pocket Observer's books, aka Observers Books,
directories, cards and related ephemera
Gary's site | Irish OPS page | Richard's site | Dumpy
& other pocket-sized books (Now a separate page)
OPSCS - The OBSERVERS
COMPLETE LIST of pocket-sized OBSERVERS BOOKS
1 . BRITISH
16. MUSIC 1953
as) BRITISH STEAM LOCOMOTIVES 1974
98. OPERA 1982
These were landscape format books, except as noted, twice the size of a standard OPS book, published between 1961-1984
RACKS, BOOKCASES AND CARDBOARD CONTAINERS
YOU EVER WONDERED HOW OBSERVER'S BOOKS WERE MADE?
Most Saturday evenings, my wife and I attend the local Bingo. One day someone mentioned about the new Harry Potter book which was about to be on sale in bookshops and all the secrecy surrounding the story before its actual release date. At this time there had been a few articles about this book and previous Harry Potter stories on the local TV News. These news reports showed several views of Clays of Bungay, the printers, where about half a million copies of this new edition was being printed and that the staff there were sworn to secrecy about anything to do with the actual story itself. "I know", said Ron (who with Joan, are a couple we've come to know well), "as I work there". "Ah", said I, "You've probably made a few Observers books in the past if you've worked there for some time?" "Yes", he replied, "But I was more involved with them at Clowes and Joan was much more involved in Observers books than I". Although I knew that they lived in Beccles, it never dawned on me that they may have worked at W M Clowes and Sons Ltd., as Ron and I often talked about his time in the Merchant Navy or my career as a regular soldier.
Joan told me that she started work at Clowes in the early 1950s and worked there during the boom years of Observer books, firstly as a 'Sewer'. After a while she became an 'Examiner' and remained as this until having to leave when she married (common policy in those days. The books were hand cut on a type of guillotine immediately prior to being hand-glued thus bound into their covers. From here they went to have the dust jacket fitted and the then finished product was hand inspected by examiners. The company gave each examiner a letter of the alphabet to use as their personal initial. As soon as each book was individually checked, the examiner initialled it with their single letter pencil mark. If you check any of your Observers' made at Clowes from 1937 to the early 1960s, you may well find this very small pencil mark either in the top left hand corner inside the front cover, or at the top right hand corner of the back cover. Some examiners checked from front to rear; others from rear to front., depending on their individual preference. Previous owners may well have erased some of these marks, but many can still be found. The first two I checked were a 'y' and a 'u'.
The following Saturday I took my 'Mike Burgess Bibliography' in to show them both. They were very interested in this and Joan pointed out many of the editions she had worked on from the pictures of the dust jackets she could remember. I then showed her my 'Wild Animals' (913.1058) with a 'y' mark (top r/h inside rear). She then informed me that her initial was 's'. At the time of writing this, I haven't checked all my early Clowes editions, but should I find an 's', I will certainly take it to bingo to show her.
Construction Compiled from notes kindly supplied by Ron.
1. After the pages are printed they are folded into sections. The process of folding them into these sections is known as 'sig' in the trade. These sections are normally 8, 16, 24 or 32 pages depending upon the publisher's wishes, the thickness, type and quality of paper and the type of book, etc. Plates are nearly always in 8 or 16 page 'sigs'. Many earlier Observers appear to be 8 page 'sigs', with the stitching being after the first four pages and every eight thereafter; i.e., stitches having four pages on each side in each separate 'sig'.
2. Once folded the end papers are then placed in front of the first page of the first 'sig' and behind the last page of the last 'sig'.
3. Next these 'sigs' are collated (checked) to ensure that they are in the correct order. To assist in this, pages of each fold/sig have either a number or letter printed on the back.
4. The 'sigs' are then sewn (stitched) into their sections of, 8, 16, 24 or 32 pages, etc. They are now known as 'book blocks'.
