Penguin First Editions

Reviewed by:
Courtney Stine, Assistant Professor and Director
Bridwell Art Library, University of Louisville

The UK-based Penguin Publishing Group was originally founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane, who wanted a brand of affordable, yet attractive paperback books that could be “bought as easily and casually as a packet of cigarettes” (, “Our Story”).  Since then, the Penguin imprint has become an icon known among other things for its minimalist and innovative book cover designs. The books are so beloved that an educational charity called Penguin Collectors Society (PCS) was formed in 2001 to promote the study of Penguin books. A PCS member and hobbyist collector, Alec Atchison, created the website Penguin First Editions to provide a visual record and information about its titles. 

The Penguin First Editions website is a lot to take in at first glance. Text is presented in various colors and formats which can be straining on the eyes and difficult to read. At the top of the homepage there is a search bar powered by Google that retrieves search results within the site. A series of links on the homepage provides access to lists of series, illustrators and cover designers, and translators for English language editions, as well as a brief history of the Penguin Books imprint. These links are colorful and formatted to look like the design of Penguin first edition covers. 

Penguin First Editions homepage showing site design elements including white space

A page index and  site map are essential for understanding what content is available, and for fully navigating the website. External links point to sites including the Penguin Collectors Society, videos by a memorabilia buff, Penguin merchandise, and bookstores. The site’s look and feel probably has not changed much since it was launched in 2013. It is not formatted for modern browsers, so there is a lot of white space. The site URL is not secure (no https://) and the copyright is dated to 2019. Despite its outdated appearance, the homepage mentions the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is still getting updated. 

Penguin First Editions is an informative and comprehensive resource primarily focusing on first editions  released between 1935-1955. Over the years the website  has expanded to over 150 pages of content and over 8,000 entries and images. The site entries provide basic information for each book,  including series name and number, title, author, publication date, printer, and original price. Thumbnail images of book cover designs accompanying each entry open in a new tab to show a large image. The images are a bit grainy but legible and better than other examples found on the web. Each cover and logo has been reproduced with the permission of Penguin Books Ltd., who retain copyright and intellectual property. 

Screenshot showing entries from list of titles on the Penguin First Editions site, including thumbnail images of book covers, and information on series, title, author, date published, pages, printer, and price.
Entries from list of titles on the Penguin First Editions site, including thumbnail images of book covers

Many librarians and archivists were credited with contributing to the site through digitization of books and other efforts. In particular, the Stirling University Library, which contains the Mitchell Penguin Collection (3500 books collected by Dr. Angus Mitchell), was mentioned as a major partner. 

This is a niche resource that will prove useful to anyone interested in Penguin books and the history of early twentieth-century publishing, graphic design and typography. For further research, the website has an interactive timeline about the history of the publishing group and descriptions of its series. The Penguin Series Design blog contains visual examples and contextual analysis of book designs, artists, and themes for various series under the Penguin imprint. The publication Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, edited by Paul Buckley, provides a visual overview of the Penguin Classics book covers for book design and classic literature enthusiasts.

Digitized Historical German Weeklies

Reviewed by:
Grant G. Mandarino
Independent archivist/art historian

According to those responsible for this collection, the goal of this digitization project was to “make the most important political satire magazines of the last century available in full.” With backing from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), they did so in 2014, resulting in the site under review. It offers a full run of the German satire magazine Simplicissimus from its founding in 1896 to its closure in 1944, as well as digital runs of two other important publications: Jugend (1896-1940) and Der Wahre Jacob (1884-1933). In lieu of accessing physical copies, rare outside of Germany, there is no better means of interacting with these primary sources that reflect critical eras in Germany’s eventful twentieth-century history.As a scholarly resource, the site is exceptional; as a model for digitizing serial publications, it is exemplary.

Academic libraries and archival repositories have joined many museums in making high resolution digital surrogates of their unique collections available for research. Responsibility for this site belongs to the Klassik Stiftung Weimar (KSW), connected to the Herzogin Anna Amelia Bibliothek in Weimar, in collaboration with the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach and faculty at the Rheinisch-Westfälischen Technischen Hochschule Aachen, who oversaw the digitization of Simplicissimus. The Jugend and Der Wahre Jacob collections, on the other hand, come from the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg (UBH), who concurrently held a grant from the DFG to digitize their own holdings of German and foreign satire magazines, and at some point became a further contributor to the project. One can find a broader array of publications via a UBH site, but the interface is clunkier and requires a considerable amount of scrolling and clicking to get to individual issues.

A peculiarity of the KSW site is that there is no central homepage for the three digitized periodical titles; instead each has a separate start page (Startseite) accessed from tabs at the top of the site. Each start page applies the same interface design and accesses shared features. The pages provide an intuitive browsing structure, as well as contextual essays and linked databases that aid navigation, whether one is browsing for pleasure or researching a specific topic. Locating and examining individual issues of Simplicissimus, Jugend, and Der Wahre Jakob on the KSW’s site is a breeze. 

