In an earlier post I wrote about some of the strange coincidences that have emerged in the course of developing this exhibition. Another bizarre coincidence has now come to light. It is concerned not so much with a history relating to the written word or to visual culture but one that is nevertheless firmly centred on paper.

My colleague Helen Westhrop works as a Library Assistant in Special Collections and Cataloguing here at the University of Reading. In her spare time she is a keen blogger (her blog, Living Libraries and [Dead] Languages, is definitely worth following). Having been aware for some time that this exhibition was in progress and being interested in the Ladybird archive herself, Helen was trying to think of interesting ways of connecting her own writing with this collection. What she happened upon was a link between her own life story and the history of Ladybird books, possibly even connecting her with the physical manufacture of the Autumn volume at some stage in its later history.

Indeed, in the course of pondering ways to justify introducing discussion of the Ladybird collections  she realised something rather amazing. At an earlier point in her career, Helen worked as a clerk in the Buying Office of John Dickinson Paper and Board, then based at Croxley Mills in Watford. One of this company’s most prominent customers was the publishing house Wills and Hepworth, producers of Ladybird books.

As Helen notes on her blog, she therefore at one time had a hand in the very production of these books, albeit from the source context of working for the company that produced the paper on which they were printed. Nevertheless, this surprising ‘paper trail’ and revealing ‘paper tale’ together provide yet more evidence of the fascinating stories that underpin this seemingly simple series of children’s books.

Far too often we take the material things in our lives for granted and give little thought to the highly complex processes involved in their production and distribution; the people and places, and the companies and cultures that lie behind the existence of artefacts like Ladybird books. Thanks are due to Helen for sharing her piece of this rich, detailed, and endlessly fascinating puzzle. Perhaps others might be persuaded to share their own part, however small, in the processes that brought subsequent editions of the huntsman image and the What to Look For books to the book shops and to our modern-day book shelves and bibliographic collections.

 

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My earlier blog post today revealed yet another example of the Autumn volume from the well-known Ladybird What to Look For series. This post comes on a day when the publishing industry has itself been in the news. Penguin Group—itself the current owner of Ladybird Books Ltd—are reported to be in ongoing discussions concerning a possible merger with The Random House Group. This story is indicative of the major changes that are underway in the modern publishing industry and highlight how the book world is a dynamic context, whcih is constantly undergoing change and development.

Those interested in the contemporary face of publishing may also be interested to learn of some of the past changes to these companies. Readers of this blog will no doubt already be aware that the University of Reading is home to the archives of Ladybird Books but they may not know that these are held alongside historic materials relating to various companies encompassed by Random House.

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This copy of the Autumn volume was acquired by an academic interested in the study of children’s literature. This also just happens to be an academic who has kindly contributed ideas and content towards the main banners in the exhibition itself. Dr Sue Walsh is a colleague of my co-curator Neil Cocks and works alongside him within CIRCL (Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture and Media). With this institutional affiliation in mind it it easy to see why she might have been interested in acquiring a copy of this particular book.

Sue Walsh's copy of the 'Autumn' book

Sue Walsh’s copy of ‘What to Look For in Autumn’, complete with the standard dust jacket. It appears much the same as all the other first editions on display.

It appears at first glance to be much like the other first editions that we have borrowed for the exhibition. It has its dust jacket and is in near pristine condition. The price is, of course, the standard 2’6 for which Ladybird became known.

Price on the dust jacket of Sue Walsh's copy.

The standard price of 2’6, as printed on the dust jacket of Sue Walsh’s copy.

However, as with other individual copies, more careful visual inspection reveals subtle differences in the way this particular book has been treated by its previous owners. There are scribbles that evidence a perhaps less caring owner, most likely a child!

Scribbles on the title page of Sue Walsh's copy.

Scribbles on the title page of Sue Walsh’s copy of the ‘Autumn’ book, surrounding the iconic Ladybird logo.

