This is 'How it works': Bunnikin, Wonk and the Tinker will make their owners richer

Collecting: Ladybird books provide early learning in investment

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.

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 - 12 1/2p - 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 shelves.

"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 surprises.

"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 fan site.

"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 prices."

Opportunities are getting rarer, though, reckons Edinburgh web designer 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 £250."

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 rates.

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 History.

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 different countries.

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 dust jacket.

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.

READ ON...

Prices: from about 50p to £350 each, depending on rarity and condition

More information: www.ladybirdflyawayhome.com; www.dottybug.co.uk; www.theweeweb.co.uk; www.ebay.co.uk

Events: the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association organises events all over the UK. For the location of the next fair, go to www.pbfa.org

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

    £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

    Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

    £23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

    MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

    Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee