Remembering Tanya Schmoller (1918 - 2016)

tanya schmoller

Members of Print Networks will have many fond memories of Tanya. Her striding into conference reception (she was an energetic walker) with her wheeled suitcase in tow was always a welcome sight. Even in her 90s she seemed indefatigable, still travelling to attend conferences and contributing not only to the main business but also to energetic and often hilarious conversations in the bar in the evening. There we glimpsed intriguing snatches of her fascinating life. ‘I’m from Uruguay, you know’ was her ice-breaking conversational gambit, and anecdotes followed. Tanya was proud of having been at the first World Cup final in Montevideo in 1930 aged 12, where Uruguay beat Argentina 4:2.

Tanya was born Tatyana Mary Kent in 1918 in Uruguay, to a Russian father and an English mother. Sister to three younger brothers, Tanya grew up in a small one-storey house in Conchillas, a quarrying village in the south-west of the country. At age 12 she went to school in Uruguay’s capital Montevideo (the wealthy owner of the store where her father worked paying her fees). From the age of 17 she worked to support her family, first in Argentina and later in Montevideo. Working for Uruguayan railways, then an MI5 front, her work included steaming open letters addressed to suspicious persons, and even forging a passport.  Sent to spy on a meeting called to protest at the expulsion from the British School of two Jewish children of German origin, she was horrified at the injustice and resigned. From the early 1940s she worked for the British Council. When Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books, visited Uruguay, Tanya was detailed to show him around the capital’s bookshops. He asked her to come and work for him in London.

Tanya arrived in England in 1945. She worked as Allen Lane’s personal assistant at Penguin, and studied economics in the evenings at the London School of Economics (LSE). At age 31 she met Hans Schmoller, Penguin’s new head typographer. She and Hans were married in 1950, and family life took her away from work and study. In 1958 she returned to Penguin, managing Allen Lane’s office until his retirement in 1969. Tanya and Hans retired in 1975, that year donating a near-complete run of Penguin titles (the world’s largest) to the LSE. They travelled widely, collecting decorated papers of all kinds, a pursuit Tanya continued after Hans’s death in 1985.

In 1988, at the age of 70, Tanya moved to Sheffield. She became deeply involved in local life, publishing widely on local history and decorated papers. For many years she regularly provided archival information to the British Book Trade Index. In her eighties, Tanya gained two Open University degrees, and in 2002 donated nearly 3,500 decorated papers, the Schmoller Collection, to Manchester Metropolitan University. She spent the next six years cataloguing the collection. Her 90th birthday in 2008 was marked by the university by the award of an honorary doctorate, coinciding with the publication of her beautifully illustrated To Brighten Things Up: The Schmoller Collection of Decorated Papers (now, sadly, out of print). Her birthday was also commemorated by the Penguin Collectors Society, of which she was President Emerita, by the publication of her memoir Penguin Days (2008).

tanya schmoller

Tanya died at the age of 97 in Sheffield, in January 2016. Ten nephews and nieces, and nearly thirty great-nephews and great-nieces, survive her in Uruguay; and in England and America, her two children, four surviving grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Material from her collection has been donated to several libraries and a large collection was sold in September 2016, a considerable portion of the proceeds going to Tanya’s favourite charity, Médecins Sans Frontières.

Dr Maureen Bell