Perhaps more interesting still is the later addition of an alternate price, no doubt by an enthusiastic second hand book seller. The price of £6.50 has been written inside, indicating a significant increase on its original price of 2/6. Whatever Sue herself paid for the book, this is evidence enough that the financial value of these volumes has increased markedly and that they are nolonger the economical literature of the people that they once were. Instead, they are the preserve of book collectors, enthusiasts, and specialists.

Price annotation on Sue Walsh's copy of the 'Autumn' book.

A later price annotation of £6.50 adorns the inside of Sue Walsh’s copy of the ‘Autumn’ book.

Sue herself acquired her copy with the possibility of using it for teaching or research purposes at some point in the future. I hope that involvement in this project has enthused her to make active use of this copy in the classroom context. Thanks to Sue for the generous loan of this volume and thanks also for providing ideas and content for the following exhibition banner.

Exhibition banner based on content and ideas provided by Sue Walsh.

This exhibition banner explores ideas connected with the notion of an animal and of absence and is based on content provided by Sue Walsh.

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Echoing the themes of the last blog post on this topic, this example offers further evidence of the amazing and widespread enthusiasm that exists for Ladybird books. This time the impetus of the person acquiring this particular copy of a What to Look For book was not centred on a love of the work of Tunnicliffe but was based on a love of children’s literature. Indeed, this copy of the Spring volume has been kindly lent to the exhibition by children’s book enthusiast and collector Polly Harte.

Polly Harte's first edition copy of 'What to Look For in Spring'

Polly Harte’s first edition copy of ‘What to Look For in Spring’. Like Lionel Kelly’s ‘Autumn’ volume it lacks a dust jacket, revealing the Tunnicliffe image beneath.

Polly Harte works in the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at the University of Reading. More specifically, she helps to run its commercial and printing section, the Design and Print Studio, and has therefore played a peripheral but nevertheless key part in administration running alongside the production of panels and printed content for use in this exhibition.

In response to the original call for loan copies of the Autumn book, Polly had hoped that she on her shelves a first edition of the volume we were keen to use. She was sad to discover that she only had a copy of the Spring volume to hand. However, her enthusiasm for the book biographies microproject and for the wider goals of the exhibition itself was so overwhelming that I felt it impossible to decline her offer to lend another season instead.

Nevertheless, in spite of it not being the Autumn volume, Polly’s copy offers yet another unique and fascinating glimpse into the mulitfaceted stories that such items can tell. It was acquired at a car boot sale or in an informal second hand context. Polly collects these kinds of books because she has a longstanding interest in them and harbours the desire to return to researching them in greater detail.

Many thanks to Polly for kindly lending this book and for sharing her story. I hope she does decide to return to studying children’s books and that the exhibition lives up to her initial enthusiasm!

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The official opening date is this coming weekend but the exhibition is now more or less in place. Here is a little background to the selection of just a handful of objects that we chose to use.

In the course of planning this exhibition, my co-curator Neil Cocks and I decided it would be useful to undertake a brief review of some of the hunting-related content housed at MERL such that we could select suitable items for display. This process threw up some interesting gaps in the holdings of this (ordinarily very comprehensive) rural collection and led to the discovery of some rather unexpected connections.

We were surprised to learn, for example, that the Museum had no hunting pinks (or pinques) in its possession, this being the type of red coat traditionally worn by many in the hunting fraternity. Luckily, this did not prove a major stumbling block as I knew that my parents had in their possession a coat of this kind that was made in the nineteenth century for my Great Great Great Grandfather Charles Garfit and, as such, I decided to borrow this item for the exhibition. Thanks to Tim and Jane Douglas (a.k.a. mum and dad) for the generous loan of this coat.

Hunting pinks made for Charles Garfit

The red coat made in circa 1832 for MERL curator Ollie Douglas’ ancestor Charles Garfit.

Some months prior to this I had already managed to secure a hunting whip for the collection, which I purchased at auction as part of the Museum’s ongoing project Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures. As I waited to bid for this item I chatted at length to Mary Riall, Chief Executive of Ufton Court Educational Trust, who was there seeking artefacts for use in hands-on learning contexts. She revealed her own familial connections to hunting and the fact that, much like my parents, she too had some unused hunting paraphernalia at home. Again, this connection proved rather timely and Mary has kindly lent some boots and a riding cap for use in the exhibition. I would like to also extend my thanks to her for agreeing to this loan.

