Special archive highlights

Hans Schmoller

Frostie the Penguin, de facto head of the AHRC Penguin Archive Project, recently unearthed an interesting curio from the archive for public viewing. Hans Schmoller (1916-1985) was Head of Typography and Design at Penguin Books from 1949 to 1976. Upon his retirement, he wrote a piece for the Penguin staff newsletter, recollecting his time at Penguin and the memories he had garnered while there. The Penguin Archive Project recently acquired permission from Schmoller's widow, Mrs Tanya Schmoller, to reproduce the text of his article here in full. The warm humour and idiosyncrasies associated with Penguin's history are present throughout the piece, giving us rare insight into the inner workings of the publishing firm during this period.

Cover of John Donne poetry, designed by Hans SchmollerDeparting Penguin Reminiscing

When I arrived at Penguins towards the end of 1949 the front office consisted of about seven, mostly quite small, rooms, housing the fourteen or fifteen people who formed the Editorial and Production Departments. This included Allen Lane and his brother Richard. The production office had been made out of what had originally been a loading bay. The Accounts and Royalties Department was a suite of small offices referred to as the Secco hut on the west side of the Orlitt building, which is now the only structure that survives from those days and served as a bulk warehouse. The Sales Department’s office was at the eastern end of the central main building where most of the space was taken up by the so-called looking-out benches and piles of bulk stock behind them. The canteen was in a hut roughly on the site of the present computer suite. Attached to it was a small shed which some time late in the 50’s became a sort of board room.

The only car park was the in-and-out road in front of the office. It had a small layby at each end and comfortably took all the cars there were. For a brief period – very briefly but nonetheless much publicised – Allen Lane took to cycling to the office from his house at Stanwell Moor. Once, after a heavy overnight snowfall, I upstage him by coming across the fields from the Old Mill House at West Drayton on skis.

The annual highlight of life at Penguins was the summer outing, which became more ambitious year by year and included several hazardous flights abroad on ancient Dakotas or barely converted car carrier planes. Le Touquet has never been the same since Penguins landed there in 1950. Usually there were fewer people on the flight home than out.

Every week there were editorial meetings. Usually they took place in Piccadilly at the Bureau of Current Affairs of which W.E. Williams (later Sir William Emrys Williams) was then the director. In the summer the editors sometimes adjourned to Silverbeck for lunch. Anybody having to go there in the afternoon – perhaps to deliver a set of proofs or an urgent confidential letter – was likely to find the editors in a punt on the River Colne. One of them, Alan Glover, did by far the greater part of all copy-preparation and proof-reading. He worked with incredible speed and accuracy, backed by great erudition in all sorts of wayward subjects. He would stand on the platform waiting for a train at Hounslow West, reading galley-proofs blowing about in a high wind; or he would walk to the canteen or the men’s loo marking up a typescript.

New manuscripts turned up in strange forms. A Russian dictionary arrived from Eire hand-written on the back of Gaelic examination papers. Even Alan Glover did not seem to be sure which was which, and the dictionary was never published. The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations reached us from Jack and Mark Cohen in an old-fashioned cabin trunk, almost completely filled with about 12,000 cards, one for each quotation. If all the royalties it has earned since 1960 had been paid in £ notes, the trunk would be pretty full again. As it was we returned it empty but attached the cheque for the advance to the inner webbing for holding the contents in position.

In 1964, when Dr E.V. Rieu retired from the editorship of the Penguin Classics, we gave a party for him at the Arts Council. Harry Paroissien asked me to get hold of a bust of Homer which, crowned by a laurel wreath, was to be surrounded by the complete set of specially bound Classics we were presenting to Rieu. After a long search I managed to borrow a plaster cast from the British Museum. A few weeks earlier Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington had been stolen from the National Gallery. As I was staggering along the corridors of the B.M. with the huge plaster cast in my arms, doors were helpfully opened by uniformed attendants everywhere, but in the forecourt, where I had my car somebody shouted: “Now, now – where’s the Goya?” The order for the laurel wreath at Moyse Stevens’ read: “One classical wreath made to measurements of customer’s bust.” It finished up on Mrs Rieu’s hat.

There are, I think, ten Penguins who were with us when I joined and are still with us now that I’m leaving. They are (in chronological Penguin order): Jack Summers, Bob Davies, Arthur Herbert, Bill Day, Ken Fisher, Dick Clarke, Ron Blass, George Nicholls, Len Beale, Ivor Shaw. I salute them and the unique publishing house they helped to build.


Staff newsletter, no.3 [1976]