5. Once this is done, the 'book blocks' are placed in a 'nipper'. This is a type of press that can either nip the spine end tightly, or in the case of some books, press the whole of all the pages completely flat. The spine end is now glued and the binder (liner) is stuck on the spine end of the pages to provide strength. Old Observers had linen liners/binders, but modern techniques use mainly just paper. The next process is the trimming (cutting) to form 'blocks' of the correct size.
6. Most books are either 'straight backed' or 'rounded backed'. 'Rounded backs then enter a 'Round and Backer' machine where they undergo a type of roller that rocks back and forth on the spine to give it its rounded edge to form a spine of the correct type for its intended cover.
The book is now known as a 'case'.
7. Once the cover is fitted it enters a press with a 'French joint' machine. This forms the 'scoreline'. This score line is correctly known as a French Joint. (This is the hollowed out grooved/dipped line that runs parallel to the spine on both front and back covers, allowing the covers to be opened with ease and thus preventing unnecessary wear/damage).
8. To finish the book off, the dust jacket is fitted, everything is examined and provided the book passes the required standards, the examiner signs their initial. (When the first washable/glossy type dust jackets were introduced, these were sprayed with a fine quick drying liquid " plastic. These days the dust jacket is lined with a thin clear type plastic sheeting, similar to 'Fablon/Clearseal', etc., and undergoes a heat treatment at the time the dust jacket and plastic film merge in order to form better adhesion).
9. The end product is now packed ready for delivery. The Publisher's specify the number of books they wish to be packed in each case/cardboard box/carton, etc.
All earlier Observer's books were printed on glossy type paper as this was none absorbent, giving the printing inks and dyes a better overall clearer appearance and was less likely to smudge. At that time all coloured plates, etc., had to undergo a separate printing run for each individual colour. Several later editions can be found with plain type paper for the text, but still retaining the shiny paper for coloured printing and photographic plates. The printing plates had to be made up with individual letters, often by hand, but these days the text is typed straight into printing machines.
When the books are despatched from the printers all the pages and stitched 'sigs' are dead even. However, with time and use, many of these 'sigs' become uneven. Most of us have experienced this amongst books in our own collections. A quick check through mine revealed that the none glossy type paper appears to be more prone to this and books with a mixture of glossy and none glossy paper even more so, with some printers being more guilty of this fault than others.
In the boom Observer days of the 1950s, nearly all book manufacturing was done mainly by hand, or on hand operated machines thus very large numbers of staff were employed. Gradually as machines became more automated, less employees were required throughout the printing industry. As time progressed more machinery became modified enabling several parts of the printing process to become linked up and fully automated, until today where we find the whole process fully automated throughout from ~ to finish.
The hand examining of all books ceased some time in the early 1960s. After this period, only the odd book from each batch was examined. As the printing industry became more advanced, less and less books were examined until the point of today is reached whereby hardly any are examined due to the accuracy of modern processes.
Ron left Clowes (Beccles) and moved to Clays (Bungay) in 1974 and has been there ever since. He can remember working on one Military Vehicles Directory in the early 1970s, but never saw the dust jacket, so was unable to recognise which one from the 'Burgess Bibliography'. Looking through my Directory's I notice that 'Military Vehicles from 1945' was printed at Clowes, so I can only presume that this is the one.
He further mentions that some printers need not necessarily make the whole book from start to finish. Some are transferred to other firms for finishing off, especially where special binding techniques are required. Despite modern machinery which requires less personnel to work them, Clays of Bungay is still a very large printing works, employing over 500 people including office staff and is now one of the biggest printing firms in the UK and perhaps even Europe.
Neither Joan nor Ron have any idea what the 'n', 'N', or 'K' letters, etc., are which appear at the lower base near the spine on the rear covers of several Observer's books. Before anyone asks, no they haven't got a large collection of Observer's stashed away which they are desperately wanting to dispose of. Thanks, Owen, Joan and Ron.
Swap Meet Report, Sat.12 Jun 04
Time flies because it will be a week tomorrow from when the event was held. Although this event was held on the Saturday, I guess that in a way, the social side of this started for me the day before.