Screen shot of a list of issue dates with tabs at the top for other site features, including indexes and contextual material.
List of issues for the digitized satire magazine Jugend

From the “Issues” (Blättern) page of each start page one is given a chronological list by volume. From there it is just a matter of choosing an issue number, listed alongside its publication date, with a thumbnail image of the front cover. Pages are scanned in color, ideal for documenting these examples of early commercial color printing; the image resolution online is adequate for reading and study, and a “lupe” is provided to magnify page details. Full issues can be viewed online or freely downloaded as PDFs, albeit in lower image resolution. The site does not offer OCR for the digitized titles.

Supplemental pages provide further tools for access as well as context. Of special note are the linked databases. One (Personenliste) indexes every contributor (writers, illustrators, and caricaturists) in the three magazines and links to issues their work appears in; the other (Schlagwörter) lists  thematic terms, places, or historical people referenced in the magazines, with identifying  biographical/historical information culled from Wikipedia and the catalog of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. A search field on the homepage accesses both lists, but search results are inconsistent and do not compile data from all three publications. Contextual pages outline the history of the publications (Zeitschrift), contain a thorough bibliography (Literatur), and introduce the project (Gesamtprojekt) and its various contributors (Grates; Kontakt). 

Screen shot of the home page for Simplicissimus, with links to other site features, including indexes and contextual material.
Home page for the digitized satire magazine Simplicissimus 

According to the team, the site was mainly constructed with open-source components (e.g., MySQL, PHP, Typo3). If upgrades could be implemented, the ability to compare two issues at a time or generate virtual collections would greatly improve usability. As currently configured, the site remains nevertheless a boon for scholars of German print culture and political thought.


Reviewed by:
K. Sarah Ostrach, Digital Asset Librarian
Hoover Institution Library & Archives, Stanford University

Wax is a flexible workflow for creating online scholarly exhibitions with high quality, IIIF-ready images. It provides an alternative to tools like Omeka or WordPress for information professionals, faculty, or students interested in creating digital exhibitions or other projects showcasing collections of images. ‘Using’ Wax means employing a variety of skills and software, thus the designation as a workflow rather than a standalone product like more familiar turnkey software packages.

The Wax project is led by Marii Nyröp, Digital Humanities Technology Specialist at New York University, and maintained by both Nyröp and Alex Gil, Digital Scholarship Librarian at Columbia University. Because Wax is open source, there is a larger community involved in building out Wax capabilities and providing support. The principles behind Wax and similar minimal computing, or minicomp, projects are longevity, low cost, and flexibility. These ideals are often elusive with the paid tiers and software updates from vendors. The creators summarize the tradeoff thus:

Wax was created for individuals and groups who either don’t have or don’t want to use a lot of resources to create their scholarly exhibitions. It’s best suited for folks who are willing to take on some technical responsibility in exchange for a lot of flexibility.

Herein lies the challenge of Wax: its price tag and open source code are more accessible for a wider scholarly community but only for those who have the technological know-how to use it or have digital scholarship departments to assist them. Anyone without the resources for expensive or processing-hungry software and who is likewise unversed in web development, data management, and plain text editing will be unable to take advantage of Wax.

Perusing sample Wax exhibitions here, a casual viewer may question how exhibitions created with Wax are different from those made with Omeka, and the answer is in the backend. Rather than installing a single software package, users must fork the Wax repository in GitHub, essentially creating a copy of the Wax application that they can modify without changing the original source code. Next, users create a CSV, JSON, or YAML file with the metadata for the exhibition images. The metadata and image files are placed in folders within the copied source code. From here Wax generates a static site using Jekyll themes (another minicomp outgrowth), hosted by GitHub for free.

Wax workflow includes organizing metadata and image files, preparing data in the repository, deploying a static site, and testing.

Utilizing Wax requires familiarity with Git and GitHub, Jekyll themes, Ruby programming language, normalizing data files, and editing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Learning Wax requires skills broadly applicable across web development and data management, but most Library & Information Studies programs, however, do not include these skills in the standard curriculum, though this may be changing. For those interested in using Wax and undaunted by the technologies involved, the process is extremely well documented. Detailed instructions and explanations live on the Minicomp/Wax Wiki. The entire project, documentation, and new developments live on GitHub (a platform for hosting software development and version control online). Users can share ideas, new developments, and questions via the Wax Gitter (an online, open source chatting tool for developers) and the code4lib Slack channel

Wax documentation Wiki with detailed description and formatted code samples.

Open source technology is a double-edged sword. It is unconstrained by institutional affiliations, budgets, or one-size-fits-all solutions. However, it also requires possessing or having access to someone with advanced web development skills. For an art librarian or visual resources curator with neither of these and further lacking the time to learn on the ground, it will be some time before Wax is the digital exhibition workflow of choice. For colleagues who are comfortable forking in GitHub or who partner with digital scholarship specialists, Wax is a fantastic opportunity to get everything you want and nothing that you don’t.