You may have noticed I’ve gone a bit quite again. There’s a very simple reason this time – I’m spending every spare minute finally cataloging my Ladybird collection!
When I started collecting Ladybird books I have to admit that I had no real idea what I was doing. I remembered them fondly from my childhood, but had no idea of how many Ladybird books were out there – I just liked the ones I’d spotted in charity shops so decided to start buying them. Several years down the line there are over 400 books in my collection and they are somewhat scattered across the house. With the help of a former-librarian friend from my knitting group I’ve now started to put some order into my collection and I’m slowly working my way through the whole collection to catalogue them all – which in turn will hopefully help stop me from buying duplicates too.
What has been particularly interesting though is sharing some of my Ladybird knowledge with my friend as we worked through them. It’s sort of made me realise just how much I’ve learnt over the years – so much so that I thought I ought to share it here.
Firstly, starting with what has to be the most obvious way of splitting up Ladybird books – into the series that Ladybird released them in. Ladybird series started in the 1940 and normally books listed what series they belonged to on the back cover, sometimes along with a list of the other books in that series. The first digit of the series number gave you an idea which decade books in that series were first released in. So series 401, 413 etc were launched in the 1940s, 522, 536 in the 1950s etc. I tend to use two different sources when looking for lists of series – there is a useful appendix in The Ladybird Story, but I also like the simpler list on this (sadly no longer updated so the links on the site no longer work) page on The Wee Web.
So splitting my Ladybird books up into series is relatively simple – with a few exceptions where some later books don’t always list the series number on them, instead just listing other similar books across different series and leaving you to do a spot of online detective work to figure out where they go. An example being The Yellow Book of bedtime stories where on the back cover you can see that it comes under “Nursery Rhymes & Stories” but it doesn’t give you a series number.
Series 413 Fairy Tales and Rhymes is where it belongs – not that you’d know that looking at the back cover though.
Once you’ve split the books into series that’s just the start. No where have I seen a complete list of all the different editions of books that Ladybird published. It is possible to have two books where the contents are identical, but the cover designs (and possible even titles) are different in some way.
Two versions of The Story of Nelson (later re-titled Nelson) in the History series, 561. The original on the left was first published in 1957, with the updated over version on the right following in the 1960s.
It’s also even possible to have two Ladybird books where the contents are identical, but the books are in different series! Ladybird did that quite a bit with their Learnabout series (series 634) where they took in titles that were originally in other series that were then stopped for some reason.
A couple of examples have come into my collection. Understanding Maps was first published in 1967 in series 671. A series that only ever had the one title published in it. At a later date they then published Learnabout… Maps in series 634 which is identical inside. Even the copyright date inside the front cover says 1967, but that’s not when it was published in that version. In fact, if you didn’t just know there’s no way of telling looking at the later book alone.
The same goes for Learnabout… Metalwork. This book was previously ‘How to do it’ Metalwork which was published in 1973 in the How to do it series (series 731) along with one other title – ‘How to do it’ Woodwork. And I’m guessing, although I’ve not seen it with my own eyes that Learnabout… Woodwork is probably the same book.
But, the confusion doesn’t stop there. Even if you have two Ladybird books with what look like the same cover, there can still be differences between editions. On the back of each book is printed the price. As books were reprinted it was often the case that the price had increased. Also, many Ladybird books had the following written somewhere on them.
“There are now over […] Ladybird titles covering a wide range of subjects and reading ages. Write for a free illustrated catalogue from the publishers”
Tally number as seen on the rear of The Ladybird Book of Toys and Hames to Make, series 633
They would then include the number of Ladybird books published to date, usually rounded to the nearest 10. And with each reprint they might also change this tally number to reflect the number of books published since the last edition.
Finally, where they include a list of titles in that series the number of books listed might also change depending on whether or not more had been published since the last printing run of that book. This is often spotted when they’re also increased the price between editions being printed.
Two different rear covers on The Ladybird Book of Things to Make, series 633
So, this little job of making a list of all the Ladybird books that I own isn’t the simple task that I once thought! As well as title and series, I also need to take into account tally number, price, number in the series and cover art. Oh, and did I mention Ladybird’s other little trick or re-using a series number again with different books, written by different people? So, just look at what happened with the Junior Science series…
The original Junior Science series (series 621) was published din 1962/63. The revised Junior Science series on the right came along on 1982/83 (with one later title being added in 1985) and was written and illustrated by different people, although some of the experiments included were the same.
As Ladybird Tuesday moves forwards I’m hoping that I can draw attention to more of these little quirks of Ladybird which help make them into the books that I love so much today. And just as soon as I’ve finished cataloguing them all I’m also hoping I can share the complete list with you all too. Once I find the time…