Sneak Peek: Cover Me – The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965

Cover Me – The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965 - Cover

Coming soon from Telos Publishing is Cover Me – The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965, by Colin Larkin, the latest great focus on classic British book art from the publisher that previously brought us the brilliant The Art of Reginald Heade.

An affectionate and thoroughly-researched celebration of the classic Pan Books paperbacks, this new title is beautifully illustrated with sumptuous full-colour reproductions of over 300 of the original cover artworks.

From Robert Heinlein classics to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Agatha Christie mysteries to cheesecake, Pan always commissioned their own art for their often-iconic paperback covers, and this new book presents much of that art, and the story behind the company in its years as an independent publisher.

Launched in 1944, Pan Books was founded by a decorated World War One flying ace and later led by a decorated World War Two flying ace. Its distinctive logo was the creation of artist and author Mervyn Peake (perhaps best known for the cult Gormenghast series of fantasy novels) who, on the bad advice of fellow author Graham Greene, got a one-off payment of £10 for designing it – when he might have earned royalties on every book printed.

Pan Books Logo - Design by Mervyn Peake
One of Mervyn Peake’s Pan logo designs

Pan’s founder, Alan Bott, became a journalist after World War One and started the Book Society, an early book club, before beginning Pan Books in 1944.

The first 10 mass-market paperbacks were published in 1947, at a time when paper was still rationed in wartime UK then, so the books were largely printed in France, loaded onto an ex-Royal Navy Motor Launch ML225, re-named Lalun after a prostitute in “On the City Wall” in Ten Stories by Rudyard Kipling.

Every week, 250,000 copies of the latest titles would be shipped down the Seine from Paris via to Le Havre and up the Thames to Kingston. Pan became a serious rival to Penguin Books because of their attractive and eye catching covers.

Ralph Vernon-Hunt, Alan Bott’s nephew, became Pan managing director in 1969 and eventually chairman in 1980. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross in World War Two and, in the 1960s, was the model for James Bond on a number of Ian Fleming’s titles.

Pan was subsequently jointly owned by four leading publishers: William Collins, Macmillan, Hodder & Stoughton, and William Heinemann. In 1986, Macmillan became the sole owner of Pan Books and in 1990 it merged with the trade division of Macmillan to become Pan Macmillan.

Cover Me – The Vintage Art of Pan Books: 1950-1965, will be released in Winter 2020 | Pre-Order it here from Telos here | Approximately 256pp. Large format 22cm x 28cm hardback. Litho printed. Fully illustrated in full colour throughout. ISBN: 978-1-84583-988-8

The Art of Reginald Heade is available here from Telos Publishing

The Art of Reginald Heade is available here from AmazonUK

• If you are in the United States or Canada, Telos advises you should order this book from their partner, Bud Plant Comic Art DBA Bud’s Art Books. It will be much cheaper on shipping! |BudArtBooks on Facebook | BudPlantArt on Facebook | Instagram


Pan Books Logo

Flashbak: When Pan was King

A great web site on early Pan Books at

Mervyn Peake’s daughter talks about his design work here on the same site

Article about Melvyn Peake in The Spectator noting his one-off payment for its design

John Coulthart notes here that G Peter Winnington‘s Peake biography, Vast Alchemies, published in 2000, includes a reproduction of one of Peake’s logo designs, one of two drawings Peake produced for the publisher. Peake’s Pans were printed at quite large size on the initial run of books. “The design model may have been the early Penguin style ,” John notes, “which nearly always had the famous bird prominently placed in the lower third of the cover. In book terms at least, the Penguin has proved to be the more powerful god, having survived virtually unchanged since 1935. Peake’s Pan is long gone, dropped in favour of two red squiggles.”

• Back in 2017, Pan Macmillan offered a test of reader skills in identifying modern covers of their classic books sans cover text. I have to confess I got a lot wrong, reflecting either my bemusement, or appalling cover design. Try the quiz here

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1 reply

  1. The SF title “The Green Hills of Earth” – by Robert Heinlein reminded me of the Journey into Space radio serial The World in Peril. At the conclusion of the final episode – as Jet Morgan, Lemmy, Doc and Mitch prepare to touch down back on Earth – there is, with the credits, this four line anthem, sung by a male voice choir:

    We pray for one last landing
    on the globe that gave us birth.
    Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies,
    and the tall green hills of Earth.

    While Charles Chilton almost certainly wrote the words, who wrote the music – and who sang it? I have the final episode’s last five or so minutes on reel-to-reel tape.

    Regards – Eric Hayman

    PS – a week ago I was standing on one of those “tall green hills of Earth” – Glastonbury Tor.