Typography and Graphic Communication

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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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Ladybird books were designed to be easily and cheaply printed. Indeed, one of the principal aims of the publisher was to make books that were both accessible and affordable. As a result, the books were made to a standard size and format, enabling them to be quickly and cheaply produced with little or no material wasted in the process. They were, in effect, a kind of twentieth century equivalent to that mainstay of nineteenth century popular publishing, the chap book. One knock-on effect of this economical approach to book production is that the resultant volumes themselves aren’t very big.

All this means that it would be hard to place an actual (680 mm x 440 mm) printed copy of the page on which this exhibition centres at the heart of the display and expect it to have much of a ‘wow factor’ to exhibition-goers. There will, of course, be original copies of the What to Look for in Autumn book on display but to achieve more of a visual impact we decided to scale the books up and make large versions of the key volume, based directly on the very first edition held in the Ladybird Collection itself.

Our own Morryce Maddams (Gallery Assistant) carefully measured the original book, before we had it digitally copied, scaled-up in image-editing software, and large paper surrogates were produced to order by the University’s dedicated in-house Design and Print Studio, which is closely interwoven with the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication. We deliberately based these images on the printed volume and not on the original artwork as we wanted the largescale versions to echo the dot-printed finish of the actual books.

Gallery Assistant Morryce Maddams working on a scaled-up book

This image shows MERL Gallery Assistant Morryce Maddams working on one of two scaled-up copies of the ‘What to Look For in Autumn’ book. One of these will be shown to display the cover and the other to show the double-page spread of the huntsman image and text on which the exhibition centres.

With the exception of one small deletion, the digital images used in these largescale versions were not altered in any way, so the massive dustjacket of the scaled-up book model designed to display the cover retains the abrasions and crayon marks of the copy on which it is based. The small piece of editing work was undertaken to digitally remove the name and address of a previous owner of this copy of the book. I’ll write a ‘Book Biographies’ blog post about this volume and its history in due course…

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