The Ladybird imprint was established in 1915 with the aim of providing “pure and healthy” literature for children, but it is the little books that made their first appearance in 1940 and saw their heyday in the late 1950s-70s that are nowadays so fondly remembered and collected.
The spoof versions, the hugely successful ‘Ladybirds for Grown-ups’ series, are the big sellers today, not those that represented the optimistic ideals of past times and were intended to entertain and educate generations of children. But perhaps those new books will in time inspire in some of today’s buyers a nostalgia for “a window into a vanished world”, as Tennants describe the content and appeal of the originals.
John Berry’s illustrations
The distinctive small hardback Ladybird books combined simple information, vividly brought to life with colourful illustrations, and one of the company’s foremost and longest serving artists was John Berry (1920-2009), who illustrated over 35 books for Ladybird between 1961 and 1978.
The ‘People at Work’ and ‘Hannibal the Hamster’ series were illustrated by Berry, who was born and raised in west London and studied locally at Hammersmith College of Art before being awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy.
Unfortunately, he was not able to take up his place as, like so many other young men of his generation, his career was put on hold by the coming of WWII.
Berry nevertheless served as an official war artist attached to the Eighth Army in the Western Desert and some of his pictures were seen at wartime exhibitions at the National Gallery in London. Today they are part of the Imperial War Museum collections.
After the War, Berry worked on advertising campaigns and was also a prolific portrait painter before starting his work for Ladybird in the late 1950s.
Berry’s illustrations were exhibited alongside the work of fellow Ladybird illustrator Martin Aitchison at the Simon Finch Gallery, London, in 2004, and the following year there was a show of his work at the NEC in Birmingham.
Tennants are to sell the collection of some 150 artworks in two parts – a second portion to be offered on August 2 – but in both sales the illustrations will be sold in job lots, each comprising between two and five artworks, and with estimates et at between £200 and £500 per lot.