Everything you need to know about Pelican books

4 min read

With their bright blue covers and striking designs, Pelican books are instantly recognizable. Covering a huge range of topics and written by leading experts, the books provide an approachable introduction to intellectual subjects. From science to history, music to nature, psychology to philosophy - the list goes on (and on)!  Read on to find out more about the history of these now iconic books…

Browse our vintage Pelican Collection  

“One of those Pelican books”: how it all began 

“We believed in the existence in this country of a vast reading public for intelligent books at a low price, and staked everything on it.” 

The story goes that Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books, launched the Pelican imprint after overhearing a conversation at a bookstall in King’s Cross Station in London. A customer mistakenly asked for “one of those Pelican books” when they actually meant Penguin - and so, concerned that another publishing company would try and use the name, Allen snapped it up and the new Pelican imprint was born. 

The first Pelican books were published in 1937, and were somewhat of a revolution in publishing. For the first time, they provided affordable - roughly the price of a pack of cigarettes at the time - non-fiction for a mass audience. This type of book was no longer the preserve of the privileged class. 

Shop vintage Pelican books 

“A true everyman's library”: a success story 

“The Pelican books bid fair to become the true everyman's library of the 20th century … bringing the finest products of modern thought and art to the people.”

The first Pelican books to be published were reprints of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism’ (Sovietism and Fascism being new chapters). The books were hugely popular and were closely followed by a number of other successful titles, including some from familiar names like Virginia Woolf (‘The Common Reader’), Sigmund Freud (‘Psychopathology of Everyday Life’) and H.G. Wells (‘A Short History of the World’).

The books continued to sell out rapidly, proving there was a healthy appetite for non-fiction books for the “intelligent layman”. Between 1937 and 1989 nearly 3000 Pelican titles were published, and over 250 million copies sold worldwide. Although the imprint was discontinued in 1989, the original books are still prized by many collectors. The imprint was relaunched in 2014 with a new design, but retaining the iconic blue cover. 

Find vintage editions of Pelican books

8 of our favourite Pelican books

A short history of the world

1) H.G.WELLS A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORLD 1946

This book is designed to meet the needs of the busy reader, with a detailed yet straightforward account of the history of Earth and life - perfect for any reader wishing to quickly refresh their knowledge on this topic!

 

 Shop now

 

An introduction to Jungs psychology

2) AN INTRODUCTION TO JUNG'S PSYCHOLOGY BY FRIEDA FORDHAM 1950s

This compact introduction to Jung gives a biographical sketch of the famous psychologist, as well as outlining some of his key theories and contributions to the field. A great starting point for anyone with an interest in psychology or psychoanalysis!

Shop now

 

Dreams and Nightmares

3) DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES BY J. A. HADFIELD 1954

In this title Hadfield explains all things dreams - how we dream, why we dream, and the ways in which dreams can help us solve problems in our waking life. A really fascinating read for anyone wanting to delve deeper into the world of dreams and nightmares.

 Shop now

 

Our Language

4) OUR LANGUAGE BY SIMEON POTTER 1953

‘Our Language’ is a broad, entertaining summary of the history and sources of the English language , and how it should be used in speech and writing. If you want an easy to read introduction to English grammar and linguistics, you’re in the right place!

 Shop now

 

The Meaning of Art

5) THE MEANING OF ART BY HERBERT READ 1949

Herbert Read was very influential in the art world in his time, and ‘The Meaning of Art’ has established itself as a classic of its kind. Read provides a concise survey of the history of art, art movements and the persistence of certain principles, all of which will help the reader to form an appreciation for paintings, sculptures and other art-objects.

Shop now

 

Beyond the Microscope

6) BEYOND THE MICROSCOPE BY KENNETH M. SMITH 1957

Filled with remarkable photos taken with an electron microscope,  this fascinating read gives an account of the viruses which are responsible for many human, animal and plant diseases, and how scientists investigate and resist them. This is the ideal read for any aspiring biologists out there.

Shop now

 

A short history of english literature

7) A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE BY B. IFOR EVANS 1950

A pioneering work of Literary Historiography, this Pelican guide provides a critical survey of English Literature through from Beowulf to James Joyce. If you’re looking for a brief but comprehensive tour of English Literature through the ages, this is the book for you!

Shop now

 

The size of the universe

8) THE SIZE OF THE UNIVERSE BY F. J. HARGREAVES 1948

The introduction to this book states that it is “an attempt to bridge the gap that exists between the layman and the astronomer”, and it does just that. Astronomer F.J. Hargreaves reduces to a minimum the use of scientific or technical language, instead writing in a tone that is relatable yet authoritative. With lots of illustrations and black and white photographs, this book is a wonderful read for anyone who wants to know more about telescopes, galaxies, stars and more. 

                                              Shop now 

 

Get more Pelican reading recommendations


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Country House Book Blog

Books about Baking
Books about Baking

5 min read

The Country House Library’s kitchen bookshelves are full of vintage and antique cookbooks from the world’s finest culinary craftsmen and women. Learn how to become the ‘star baker’ for your friends and family with show-stopping sponges, tarts, cakes, biscuits and savouries.

 

Read More
Women That Pioneered Our Pages
Women That Pioneered Our Pages

3 min read

This International Women’s Day, we celebrated the female authors that pioneered the literary world, sharing this year's important message: Choose to Challenge. Literature has been a tool for women throughout history to both anonymously and publicly express their voice with the rest of society. 
Read More
Frankenstein: Exploring Horror's Most Tragic Tale
Frankenstein: Exploring Horror's Most Tragic Tale

3 min read

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is one of the most critically acclaimed and widely read works of classic horror fiction in all of literature. At over two centuries old, it remains as effective, haunting, and thought-provoking today as it has ever been, still in print and continuing to be adapted near countless times in a variety of formats.
Read More