Wills and Hepworth did not have the collector in mind when publishing their books and as a result, many first editions are difficult to identify. Many booksellers and new collectors to Ladybird believe that if a book states 'First published 19xx' and has no other date, then it will be a first edition, but this couldn't be further from the truth.
Check the dustwrapper flap or catalogue list
All Ladybird books prior to 1965 were published with dust-wrappers and usually had a list of titles from the series on the rear flap. A true first edition will always be the last title listed or in a few books, it may not even be on the list at all. If your title is the last on the list, then it MAY be a first edition, but there are other points to check first. If the title appears in the middle of the list, then it is definately not a first edition.
If your book is missing it's dustwrapper, you can check the catalogue at the back of the book. Up until 1955, most ladybird books were published with 56 pages rather than the standard 52, and one of these pages would sometimes be used to advertise other books (not necessarily from the same series). From this list of books, you will be able to date the last titles listed in each series and this usually gives an approximation of the date to within a year.
Some early editions were produced with dates and edition numbers. This information was always found on the reverse side of the front flyleaf.
Books published in 1940 and 1941 tend not to have any dates on their first editions, these were from series 401, 413 and 417. However later editions up to 1955 would often have the date and edition printed.
Copies from the late 1970's have a date printed inside the bottom of the first page in roman numerals.
Between 1963 and 1974, some Ladybird books have a 'tally number' printed somewhere on the book, usually found on the back flap of the dustwrapper or on a matt edition can be located at the bottom of the back board. The tally number indicates the approximate number of titles published so far by Ladybird.
100 = 1963 and 1964
120-140 = 1965
150-170 = 1966
190-200 = 1967 and 1968
210-225 = 1968
230-260 = 1969
270-280 = 1970 and 1971
300 = 1972
320-340 = 1973
350-370 = 1974
Spine text direction
Another indication of age can be determined by looking at the direction of the text on a book spine and it's dustwrapper. All spine titles ran from bottom to top until 1959, after which Wills & Hepworth changed the direction to top to bottom in order to follow other publishers.
From 1940 to 1961, Wills & Hepworth used the open-winged ladybird logo on their books.
This was printed in blue, green or black ink. From 1961 to 1966, the ladybird in the round circle was used (see above). From 1967 to the late 1970's, another ladybird logo was used without the circle, and from then on, the actual word 'ladybird' was used encorporating a ladybird on top of the writing.
The very early ladybird books had pictorial endpapers which were usually a line drawing with no colouring to them (most often seen in the favourite 401 animal stories). The illustration at the front often differed to the one on the back endpaper. These were produced up until 1953.
Following 1953, the books had a distinctive open-winged ladybird pattern on the first and last pages inside the cover. The brown-patterned endpaper was used between 1953 and 1960, followed by the blue patterned endpaper from somewhere between 1956 and 1961. This meant there was an overlap of four years where both patterned endpapers were being used.
Paste-down illustrations on front boards
Up until 1957, books from series 401 and 497 had a small colour picture pasted onto the centre of the front board. These pictures were always the same illustrations that appeared on the dustwrapper. These pictures were always pasted on by hand at the ladybird factory and sometimes you find copies that are not quite straight!
As well as having dustwrappers, series 413, 455, 474 and 455 were all produced with full pictorial boards - this was dropped in 1957 to save on production costs and this was when the buff boards would have started instead.
These are the basic pointers for dating your Ladybird books and for spotting the first editions. There are some variations to the rules above but it is a basic guide.
There are some ladybird sellers on Ebay that wrongly state 'first edition' if they have any dustcover copy so be very careful before you bid or buy. If the seller has not written enough information about the book to prove to you it is a true first edition, then ask some questions before the end of the auction.
Beware of some copies that may have a different dustcover to the original one. You can usually tell by checking the rules above. Also check the condition of the book compared to the dustwrapper. If the book has a dustwrapper, the boards inside should have been well-protected with very little wear. If the boards are quite worn and marked, then obviously the dustwrapper doesn't belong to the book.
Read the description very carefully. It is always hard to see the condition of the spine in the photographs and personally, if the books have a missing spine, I don't buy them, as they look ugly on the shelf.
Check whether the book is matt or laminated. This is a really easy way to quickly check the age of a ladybird book - matt copies remained in print until the 1980's. The same goes for bar codes on the back of the book - these were introduced in the 1970's.
You should now be armed with enough information to accurately date your ladybird book. There are several ladybird web sites on the internet which will be able to give you a full list of titles and publication dates.
YOU ARE WELCOME TO VISIT MY EBAY SHOP IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO BUY LADYBIRD BOOKS - I ALWAYS HAVE SEVERAL BOOKS IN STOCK - DUSTCOVERS & MATT COPIES.