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

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
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

    SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

    £18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

    £50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece