Articles by Ollie Douglas

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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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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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From 6 October 2012 until 14 April 2013 an exhibition at the Museum of English Rural Life presents a range of different responses to a single illustration of rural life. It focuses on a small watercolour by the artist Charles F. Tunnicliffe.

The Huntsman

'The huntsman, on his dappled grey..' by Charles Tunnicliffe (Image © Ladybird Books Ltd)

This was one of many artworks created by him for Ladybird children’s books. The painting featured in What to Look For in Autumn, published in 1960. This was part of a four-book series printed between 1959 and 1961. It was written by the biologist Elliot Lovegood Grant Watson and charted seasonal change in the countryside.

The original Ladybird artwork is held alongside the collections of the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading. This juxtaposition inspired us to invite specialists to examine a countryside image. Their responses form the core of the exhibition and together offer different answers to the question of What to Look For. They reveal the diverse stories that one illustration can tell.

Here we intend to ask how you might choose to look at this image and read the accompanying text? Are you interested in the artist, the illustration or other artistic responses? Perhaps the written word is more important. Maybe histories of science, of childhood or of hunting are more inspiring to you. What of the design of the book, its role in reading and learning, and how it teaches us to see and think about the world? As the exhibition progresses we hope that you will share your responses and join the conversation here.

What to Look For? Ladybird, Tunnicliffe, and the hunt for meaning

6 October 2012 until 14 April 2013

Dr Ollie Douglas (Museum of English Rural Life) and Dr Neil Cocks (Department of English Language and Literature)

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