||This article possibly contains original research. (March 2012)|
|Parent company||Penguin Group|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
The company traces its origins to 1867, when Henry Wills opened a bookshop in Loughborough, Leicestershire. Within a decade he progressed to printing and publishing guidebooks and street directories. He was joined by William Hepworth in 1904, and the company traded as Wills & Hepworth.
Around 1915, Wills & Hepworth published their first children's books, under the Ladybird imprint. From the start, the company was identified by a ladybird logo, at first with open wings, but eventually changed to the more familiar closed-wing ladybird in the late 1950s. The ladybird logo has since undergone several redesigns, the latest of which was launched in 2006.
Wills & Hepworth began trading as Ladybird Books in 1971 as a direct result of the brand recognition that their imprint had achieved in Britain. In the 1960s and 1970s the company's Key Words Reading Scheme (launched in 1964) was heavily used by British primary schools, using a reduced vocabulary to help children learn to read. This series of 36 small-format hardback books presented stereotyped models of British family life – the innocence of Peter and Jane at play, Mum the housewife, and Dad the breadwinner. Many of the illustrations in this series were by Harry Wingfield and Martin Aitchison.
In the 1960s, Ladybird produced the Learnabout series of non-fiction (informational) books, some of which were used by adults as well as children.
An independent company for much of its life, Ladybird Books became part of the Pearson Group in 1972. However, falling demand in the late 1990s led Pearson to fully merge Ladybird into its Penguin Books subsidiary in 1998, joining other household names in British children's books such as Puffin Books, Dorling Kindersley, and Frederick Warne. The Ladybird offices and printing factory in Loughborough closed the same year, and much of the company's archive of historic artwork was transferred to public collections.
For further information regarding the history of the Ladybird company see The Wee Web's Guide to Ladybird Books
The classic Ladybird book
The classic pocket-sized mini-hardback Ladybird book (four-and-a-half by seven inches/11.5 cm by 18 cm) was first produced in 1940 for a series of animal stories. The full-colour illustrations by A. J. Macgregor on each spread, to accompany the stories told in verse (by W. Perring) and the appeal of Bunnikin, Downy Duckling and other animal characters were an instant success. Early books had a standard 56-page format, chosen because a complete book could be printed on one large sheet of paper, which was then folded and cut to size without any waste. It was an economical way of producing books, enabling the books to be retailed at a low price which, for almost thirty years, remained at two shillings and sixpence (12.5p).
Later series included nature books (series 536, some illustrated by, for example, Charles Tunnicliffe and Allen W. Seaby) and a host of non-fiction books, including hobbies and interests, history (L du Garde Peach wrote very many of these) and travel.
Ladybird began publishing books in other formats from 1980. Most of the remaining titles in the classic format were withdrawn from print in 1999 with the closure of the factory in Loughborough which was specialised to this format.
With the demise of the traditional Ladybird publishing format has come an increased interest in collecting, often by adults who were children when Ladybird was in its heyday in the 1960s and early 1970s. A great many second-hand Ladybird books are available and it can be an inexpensive hobby. Predictably, most value is attached to clean first editions (including dust-covers for editions published until the early 1960s). However, the Ladybird imprints rarely make it clear whether or not a book is a first edition. A guide to identifying Ladybird books is at http://www.theweeweb.co.uk/ladybird/spotting_firsts.php and http://www.ladybirdflyawayhome.com/
- Ladybird Books to close Loughborough plant, 30 November 1998. Archived at the Wee Web.
- Ladybird Books official website
- Ladybird Fly Away Home Information and galleries for collectors and the nostalgic
- Nicole's website for collectors contains a list of standard size ladybird books including many foreign language ones and pictures of over 3,000 front covers of ladybird books
- Easy on the Eye Ladybird Books website
- The Wee Web A guide to Ladybird Books
- John Berry - Daily Telegraph obituary