To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the children’s publisher, Ladybird, a new book and accompanying exhibition has been produced and is currently on display at The House of Illustration. Both reveal how book design and illustration developed in mid-twentieth-century Britain as well as a changing approach to how children learned to read and write. The series began in 1914 when Wills & Hepworth published its first range of children’s books, which gave young readers the chance to explore a range of different subjects – from science and nature, history and fairy tales, to industrial design and employment. Now 100 years on the brand has earned a special place in British culture, seizing readers’ imaginations with its distinctive combination of design and informative text. Each bound book contains 56 pages, printed in full colour from a single sheet of 40×30 inch paper. The military’s love of paperwork, and with paper packaging replacing tin for many years during war time meant that the petite scale of these books was born out of necessity.

This nostalgic exhibition gives a good overview of the range of design and subject matter produced with a display of more than 120 original illustrations from the archives of the iconic literary brand. Three rooms are filled to the brim, and curated neatly and constructively by subject matter. From a conservation point of view, the gallery itself does well to protect these original and beloved objects-There aren’t any windows within the gallery space and so the possibility of light damage is practically impossible. The exhibition rooms seemed cool and were not overcrowded despite it being a Saturday afternoon, however I was unable to spot any sign of humidity/temperature monitoring in the space itself or in the vitrines, which was disappointing. For this exhibition I was not asked to remove my rucksack, however there weren’t any objects that I deemed at risk and so this was understandable. During my visit I did not witness anybody taking photographs despite the lack of signs prohibiting it-I did some detective work (I asked the invigilator…) and was told that it wasn’t allowed, however a quick search in Google images would suggest otherwise. On a positive note, the mounting and framing of this archival collection was impeccable, and despite not being able to know if conservation materials had been used when hinging/mounting, I was pleased to see that the illustrations were mounted without a window mount,  allowing the viewers the chance to see the edges of the designs, including notes and measurements squiggled in pencil by the artists, which is always nice to see. Additionally, original bindings were sandwiched between the wall and a piece of acrylic, with the book held in place by a piece of card wrapped around the back board-A very nice touch without causing any long lasting damage to the books themselves and allowing visitors the chance to compare original mounted designs with the book format.

IMG_3734                                  Photograph stolen from the internet.