Ladybird books were all printed and published in Loughborough, UK.
The company was set up by local writers and industrialists early in the 1900s (to promote ideals of enlightenment and education) and went on to employ a significant proportion of the town’s population in typesetting, formatting, distribution etc.
In 1915 the Ladybird trademark was registered by Loughborough printer Wills & Hepworth. During the First World War the company began to experiment with publishing “pure and healthy” literature for children.
The first Ladybird pocket-sized book, published in 1940, was Bunnikin’s Picnic Party. It was written and illustrated by Angusine Jeanne Macgregor – later with revised verse added by Walter Perring.
The books quickly became a national phenomenon, with the cheap-to-produce, cheap-to-buy series proving an easy shelf-filler in primary schools across the country.
The pocket-sized hardback Ladybird book measured roughly 4½” x 7″(11.5 cm x 18 cm) and early books used a standard 56-page format, chosen because a complete book could be printed on one large standard sheet of paper, a quad crown – 40″ x 30″ – which was then folded and cut to size without waste paper. It was an economical way of producing books, enabling the books to be retailed at a low price.
Incredibly, the price of a Ladybird book stayed at 2 shillings and 6 for 31 years from 1940 until decimalisation in 1971.
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 established 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.
Many Ladybird editions were so popular that they were later printed in their millions so most surviving books are now worth no more than a fiver. But find a rare copy or first edition and it can be worth hundreds of pounds.