Hunting whip acquired at auction through Collecting Cultures funding

This hunting whip was acquired at an auction in Reading through Collecting Cultures funding (MERL 2011/7).

Just before Neil and I met to look over the MERL objects and to examine the coat that I had borrowed from my parents I spent some time looking at each item more carefully and reading through the related documentation. Prior to this moment I knew very little about the branch of my family to which the pinks were connected. I was therefore surprised and pleased to learn that the first owner of this coat had himself been based at Tabley House, Cheshire, a large property situated in the very county where Charles Tunnicliffe himself was to be born decades later. Ideal I thought, a Cheshire hunting artefact to help elucidate and interpret an image of a huntsman that itself almost certainly harked back to the artist’s own Cheshire roots.

Label found in the box in whcih the hunting coat had long been stored.

This handwritten label was in the box in which the hunting coat had long been stored. It revealed the provenance of the artefact, which had previously been unknown to me.

However, this was not the end of the surprises that I had in store. As I proceeded to revisit and re-examine the hunting whip, then still quite recently purchased, I was amazed to discover that the silver ferrule on this stylised accessory was inscribed as follows:

‘J. L–W // Tabley House // Cheshire // 1928’

In a remarkable coincidence I had purchased an object for inclusion in the MERL collection that was linked by its own object biography to a house that had earlier connections to my own familial heritage. Neil and I agreed that the Cheshire connections alone were sufficient to justify incorporating these intriguing objects and that the link between them, which was also centred on the importance of  ‘place’ in interpreting material culture, simply served to enhance the valuable part they could play in the exhibition. Plus, of course, the hunting pinks looked visually striking!

The importance of A Sense of Place in understanding the history of these objects, as well as the impetus and inspiration behind Tunnicliffe’s huntsman image, is clear. This area oif exploration is the subject of another project currently underway at the Museum, and about which my colleagues and I have also been blogging. If you are interested then why not check out this ongoing discussion or pay a visit to the exhibition and take a look at the whip and jacket on display.

The engraved ferrule on the hunting whip.

The engraved ferrule on the hunting whip, which reveals a link to Tabley House, Cheshire.

Objects on display in the exhibition, including the red coat.

Objects on display in the exhibition, including the red coat, as used to provide an artefactual understanding of the huntsman image.

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The appeal of Ladybird books as collectible items is well known, with specialist websites and blogs such as The Wee Web and Vintage Ladybird Books offering a growing wealth of online and detailed information on the volumes available and on the history of this rich strand of children’s literature and publishing history. In terms of the biographies of individual copies of Ladybird books many of these will find themselves in the hands of collectors at some point in their lifetimes. The copies we have borrowed for the exhibition are no exception.

The Tunnicliffe collector's book shelves

This photo shows the book shelves of Tunnicliffe collector Lionel Kelly, whose personal holdings include earlye ditions of many works illustrated by the artist.

We have on display a copy of the first edition of the Autumn volume that has been kindly lent by Lionel Kelly, a former academic who worked for many years in the Department of English here at the University of Reading. Like numerous other scholars of literature, Lionel was an enthusiastic book collector for many years. When he retired he became especially keen on the work of Charles Tunnicliffe and began collecting early editions of books that had been illustrated by him. This, of course, included copies from the What to Look For series.

Lionel Kelly's copy of 'What to Look For in Autumn'

Lionel Kelly’s copy of ‘What to Look For in Autumn’ is a frist edition but is lacking the standard dust jacket that came with the original volume. This lack of dust jacket reveals the monochrome Tunnicliffe image that graces the cover beneath.

Lionel has also lent his first edition copy of What to Look For in Winter, which features one of the most entertaining (not to mention worrying!) errata slips I have ever seen, and one with which other Ladybird enthusiasts are already familiar. This is shown in the picture below.

