Observer's Books

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A selection of Observer's Books including the first in the series, British Birds (1937), showing the wavy line pattern on the dustjackets

The Observer's Books were a series of small, pocket-sized books, published by Frederick Warne & Co in the United Kingdom from 1937 to 2003. They covered a variety of topics including hobbies, art, history and wildlife. The aim of these books was to interest the observer and they have also been popular amongst children. Some of them have become collector's items. For the dedicated collector this could be a lifetime's work as there are over 800 variations, some of which are now rare. The values of the books can vary from 50 pence to hundreds of pounds.

The books were produced with paper dust covers up until 1969. Each one had a unique pattern of squiggly lines at the top but these were not especially practical because they were easy to rip and stain. From 1970, the covers were protected with a glossy coating. These types are often referred to as "Glossies". From the late 1970s, Warne decided to laminate the covers to the actual books to make them sturdier and more resistant to wear.

The first Observer's guide was published in 1937, and was on the subject of British birds. This is now rare, and a mint copy with a dust cover is worth hundreds of pounds. The same year, Warne published a second Observer's book on British wild flowers. A mint copy of this book is worth around £220. When the popularity of these was recognized, several more titles were added 'uniform in the series', but during World War II production was limited due to paper and labour shortages. Even so, by 1941 Warne had published the first six Observer's books.

In 1942 a special edition book was brought out on airplanes [sic]. This book had no number in the series, as it was brought out to help people spot enemy warplanes. It was reprinted in 1943 and 1945.

The first few Observer's titles had focused on nature, but gradually subjects like geology, music and architecture were introduced. 'Spotter' titles like Aircraft, Automobiles and Railway Locomotives proved popular. During the 1950s and 60s collecting sets of these books was popular among children and adults alike.

When Warne was acquired by Penguin books in 1983, Warne brought out new editions of the Observer's books. These were slightly bigger than the original books, and were in paperback, not hardback. The same year Penguin, with permission of Warne, started printing their own, more up-to-date Observer's books. These again were slightly larger than the originals, but were hardbacks. Like the later original Observer's books, the dust covers were laminated to the actual book. There were two types of the Penguin Observer's books: Bloomsbury Observer's, and Claremont Observer's, (of which there were only 12 different editions).

After a hiatus of 17 years, Peregrine Books published the appropriately titled Observer's Book of Observer's Books in 1999, in a format that matched the original editions and was numbered 99 so as to follow on from the last 'official' title. As the title implies, it is a guide to the series with details of its history, authors, and print-runs. As a sign of the series' popularity, this potentially obscure book has been reprinted no fewer than six times. More recently the series has been rounded up to 100 with the publication of Wayside and Woodland in 2003.

List of Observer's Books[edit]

  1. British birds - 1937
  2. British wild flowers – 1937
  3. British butterflies – 1938
  4. Trees and shrubs of the British Isles – 1938
  5. British wild animals – 1938
  6. Freshwater fishes of the British Isles – 1941
  7. British grasses sedges and rushes – 1942
    Airplanes – 1942
  8. Dogs – 1945
  9. Horses and ponies – 1949
  10. British geology – 1949
  11. Aircraft – 1949
  12. British ferns – 1950
  13. British architecture – 1951
  14. The larger British moths – 1952
  15. Ships – 1952
  16. Music – 1953
  17. Common British insects and spiders – 1953
  18. British birds eggs – 1954
  19. Common fungi – 1954
  20. Mosses and liverworts – 1954
  21. Automobiles – 1955
  22. Weather – 1955
  23. Railway locomotives of Britain – 1955
  24. Pond life – 1956
  25. Garden flowers – 1956
  26. Painting and graphic art – 1958
  27. Cacti – 1957
  28. Sea fishes – 1958
  29. Flags – 1959
  30. Cats – 1959
  31. Sea and seashore – 1962
  32. Astronomy – 1962
  33. Lichens – 1963
  34. Modern art – 1964
  35. Furniture – 1964
  36. Old English churches – 1965
  37. Sculpture – 1965
  38. Basic aircraft, civil – 1967
  39. Basic aircraft, military – 1967
  40. Commercial vehicles – 1959
  41. Heraldry – 1966
  42. Postage stamps – 1967
  43. Cathedrals – 1972
  44. Flowering trees and shrubs for gardens – 1972
  45. Zoo animals – 1972
  46. House plants – 1972
  47. Association football – 1972
  48. Manned space flight - 1972
  49. Cricket – 1972
  50. London – 1973
  51. Pottery and porcelain – 1973
  52. Unmanned space flight – 1974
  53. Motor sport – 1975
  54. European costume – 1975
  55. British awards and medals – 1974
  56. Ancient and Roman Britain – 1976
  57. Sewing – 1975
  58. Golf – 1975
  59. Coarse fishing – 1975
  60. Show jumping and eventing – 1976
  61. Motorcycles – 1976
  62. Glass – 1976
  63. Tourist atlas of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – 1976
  64. Small craft – 1976
  65. Tropical fish – 1976
  66. Farm animals – 1976
  67. Vegetables – 1977
  68. Fly fishing – 1977
  69. Coins – 1977
  70. Seashells of the British Isles – 1977
  71. Fossils – 1977
  72. Pets – 1978
  73. The Cotswolds and Shakespeare country – 1978
  74. Lake district – 1978
  75. Firearms – 1978
  76. Jazz – 1978
  77. Big bands – 1978
  78. Castles – 1979
  79. Caterpillars – 1979
  80. Rocks and minerals – 1979
  81. Tennis – 1981
  82. Sea fishing – 1980
  83. Devon and Cornwall – 1980
  84. Roses – 1980
  85. Herbs – 1980
  86. Country houses – 1980 – NOT PUBLISHED
  87. Folk song – 1980
  88. Silver – 1980
  89. Tanks and other armoured vehicles – 1981
  90. Victoriana – 1981
  91. World atlas – 1981
  92. Vintage cars and pre–war classics – 1982
  93. Classic cars after 1945 – 1982
  94. Paris – 1982
  95. Canals – 1982
  96. Gardens of Britain Ireland and Wales – 1982
  97. Kitchen antiques – 1982
  98. Opera – 1982
  99. Observers books – 1999
  100. Wayside and woodland - 2003