If one of your children has their nose in a classic
Ladybird book, wrest it out of their hands immediately,
wrap it in plastic and stick it in the attic.
On the quiet, and almost unnoticed by the traditional
booksellers, the appeal of Ladybird books has grown
over the past few years to the point where rare and
collectable copies now change hands for around £300.
Not bad for a series which, for 30 years, sold for 2s
6d - 121/2p - each.
Often written by teachers, and illustrated until 1980
by well-known children's book artists, they are now
benefiting from our increasing love of nostalgia and
the comfort of early memories. "They remind me
of my childhood - happy times," says collector
Karen Strang, who has 2,000 Ladybird books. "I
was drawn to their uniformity too; they look great on
"It's a bug really. Once you start hunting them
down, you realise just how many more are out there."
With print runs of thousands of copies, many of the
books are still worth only pennies, but there are some
"The Famous People series published just a few
on Indira Gandhi so they're very scarce. I've seen them
go for £70 each," says Helen Day, a self-confessed
Ladybird addict who runs the www.ladybirdflyawayhome.com
"I've squirrelled away my most valuable ones because
some are worth around £300 to £350 each."
Ms Day, a lecturer, has a 6,000-strong collection of
Ladybird books and buys and sells on the internet. "You
find them at car boot sales, jumble sales, charity shops
and on websites such as eBay and Abebooks.co.uk.
"Specialist bookshops don't know much about Ladybirds
and it's possible to get good ones at such cut-price
Opportunities are getting rarer, though, reckons Edinburgh
literary researcher Robert Mullin, who runs www. theweeweb.co.uk,
a children's book site. Ten years ago, when he started
collecting Ladybirds, a whole box of books could be
had for as little as £1 at car boot sales or 5p
each in charity shops.
No longer. "Thanks to the internet, prices have
shot up - particularly over the past five years,"
he says. "People are starting to see what they
can get for their old books and it's becoming harder
to find the great bargains.
"Cinderella, a much-loved title, was changing
hands five years ago for £5 a copy. Now they're
£55 each and if you have one of the really rare
copies that had a dust jacket, you can expect to get
The best bargains can still be found in car boot sales,
he adds, since people don't realise how much the books
might be worth. Charity shops such as Oxfam, which have
book experts on hand, do not sell them at knockdown
Most collectors - and Mr Mullin estimates there are
hundreds around the country - either try to collect
one of everything that the company produced (quite a
feat as there were several hundred published in the
most popular period, 1940-80) or specialise in a single
Ladybird series. These categories are as diverse as
Fairy Tales and Rhymes, Animals and Adventures from
Prices for Ladybird books seem to depend on two main
factors: which series they are from (some are in much
greater demand than others) and their rarity. A page
on theweeweb shows which series are most popular and
which are particularly rare. Some specific books and
some whole series are now very scarce and are sought
by collectors all over the country.
The Ladybird imprint, now published by Penguin, started
in 1940 with Bunnikin's Picnic Party. This was illustrated
by Angusine Macgregor, a noted children's book illustrator
of the period. Ladybird books went on to cover all kinds
of educational and recreational topics, selling in 60
They were started by publishers Harry Wills and William
Hepworth (Wills & Hepworth) when new technology
allowed a single book of a particular size to be produced
from a single sheet of paper (naturally enough, the
Ladybird book Printing Processes goes through the details).
Each book had a full-colour illustration every time
you turned a page, and strongly bound stiff-board covers.
For the first 25 years, they also came with a paper
Some collectors hunt high and low for first editions
but this can be problematic as many Ladybird books often
did not have any details stating whether a book was
indeed a first edition or not.
Expect to struggle when searching for particular editions
or series. The early, six-book Adventures of Wonk series,
for example, is very hard to come by.
The books feature stories about a koala bear illustrated
by Joan Kiddell-Monroe. They sell for about £100
per copy with dust jacket, and for between £15
and £60 without it.
The Tinker's Wig series is also a devil to unearth.
Published in 1947, it is something of an oddity as it
is not only twice the size of a standard Ladybird book
but broke with the usual format by printing text on
both sides of the pages and using fewer pictures. A
copy with dust jacket would sell for £100 to £150;
without jacket, you could get £40 to £60.
The rarest Ladybird book - so elusive, it seems, that
not one collector has even seen one - is The Computer
from the How it works series, produced privately for
the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 1972.
The print run was limited to 100 copies on plain boards
without the usual Ladybird copyright information. The
simple design and lack of information were at the request
of the MoD, since the government body did not want trainee
staff to know they were learning from a Ladybird book.
But the fact that the MoD itself deemed the Ladybird
approach useful enough for adults is testament to the
books' clarity and intelligence. Ten years later, during
training for the Falklands War, the British Army used
Ladybird's Understanding Maps to instruct soldiers in
the art of map reading.
Mr Mullin says it's definitely the nostalgia factor
that makes Ladybirds so valuable and could help them
to keep growing in popularity. "Once someone's
grown up, they want to buy the books they loved for
their own children. Then they get hooked and start collecting
them for themselves."
There is not yet a society for Ladybird lovers, but
a few fans are discussing the possibility of setting
one up. Once that happens, copies could be bought and
sold even more energetically. Prices, for the next decade
or so at least, look like they will continue to rise.
The above article appeared in The Independent
on Sunday 26th September 2004.