Many of us will remember reading and owning Ladybird books when we were children. We read them or our parents read them to us and we hall have fond memories of the small books with their colourful illustrations on the cover. In those days you just had to part with 2 shillings and 6 pence and a Ladybird book was yours. In recent years a collectors’ market has grown around them and you would have to part with a lot more money for an original Ladybird book in excellent condition, especially if you are looking for first editions.
When collecting Ladybird books you should be looking for the early ones, before the shiny covers were introduced in the 1980s. Some have become more collectable than others – a 1964 copy of Cinderella, complete with dust jacket, would cost around £200, while The Impatient Horse, which only ran for three series would be £300.
People collect Ladybird books for a number of reasons and nostalgia certainly plays a large part. Cinderella is one of the best loved chilren’s stories and hence very popular. Another one to look out for is Six Adventures of Wonk from the 1940s, it has lovely illustrations of a little koala bear by Joan Kiddel-Monroe. This one is quite difficult to find and if you can get a first edition, complete with dust jacket in good condition you would need to pay around £100.
Ladybird books were published in themed series and many people like to collect by series. Many collectors like the Well Loved Tales series because it reminds them of their childhood when these might have been read to them as bedtime stories or the books were used to teach them to read. There was a grading system from level 1 (The Three Little Pigs) to level 3 (Beauty and the Beast).
Ladybird books were sold by the millions, so they are not difficult to find. Value is determined by edition and the condition of the book – as these books were owned by children you will often find scribbles and drawings on the pages, which would lower the value. While you would pay around £10 – £20 for a Ladybird book of a late run in average condition at a Collectors’ Fair, I have often seen them in Charity shops for quite a lot less.
Ladybird books were first printed by Wills & Hepworth in 1915 and the first titles were the size of large annuals. However, the real beginning of Ladybird books as we know them was at the beginning of the 2nd World War, with the first three titles: Bunnykins Picnic Party, The First Day of the Holidays and Ginger’s Adventures, being published in their small size and standard 52 pages. Although two shillings and sixpence seems a very small sum to us nowadays it was worth considerably more in the 1940s and many families would not have been able to afford them. Ladybird’s fortunes turned when they began to concentrate on educatiolal titles such as The Book of British Birds and their Nests. When they introduced the Ladybird Reading Scheme in 1964, in collaboration with literacy specialist William Murray, Ladybird became a household name.
If you want to start collecting Ladybird books there are a few pointers on how you identify the more valuable from those of lesser value. If you are after first editions don’t be mislead by the term ‘first published’, this is no guarantee that you have a first edition. Being able to identify dates is a great help – the logo changed in 1961 from an open winged flying ladybird to the closed wing logo. There are no dust jackets after 1965 and the books were issued with matt board covers so, if you find a pre-decimal price printed on a matt board cover, it would have been published between 1965 and 1970 – the post 1970 price would have been 12p.
One of the most sought after series is the ‘How it Works’ series, which manages to dissect complex science and present them as easily understandable facts for children. Books from this series were not just read by children, Thames Valley Police were so impressed with the instructions in The Motor Car which was published in 1965, that they used it for training Police drivers. The 1979 revised edition of The Computer is said to be in the library of the British Governments Communication Headquarters.
There are many approaches to collecting Ladybird Books – you can collect by edition, by series, by decade – the possibilities are endless. Antique and Collectors’ Fairs are always a good place to find them and you are quite likely to find a bargain at Charity shops or car boot sales. As the prices are relatively low this would be a good niche for someone who is ‘collecting’ for the first time.