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 and stick it in the attic.
It could be worth some serious money one day.
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 hundreds of pounds a pop. Not bad for a series which for thirty years sold for 2s 6d each.
Here’s how to make money from collecting and selling vintage Ladybird books.
- How to get started
- Where to look
- How old is your book?
- What to pay
- What about condition?
- Caring for your books
- Where to sell your books
- Useful links
If you are looking to buy books specifically to sell to collectors, you have to know what they are looking for.
While 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) others specialise in a single series such as Fairy Tales and Rhymes, Animals or Adventures from History to name but a few. Some Ladybird enthusiasts will hunt high and low for first editions, while others are drawn to particular illustrators and their imaginative artwork.
When you start buying Ladybird books to sell, it’s important to remember that prices will to depend on three main factors – which series they are from (some are much more popular than others), how rare they are and the condition of the book.
The early, six-book set of ‘Adventures of Wonk’ – series 417 – for example, is well-sought after by collectors across the country. These books, which feature stories about a koala bear illustrated by Joan Kiddell-Monroe, can sell for as much as £600 per copy with dust jacket.
Cinderella, the 606d series – is a much-loved title and was changing hands a few years ago for £5 a copy. Now they’re going for around £55 each and if you have one of the really rare copies that had a dust jacket it’s more like £250.
Collectors disagree on which book is the rarest, but The Impatient Horse (the only book in series 538) or High Tide (the last book in series 401) are considered difficult to find.
Allegedly, there was a special printing of ‘The Computer’ from the ‘How it Works’ series (series 654) which was produced privately for the Ministry of Defence in 1971. According to industry rumours, a limited edition of 100 copies of this book were printed in plain brown covers in order to prevent staff from being insulted that they were learning about computers from a children’s book. A plain-covered copy of this title has never been found to date, but always worth keeping your eye out just in case!
HOW OLD IS YOUR BOOK?
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
When it comes to sourcing these books, the possibilities are endless.
The most obvious starting point should be your own childhood library. Or keep your eyes peeled at boot sales and charity shops or trawl sites such as Gumtree.com, eBay.co.uk or Preloved.co.uk. To find a local boot sale, visit Carboot Junction.
Even retailers such as Amazon.co.uk have people flogging their vintage books, and you might be able to pick one up for a song. Also worth a look are specialist online book shops dedicated to Ladybird Books. On the Arran Alexander Collection site for example, you can find thousands of titles offer, but prices vary depending on the rarity of the book.
WHAT TO PAY
The best bargains can still be found in car boot sales as many individuals don’t realise how much the books are worth. Opportunities for a knockdown deal are getting rarer, though. Ten years ago, you could get a whole box of Ladybird books for £1 at car boot sales or pick them up for 5p in charity shops.
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. Even charity shops like Oxfam, which have book experts on hand, expect higher prices, so you have to be careful that you don’t pay over the odds.
Typically, first editions fetch the highest prices as due to scarcity. But finding these can be tricky, as the earlier books do not have the obvious markings. For instance, only later editions from the 1970s onwards would state ‘First Edition’ on the copyright page of the books while the earlier books – from 1940 to 1965 – are harder to identify. You can find a number of guidelines to follow that will help you determine if you’ve found a corker. For instance, according to bookselling and collecting website, TheWeeWeb.co.uk, all Ladybird books printed before 1965 were published with dust-jackets, most of which had the price of 2’6 Net printed on the inside front flap – although, with some of the first editions from the series of the 1940s there was no mention of price.
While those without prices can also be approximately dated by examining the logos on the cover or the colour Endpapers – a leaf of paper at the beginning or end of a book, typically one fixed to the inside of the cover.
To find out if you’ve got your hands on a Ladybird first edition, check out theweeweb.co.uk where you can type in the title of the book in question (so long as it was printed between 1940-1980). The site also outlines all the different dating guidelines that can help you identify if you have yourself a winner.
BUT WHAT ABOUT CONDITION?
A quick look on Amazon.co.uk reveals that you buy vintage Ladybird books on the site, but how do you know if you are getting a collectable? What do you need to look for in terms of quality and condition in order to flog the book for a tidy profit? Surely, it’s not as easy as looking online for a copy?
When considering the purchase of a book for your collection, the condition of the book and the dust jacket are crucial. It pays to become familiar with the basic descriptive terms used by used and rare booksellers to communicate a particular book’s condition. To learn more about the jargon used to describe the quality of a book, check out this handy guide from Abe Books.
Once you’ve acquired some valuable books, you must store them properly so that they 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.
Never keep books in a hot or humid spot; as hot, dry temperatures can dry out and crack leather bindings the mould that grows in damp places will damage them, along with any other paper-based objects. 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.
Before storing, check the surrounding areas for signs of insects or rodents. Opt for small- or medium-size boxes or plastic totes, which will be moisture proof. Avoid any boxes that have been used for food storage; the odours and leftover debris can attract pests.
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.
Store similar-size books together, either lying flat or standing upright, with their paper edges facing upward, which will prevent the books from warping and the pages from bending and put the heaviest books at the bottom of the container, and pack paperbacks tightly, so they don’t fall over or collapse. It’s a good idea to store the boxes on a shelf in case of any leaks or flooding.
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.
WHERE TO SELL YOUR BOOKS
Once you are ready to sell your Ladybird books, you need to find someone to buy them. Of course, you can go the usual route of eBay or Gumtree, but always double check with any specialised dealers. A quick search on Google will throw up some names in your local area and if they are not interested in buying from you, it will give you an idea of what your collection is worth.
Remember, as with selling anything, always be clear in the description of the goods and highlight and damage or flaws. If selling online, include several high quality photos and never send any goods until you have received payment.
TheWeeWeb.co.uk – bookselling and collecting website
Abe Books – published a useful explainer about book condition
Oxfam – charity shop that sells books online
Carboot junction – find boot sales in your local area
Gumtree.com – a free online marketplace for second hand goods and vintage products
eBay.co.uk – an online shopping platform, selling fees apply but reaches more potential buyers
Preloved.co.uk – a free online marketplace specialising in second-hand goods
Amazon.co.uk – one of the largest online shopping sites in the world
Arran Alexander – an on-line bookshop that buys and sells classic and vintage Ladybird Books
The Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association – organises book fairs all over the UK. See their website for the location of their next fair.