 2022 at 5:11 PM

    //On the back of the Belloc, the Latest Edition are September 1939 Penguins, October 1939 Pelicans, and November 1939 Penguins.//

    What were they publishing just as the world was breaking apart into war? Do post a screenshot of the back! I would love to know this!