Michael McCarthy: Going cuckoo over New Nats books

Nature Notebook: The books' bold, highly stylised modernist dustwrappers are a key part of their attraction

A A A

They celebrated the New Naturalists yesterday and I missed it. The great series of groundbreaking books on the natural world, published by Collins from 1945 onwards and still going, has long been the object of reverence from wildlife lovers, including yours truly, and in recent years collecting the volumes (now over 130 of them) has become so popular that demand has driven some prices to fantastic levels.

A fine first edition of the rarest, Number 71, Eric Simms's British Warblers from 1985, will currently cost you £2,500. I've been collecting them for 10 years and I haven't got any of the really expensive ones, but even the affordable volumes give enormous pleasure, such as Miriam Rothschild's Fleas, Flukes and Cuckoos from 1952, a study of parasites with scarcely credible information on every page (did you know that there is a tiny creature that lives out its life in the tear-ducts of the hippopotamus?).

For a decade there has been a New Naturalists Collectors' Club, begun by an amiable Jersey bookseller, Bob Burrow, and continued after Bob's death by a wildlife artist from Hampshire, Tim Bernhard. Yesterday Tim organised the club's first annual meeting and symposium at the Nature in Art museum at Twigworth in Gloucestershire, and having been a member almost from the outset I was disappointed to a degree when I couldn't get there, not least as there were 20 "New Nats" authors present, as well as the panjandrum from HarperCollins (as it now is) who shrewdly presides over the continuing series, Myles Archibald.

What I most missed was the launch of the latest volume, Art of the New Naturalists, about the marvellous dust-wrappers, which are a key part of the books' attraction. They are bold, highly stylised modernist designs produced for the first 40 years by a husband-and-wife team of lithographers, Clifford and Rosemary Ellis (the 1950 cover of Mountains and Moorlands – it features an emperor moth – is one of theirs), and carried on since 1985, very much in the same tradition, by another terrific artist who works in linocuts, Robert Gillmor (his jacket for Wildfowl, left, published this year).

The new book is a detailed history of the artwork and has been written by Peter Marren, the acknowledged expert on the series, with Robert Gillmor himself. They were both there yesterday. I was stuck in the office. Never mind.

Dragonflies' price soars

I began collecting New Nats before the craze really took off, when it was still just about possible to go into the Cathedral Bookshop in Loamchester and find a copy of Dragonflies for 20 quid and offer the poor widder woman behind the counter 15. Those days are long gone (and Dragonflies will now cost you £400).

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

£40 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Nurse needed in salfordI a...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape