Collectible

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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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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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