Ladybird Books Ltd. – Archive and Library
Many of us will remember reading Ladybird Books as children. From format to content, their books are designed to help young readers and inspire learning.
Before there was Ladybird Books, there was Wills & Hepworth. In 1867, Henry Wills opened a bookshop in Loughborough and expanded his business into printing six years later. In 1904, William Hepworth became a partner at the business and the company became Wills & Hepworth, though Wills retired shortly after.
Wills & Hepworth first began publishing Ladybird Books in 1914, and registered the imprint a year later. William Hepworth recognised that publishing a range of children’s titles could be profitable during the war years; he decided to use the time between printing jobs, when the presses were idle, to publish inexpensive books. Early Ladybird books included classic fairy tales and light-hearted stories for children. For the first few decades, Ladybird books were printed sporadically between regular printing commissions and remained a small side project to Wills & Hepworth’s core business.
At the beginning of the Second World War, paper rationing forced the company to develop the optimum and most economical design for printing the Ladybird books. They created the iconic format that readers are familiar with today: a book of 56 pages in full colour, printed from a single sheet of 40″ X 30″ paper, known as a quad crown. The one-size-fits-all format enabled books to be produced efficiently and cheaply, which became vital to their success.
The popularity of the Ladybird books grew quickly, and Wills & Hepworth begin to focus more of their business around the imprint. After the War, the company expanded the subject matter of their books into educational nonfiction. Remarkably, the price of Ladybird books stayed the same at 2 shillings 6 pence from 1940 until the 1970s, a feat achieved by strict production rules, clever design, and increasingly large print runs.
In 1971, Wills & Hepworth began trading under the name Ladybird Books Ltd. because of the success and brand recognition of the imprint. One year later, they merged with the Pearson Group, one of Britain’s biggest publishing groups who owned companies such as Longman, Penguin, Westminster Press and the Financial Times. In 1999, Pearson integrated Ladybird into the Penguin Group, now part of Penguin Random House. Today, Ladybird Books still operates as a stand-alone imprint of Penguin Random House.
The Ladybird Books Ltd. Collection was put on long term loan at the University of Reading in 2004 and forms part of the designated British Publishing and Printing Archive. Since then, the collection has benefited from additions and acquisitions by both Ladybird Books and the University of Reading, and also includes a reference library of editions.
- Johnson, L. and B. Alderson (2014). The Ladybird Story: Children’s Books for Everyone. The British Library, pp. 1-66.
- Zeegen, L. (2015). Ladybird by design. Ladybird Books Ltd, pp.7-27.
Reference: LBD Date: c.1940-2019 Extent: approx. 700 boxes
The archive collection comprises approximately 20,000 original artworks, proofs and some documentation from the 1940s to the present day, including examples of the work of notable artists such as C.F. Tunnicliffe, Rowland Hilder and Allen Seaby. The collection covers the wide range of subjects Ladybird published, ranging from What to Look for in Spring to the recent Ladybird Experts series.
- A description of the whole collection is available on our online database.
- A handlist for the collection can be found here.
- Highlights from the collection now feature in the Ladybird Gallery at The Museum of English Rural Life, which opened in 2016, generously funded by Ladybird Books Ltd.
- See also “A Definitive Guide to Ladybird Books” by Robert Mullin (2005) for more information about the history of the company and their books.
- See also the records of Ladybird Books Ltd held at the Leicester and Leicestershire Record Office.
- See also events and exhibitions relating to Ladybird books at the Charnwood Museum.
Call Number: LADYBIRD COLLECTION Date: 1914-2022 Extent: approx. 1300 books
Special Collections holds nearly 1300 editions of Ladybird books, from the early 1900s to the present day, searchable via our online catalogue. Many of the books contain inscriptions from their previous owners, and we welcome donations. Often used in teaching and community sessions, our Ladybird book collection includes many well known titles, such as Peter and Jane stories, ‘What to look for’, ‘How it works’, fairy tales, historical and educational titles, alongside the recent Ladybirds for Grown-Ups series.