2/6

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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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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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This is the second of these ‘book biography’ blog posts and it just happens to be a fairly brief one. Here is a copy of the What to Look for in Autumn book that is owned (and has been kindly lent to the exhibition) by Julia Waters. Julia works in Modern Lanugauges and European Studies so there is no obvious connection between her career/profession and ownership of this book. It seems that, as she herself has noted, that she simply ‘loved it as a child’.

A copy of What to Look for in Autumn belonging to Julia Waters

This copy has been laminated to protect it, a familiar treatment for many library books or those expected to see heavy use.

As with the copy I blogged about in the first post on this theme, Julia’s copy is an early edition that features the characteristic Ladybird patterned inside covers. Alongside this patterned interior, the corner of the flyleaf again reveals that early price of 2’6.

Price of 2'6 on the cover of Julia Water's copy of the 'Autumn' volume.

The standard price of Ladybird books in the early 1960s was 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence), as shown here on the dustjacket of Julia Water’s copy, where the dustjacket has been laminated onto the cover.

The tan-coloured stains of old sticky-backed tape marks in the photograph above and in the one below both reveal an earlier history of use. Was this copy once in an institutional collection, hence the laminated finish? What was the tape intended to adhere to these inside covers? We will almost certainly never know the answer to these questions but they certainly begin to highlight some of the subtle archaeologies of artefacts that careful visual examinations like this can highlight.

As Julia obtained her copy as a child and her copy has clearly had a ‘prehistory’, what this certainly indicates is that Julia obtained her copy second hand. In other words (and without seeking to reveal anyone’s age on an exhibition blog!) the book predates Julia herself. This also goes some way towards illustrating the enduring popularity of these books, which have been loved and will continue to be loved by subsequent generations of young readers.

Sellotape marks and pencil marks underlying laminate covering on this copy

Another history of use and perhaps a point of sale mark-up are shown in this image of Julia Water’s copy.

Whatever the earlier history of this particular copy might have been, as with Fiona Cummin’s example this volume is set to have a familial path of descent as it is also much loved by Julia’s 6-year-old daughter on whose shelf it normally lives when not on loan to MERL! Thanks to Julia and her daughter for letting us borrow it.

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In the lead up to the What to look for? exhibition I have begun to consider how the original huntsman image was not just reproduced once in the What to Look For in Autumn book but was replicated in every single copy printed. Each of these versions has the capacity to tell a different story, with unique narratives bound inseparably to particular copies and editions of the book itself.

These myriad histories might connect to owners through whose hands the book might have passed over the years. Perhaps there were specific reasons why people had originally purchased this particular volume or that governed why it had been given as a gift. Maybe it had been cherished, or perhaps even ignored and discarded. Markings and physical changes to each different copy—or indeed a relative lack of wear or damage—might help reveal or illustrate a lifetime of use.

Fiona Cummins' copy of the Autumn book

This copy of ‘What to Look For in Autumn’ has been kindly lent by Fiona Cummins.

With this in mind (and rather expecting to receive one or perhaps two responses at best) I made a widespread call to my colleagues across the University of Reading:

“… We are keen to explore how this single image has been reproduced, not only in subsequent editions of the book, but also in multiple copies of the same edition. By using actual examples we hope to communicate the diverse ‘biographies’ that each individual copy has had. We are appealing for colleagues across the University to check their bookshelves for copies of What To Look For in Autumn.

“The books need not be in pristine condition (few old Ladybird books are!). Signs of wear and tear are indicative of a history of active use. A sense of the ‘well-loved’ object is one of the many things we hope to show. Scribbles, inscriptions, dedications, and other marginalia (however rough and ready) are also of great interest. The main thing is to offer a sense of the many copies of this book that have been sold, many of which lurk amongst the numerous volumes that no doubt line your shelves at home.”

I was surprised to receive far more replies than I had expected and pleased to hear that each told a story that was not only unique, albeit subtley so in many instances, but was personal and informative. The copy pictured above and below is no exception.

Although simple and familair in character, this copy represents the sharing of books between family members. As its owner Fiona Cummins (Library Assistant at the University of Reading’s Main Library) notes, it was first given to her as a child and she probably aquired it in the early 1960s, soon after it was published. She then purposefully kept it, thus enabling her own children, now in their twenties, to use the same copy when they were children. She intends to keep hold of it so that any grandchildren she might have in future will also be able to enjoy it.

The Ladybird patterned paper that adorns the inside covers of early editions of the Autumn book

This image shows the iconic patterned paper that adorns the inside covers of early editions of the ‘Autumn’ book. In this instance, a copy owned by Fiona Cummins.

The very process of retrieving thisbook from her shelves and giving thought to why and how she it came to be there has encouraged Fiona to reflect on the value she has placed on this book and on similar books:

“I would be delighted to put it to any good use as it is just gathering dust in a cupboard at the moment… It has a dust jacket and is unmarked… I have quite a lot of books like this. I also worked as a Nursery School Teacher but probably should have been a Childrens’ Librarian!”

Whether Fiona bought the book or it was a gift, I think we can agree that it was clearly 2’6 well spent!

The standard price of Ladybird books in the early 1960s was 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence)

The standard price of Ladybird books in the early 1960s was 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence), as shown here on the prinstine dust jacket of Fiona Cummin’s cherished copy of the ‘Autumn’ book.

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