From June 15th to August 25th, 2000 the Cheltenham art gallery
& museum hosted an exhibition of original artwork from
Ladybird books. Featured artists included Harry Wingfield,
John Berry and Martin Aitchison. The display was part of a
touring exhibition which had already been shown at Walsall
and continues on for another year.
Most of the art was for sale at prices
ranging from £250 to £1000, although the real
beauties were marked NFS (not for sale). Although there were
several I would have dearly liked to own, these prices probably
mean possession of some original artwork will sadly remain
The exhibition was held in quite small
room, with framed art all round. The corner was set aside
for children to read through some very dog-eared books. In
the centre was a case showing a variety of books and the artists
mock up for La Fontaine Fables. Some artwork from this book
was on sale. It's fascinating to see these preliminary ideas
for books - in this age of desk-top publishing, it's great
to see things laid out by hand!
Perhaps the most interesting items
were in a case devoted to the Key reading scheme, including
Murray's original draft book and several rare related items.
Needless to say, these items were not for sale, but on loan
from the family of William Murray.
Several items were sold by the final
day, although buyers have to wait until the end of the tour
before they can claim their prizes. The museum also produced
a neat little pamphlet of information to go with the exhibition
- you can buy these from the museum at £1 each - write
to Cheltenham Museum, Clarence Street, Cheltenham.
I'd been in touch with the museum for some months, discussing
the possibility of their hosting a collectors fair for LB
books and on the final day, this did indeed take place. Through
the e-list, I arranged with 7 or 8 fellow collectors to bring
their spares along and we set up in a small room above the
exhibition, accessed via a spiral staircase (just to loosen
those wallets!). We arranged ourselves in a vaguely circular
layout & admired the rarities that were on display.
Several DJ Wonks were in evidence, along with lots of other
early editions. As you can see from the photo, hands were
irresistibly drawn to the Wonks. One lucky enthusiast was
shopping on behalf of a friend and had a wants list along
with a blank cheque!
There were lots of collectors there, including Steve Rudge
(busy signing copies of his excellent collectors guide), David
and Lyn Ball, Craig Tanswell, Helen ?, Claire Jenkins (who
made the Radio 4 LB special last Christmas), Jennifer Crockford,
Ben Rawdon, Steve Smith - if you were there & would like
your name adding, please let me know - my memory is awful!)
Prices varied from dirt-cheap to three figures (guess what
for!) and it basically reinforced the belief that there's
glossy covers & matt covers to be had for chicken-feed,
common DJs for around a fiver & silly figure DJs for 20,
40, 60 80 plus. I picked up a Bonnie Prince Charlie, Cleopatra
and a DJ Sleeping beauty for about £12 the lot &
managed to refrain from raiding the more expensive items that
I really wanted.
My wife was chuffed with the prospect of regaining some shelf
space & helped me out, as did my son. We put him by the
entrance of the museum with a box of really tatty copies,
telling him he could keep the proceeds. Bu**er me, but he
made over £40!
What was impressive was the sheer quantity of books available
- there must have been at least 8000 Ladybirds on offer, surely
the largest collection of the little treasures ever assembled
in one place! There were prices to suit all and some stall-holders
had even sorted all the books into series order, with proper
labels and individually priced! I just bunged them into 1,
2 or 3 pound boxes, plus the DJs. Other bits I brought down
were snapped up - LB jigsaws, videos, display boxes. One enterprising
couple had mounted pages form the books into large frames
and were selling (or trying to sell) them.
The staff were very helpful and opened up a kitchen for us
to rustle up drinks & nibble biscuits. We ran from 10am
until gone 3 - I left a tad early since the "punters"
had all but dried up.
During the day, we all made ourselves known to each other
and it was a delight to discover that LB collectors are not
discontented, cocky, lazy, conceited, or even Wonkers (cough)
but thoroughly nice people, intelligent enough to share a
passion for W&Hs (as opposed to B&Hs). We seemed to
get along famously and there wasn't a single person who I'd
have put in the "don't get stuck in a lift with"
category, train-spotters or not!
We swapped information, hints & tips and discussed famous
LB myths (e.g.. Learnabout Farming - no-one had ever seen
a copy & on that basis, we presume it never made it to
The amount you can pick up from talking with this type of
expert is astonishing and bodes well for the proposed LB collectors
convention which is being planned. We were all agreed that
a follow-up book fair should be organised, although perhaps
Cheltenham might lose out to Loughborough, our adopted home.
I'd like to thank Simon Richards and Wendy Malpass of the
museum staff for their helpfulness during the day and willingness
to host the book fair without charging for the room.
Also, thanks to all the intrepid collectors who came to sell,
to buy, or just to browse - we had a great time!
Article by Nick Robinson