Errata slip from Lionel Kelly's first edition copy of the 'Winter' volume.

Errata slip from Lionel Kelly’s first edition copy of ‘What to Look For in Winter’.

The slip reads as follows:

ERRATA page 16 // “The red and purple berries that look like tiny jam tarts are not poisonous.”// should read // “The red and purple berries that look like tiny jam tarts are ALSO poisonous.”

One young owner of this particular copy of the book has tken it iupon themselves to write ‘are poisonous’ alongside the wording of the errata slip. Someone – perhaps the same previous owner – has also made the correction on page 16, as shown in the following image.

Correction made in pen to page 16 of Lionel Kelly's copy of the 'Winter' book.

A correction has been made to the text on page 16 of Lionel Kelly’s copy of ‘What to Look For in Winter’.

We are enormously grateful to Lionel for lending these two books and for lending a handful of other gems from his wider Tunnicliffe collection. These include two books illustrated by Tunnicliffe and, like the What to Look For series, also authored by Elliot Lovegood Grant Watson. He has also lent us a copy of Tunnicliffe’s How to Draw Farm Animals, an original pencil sketch from which we have borrowed from Oriel Ynys Môn. Why not drop in to see the exhibition and take a look at this original pencil sketch on display.

Lionel Kelly's copy of 'How to Draw Farm Animals'

One of Lionel Kelly’s two different editions of ‘How to Draw Farm Animals’.

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Book design was of paramount importance in developing the format of Ladybird books as we now know them. Indeed, as the exhibition reveals, the format and size of these volumes was determined by a desire to be economical and to get the most out of cutting a single sheet of paper without wastage. We have on display an uncut printer’s sheet from a Ladybird book that helps to illustrate this point, as well as detailed discussion of the design of Ladybird books, which has been provided by our colleague Professor Sue Walker of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication.

Ladybird books and the complexities of their design history notwithstanding, we have had our own design challenges in the course of planning and developing the exhibition itself. Our collaborator and consultant in this venture has been Mark Meredith of Waysgoose Design, whose vibrant and lively artwork has invigorated our ideas and helped render them presentable and visually appealing, as can be seen by his design for the exhibition poster (click to download here).

What to Look For exhibition poster

The ‘What to Look For’ exhibition poster, as designed by Mark Meredith of Waysgoose Design.

Mark is himself a graduate of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication and was at one time taught by Sue Walker. He also worked for her for a number of years after graduating. It is nice to see them both working on this project. Mark also managed to find time to get married whilst (seemingly simultaneously) finishing off amendments to the designs he had produced for this display, which just goes to show what talent and ability he has.

Congratulations and thanks are therefore due to both Mark Meredith and to Sue Walker for their contributions towards and commitment to this exhibition. Like the classic and well-loved look of the Ladybird book, this exhibtion wouldn’t be what it has become without the design and the authorship that lies behind it!

Banner designed fro the exhibition by Mark Meredith.

This banner on the theme of Book Design was designed for the exhibition by Mark Meredith and is based on the specialist knowledge and input of Professor Sue Walker.

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I am sure many readers will remember this classic Ladybird book, which captures perfectly the nostalgic appeal of these volumes. Indeed, we use an image of the cover on an exhibition panel in the exhibition itself to underline the point that these books have gone from being cheap mass-produced items on sale at the affrodable cost of 2/6 to being highly sought after collectibles, often with an altogether different price tag.

The cover image from 'Shopping With Mother'.

The cover image from ‘Shopping With Mother’ by M. E. Gagg and first published in 1958. Image copyright Ladybird Books Ltd.

With thoughts of shopping in mind, it might be worth mentioning that the MERL shop has begun to stock up on a few Ladybird-inspired items and exhibition-themed goods. I am relaibly informed by our Visitor Services Assistant Judith Moon that she has stocked up on Ladybird-themed notebooks, address books, birthday books, mugs, craft kits, keyrings, postcards, magnets, sticky plasters, travel bags (Judith describes these as ‘small cosmetic type zip things!’), and mounted prints of images from ladybird books.

