In the summer of 1935, a quiet revolution in publishing was struggling to find its feet. The Lane Brothers, touring the United Kingdom like soap-box evangelists, could not find a place or space to be heard.

Like the unsettled weather that had followed the harsh winter, the reception to the notion that the public would be profoundly interested in embarking on a life-long journey with thought-provoking reading was ambivalent.

Woolworths, however, thought it might just be worth a flutter at the right, hardball price. In that moment, the Lane brothers created Penguin Books (and its avian cousins, Pelican Books and Puffin Books). The public had voted with their feet and their wallets: the proposition that people would go to a discount store to buy a quality modern or classic book at a low price point had been acclaimed resoundingly in the affirmative. The paperback was born, at least in an English-language setting: the Lanes, of course, had been profoundly influenced by the German experiment, Albatross Books, launched in 1931.

Christopher Barling noted the importance of this shift in publishing. From 1935 to 1965, as Penguin Books published more than 5000 titles, Barling was there to collect them. His significant collection – arguably the world’s largest private collection of Penguin Classics and subsidiaries – has now been acquired by the Monash University Library via donation from his son, Dr David Barling.

The Christopher Barling Memorial Collection consists of some 5900 Penguin titles, along with documentation associated with The Penguin Collector’s Society (founded in 1974), of which Barling was an avid member.  The collection – beginning with such classics as André Maurois’ biography of Shelley, Ariel, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms – provides a unique barometer of literary taste in the English speaking world in the 20th century. Also of interest, is the collection of personal stories bound up in the supporting documentation, stories highlighting the human journey of that extraordinarily influential publishing house, Penguin Books.

The Christopher Barling Memorial Collection is now available at Monash University Library.To view particular titles in the Special Collections Reading Room at the Matheson Library, please contact the Rare Books team via email at:  rbinfo@monash.edu

This article was written by Steve Joyce, a learning skills adviser at Matheson Library.