If you’re a parent and one of your offspring currently has their nose in a classic Ladybird book, wrestle it out of their hands at once, put it in plastic and stick it in the attic. It could be worth some sensible money. Because on the quiet, and almost under the noses of traditional booksellers, the desirability of Ladybird books has risen over the past few years to the point that some rare and collectible copies can now change hands for around £300. Not bad for a series which for thirty years sold for 2s 6d each.
The first place to look of course is your own childhood library. Ladybird books are valuable to many who benefit from their increasing love of nostalgia and the comfort of childhood memories, a factor that could help them continue in popularity.
Most collectors either try to amass one of everything the company produced (quite a feat as there were several hundred produced between the most popular period 1940-1980) or they specialise in a single series such as Fairy Tales and Rhymes, Animals or Adventures from History to name but a few.
Some hunt high and low for first editions but it can be problematic as many Ladybird books often did not have any method for stating whether a book was a first edition or not.
Some collectors enjoy the books for the nostalgic childhood memories, while others like the uniformity in how great they look on shelves with the little bugs. Some are also drawn to particular illustrators and their imaginative artwork.
Visit these websites to buy books and find out more information on collecting:
Prices for Ladybird books seem to depend on two main factors – which series they are from (some are much more popular than others) and how rare they are. There is a page on The Wee Web that shows which series are particularly rare.
Some specific books and some whole series are now very rare and are sought by collectors all over the country. The early, six-book ‘Adventures of Wonk’ series, for example, is very hard to come by. The books, with stories about a koala bear illustrated by Kiddell-Monroe, will sell for about £100 per copy with dust jacket and between £15-60 without.
The un-PC-sounding single book series ‘The Tinker’s Wig’ is also very hard to find. Published in 1947 it is something of an oddity as it is not only twice the size of a standard Ladybird book but it also broke Ladybird’s printing style by printing text on both sides of the pages and using fewer pictures. A copy with a dust jacket would sell for £100-150, without you could get £40-60 for it.
Officially, the rarest Ladybird book – so rare, it seems, that not one collector has even seen one – is a special printing of ‘The Computer’ from the ‘How it Works’ series (series 654) which was produced privately for the Ministry of Defence in 1972.
Cinderella, a really well-loved title, was changing hands five years ago for £5 a copy. Now they’re £55 each and if you have one of the really rare copies that had a dust jacket it’s more like £250.
Generally speaking the older your book is, the more it is worth. It can be difficult identifying this on some Ladybird books as they have a tally system and each tally number corresponds to a different year. This tally chart also tells you how many books have been published by Ladybird. If your book has a tally number, check below to see when it was printed.
1963 – 100
1965 – 120, 135, 140
1966 – 150, 160, 170
1967 – 190, 200
1968 – 210, 220, 225
1969 – 230, 240, 250, 260
1970 – 270, 280
1971 – 290
1972 – 300
1973 – 320, 330, 340
1974 – 350, 360, 370
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You find Ladybird books in car boot sales, jumble sales, charity shops and on websites. AbeBooks and eBay are great.
Specialist bookshops often don’t know much about Ladybirds and it’s possible to get good ones at knock-down prices.
But with the internet, and particularly eBay, prices have shot up over the last five years. People are starting to see what they can get for their old books and it’s getting harder to find the great bargains. Prices have gone up by hundreds of per cent.
The best bargains can still be found in car boot sales as many individuals don’t realise how much the books are worth. Charity shops like Oxfam, which have book experts on hand, do not sell them at the knock-down rate they used to.
There is not yet a society for Ladybird lovers but a few fans are discussing the possibility of setting one up. Once that happens, copies could be bought and sold even more energetically and prices, for the next decade or so at least, look like they will continue to rise.
Once you’ve acquired some valuable books, you really need to know how to store them properly so that the don’t get damaged. After all, if you’ve just paid £200 for a book you don’t want to store it somewhere it can start to grow mould.
First of all, don’t store them anywhere where the temperature rapidly increases or decreases as hot, dry temperatures can dry out and crack leather bindings. But low temperatures can encourage mould to grow, so try and avoid storing books in damp places. Wrapping books in plastic bags to prevent damp is also a bad idea as it can retain heat and moisture which also leads to mould growth and mildew.
It’s best to keep books away from water pipes in case they burst as well as heaters and radiators so they do not dry out. Try and keep the room temperature within the range of 16–19°C (60–66°F); if you can measure relative humidity, it should be kept as within the range of 45–60%.
Light levels are also a hugely important factor in keeping your books in pristine condition. You should never leave your books in direct sunlight as it’ll bleach the colours out in the spines or covers, leaving your books looking washed out and faded.
You can keep your books in boxes, but it’s better to keep them standing upright on a shelf out of the way of harmful sunlight. Don’t pack books in too tightly as you can risk damaging the covers when you come to take them off the shelf. Also try and keep books of the same size next to each other, otherwise you run the risk of the covers warping.
If a book is damaged by general wear and tear or if some of the pages have come loose then don’t despair, there is a chance it could be restored to its original glory if you take it to a professional bookbinder or restorer. Don’t attempt to mend it yourself – always seek professional help if the book is valuable. There’s probably someone in your local antiques or book shop who knows a good person to go to.
The Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association organises book fairs all over the UK. See their website for the location of their next fair.