In the shop

A handful of Ladybird items on display in the MERL shop.

So, if you are keen on Ladybird or are looking for some nice nostalgic stocking fillers then do pop by and see what the Museum has in store. Once you are there, why pop next door and take a look at the exhibition too (it opens on 6 October but much of it is already in place). Indeed, you could even bring your mum. Exhibition-Going With Mother somehow doesn’t have quite the same ring to it but you can easily combine the two activities with just a single visit to MERL!

Ladybird merchandise

Judith’s glamorous hands hold some of the special merchandise about to be made available to MERL shoppers.

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As the exhibition opening draws closer, our exploration of the biographies of individual copies of books from the What to Look For series continues. Although the copy pictured below is not a first edition but a later version and is arguably far less ‘collectible’ by traditioanl standards, I think there is little chance that this particular volume will ever reach the secondhand book market. It will certainly not do so in the lifetime of its current owner, for whom it is of special importance.

Copy of 'Autumn' book lent by Kelly Borlase-Hendry and her husband Piran Borlase-Hendry

This later edition of the ‘Autumn’ book has been lent by Kelly Borlase-Hendry and her husband Piran Borlase-Hendry, who has had it since he was a child.

Indeed, the book has come to us via Kelly Borlase-Hendry who works as a Student Financial Support Team Leader within the University of Reading. It belongs to her husband Piran Borlase-Hendry who remembers the What to Look For series being his favourite books when he was younger, so much so that they were the only volumes that he kept from his childhood.

This narrative doesn’t differ enormously from the other familial stories I have already recounted. Someone owned the book as a child and liked it enough to hang onto it into adulthood. However, there is a further twist to this particular example. Piran wanted me to point out that not only that he is a graduate of Rural Resource Management here at the University of Reading (and therefore has his own institutional connection) but that he is now working as an Ecologist, a career trajectory that has much to do with his love of these books in his youth. Indeed, as his wife Kelly told me, Piran thinks that ‘his love of the countryside stems from these books.’

For me at least and for our purposes in this part of the exhibition and wider project, this a tremdously powerful idea. It is one thing for us to be asking quite simply how people respond to an image from the Autumn volume or what they think of the book and the text now but to know it had such a profound impact on someone’s life, and that these four small books were capable of influencing what degree and subsequent career somebody chose to pursue is a step on from exploring the possible meaning of marginalia and old sticky tape marks.

Do you have a similar story to tell about one of these four books, or perhaps regarding the infleunce of Ladybird books on subsequent life choices more generally? If the What to look For books could inspire someone to a career in ecology, a type of job that was markedly less common when they were first published then there must be people out there whose subsequent paths were determined by the more straightforwardly career-oriented volumes produced through Ladybird’s People at Work series.

I and J Havenand, 'The Farmer' (1963)

First published in 1963, ‘The Farmer’ by I and J Havenand gave a detailed account of farming at this time and what it entailed. It was one of Ladybird’s ‘People at Work’ series. A slightly later edition may be seen in the exhibition.

For example, the very first two of these being Vera Southgate’s The Fireman (1962) and The Policeman (1962). This is to say nothing of I and J Havenand’s The Farmer (1963), which is arguably more relevant here, as well as the nurses, builders, postmen, miners, and others whose lives might have been shaped by these formative and informative books.

Thanks to Piran and Kelly for sharing the story behind the copy they have kindly lent.

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We are now putting the exhibition in place in preparation for the opening on Saturday 6th October. The material on loan from museums and private collectors is arriving, and for the first time we can see how it will look within the exhibition space. Oriel Ynys Môn has been extremely supportive. We have received items that will help gain a sense of Charles Tunnicliffe’s working processes, including one of the easels used towards the end of his career, and a box of art materials. Oriel Ynys Môn has also sent a range of artworks to compliment those in our own collection. These include a large and very impressive measured drawing of a fox, and this early study, based on observations Tunnicliffe made on his family farm.

Christmas Chickens

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