Last Friday I took a "Stamp Club" friend who lives near me to the Beccles collectors' shop that sells Observer's, stamps and many other things collectable because he and I both wanted to purchase some foreign stamps and unlike me, he neither had a car, nor knew exactly where in Beccles the shop was located.
Phil and I had hardly arrived in town and as we were walking towards the shop a female voice suddenly called out, "Are you coming to the meeting tomorrow?" Upon looking round I noticed that it was Fred Drake's good lady who had called out. As Wendy, Phil and I stood on the street corner chatting, two figures came walking round the corner who I instantly recognised. It was Mike Walker (of Kettering and the Observer's Bible-O fame) and his good lady, Francis. They had travelled down the day before to attend Fred's event and were visiting Beccles on a day out Ob's, Collin's Gems, Lady Birds and other books hunting. Mike had just beaten me to a VG Collin's Little Gem because he'd just left the charity shop around the corner that I was hoping to call in en-route to the collectors' shop which just happened to be on the same street. I knew that this particular charity shop sold plenty of books because I'd often visited the place, but had never ever been fortunate in finding anything I've wanted. To 'rub it in' it only happened to be a near mint "Whiskey" in the new white cover style and was one I didn't already have in this style, even though I've got the older type cover version. Even worse was the fact that he's found a special type of presentation card tucked inside the front fold, a card of a type that neither of us had seen before. I guess that this is the luck of the draw.
After quite a long period chatting, we finally all bade our fair-wells and made our separate ways. On arrival at the collectors' shop I was surprised to find such a large amount of Observer's for sale, all at £2-50 each and most in quite good condition, but alas there was nothing there I wanted, nor anything for either Hayden's or Nick's wants lists, so I set about looking through the hundreds (yes hundreds) of packets of stamps to see if there was any thing I wanted. As for Phil he was quite content to go through the 'loose leaf' stamp albums housed along a shelf whereby stamps are sold by the page. Phil was lucky in finding so many stamps that he required that I was beginning to think he was buying up the whole shop. I'd just about finished selecting all the packets that I required when I heard a voice that I recognised say, "Do you happen to sell Observer Books?" A big pile was fetched from behind the counter and whilst the proprietor was digging those out of the drawer I gently tapped the fellow on the shoulder and said, "Hello Geoff". It was none other than our OPSCS Magazine editor, the one and only Geoff Crabtree. Once he'd finished looking through the piles of Ob's and parted with cash for the two he was buying, ("Glass" & a pb "Wild Flowers"), we got engrossed in a long conversation ref Ob's, the work involved in preparing the magazine for posting, etc., and his visit to Highgate Cemetery with Geoff Towne to seek out Fred Warne's grave. (Geoff, if your ears were burning last Friday, you'll now know why). It was just as well that we did have quite a bit to talk about because Phil was still buying up the shop. When we finally left the shop we all left together and I pointed out to Geoff where Bessley's second-hand bookshop was and also other places of interest. Even though we were in in Beccles at the same time, it never entered my head to ask either Geoff, or Mike if they were visiting Clowes Printing Museum even though we mentioned that we were now in the birth town of the first Ob's. I can only guess that this was one reason for their visit to Beccles because there would have been far more to see and indeed find in either Lowestoft, or Great Yarmouth.
The hall where Fred has the OPSCS meet is nice and spacious and is ideal for such a venue. Although there were plenty of sellers and sales tables present, there didn't appear to be many in attendance as buyers. Maybe it's the size of the hall that makes it look as though there as far less people present than what there really are. However, the attendance in general was rather poor, thus no auction was held at the end as is usual for these events. In fact, many people started packing up well before the official finishing time of 1300 hours and even Pauline and I were on our way home by 1230.
As mentioned above, there were plenty of sellers, but not much was being sold even though many people had books on offer, including myself, at very generous prices, mainly just to quickly dispose of surplus stock. One could easily tell who the more dealer type of persons were because of their vast stock on display, but mainly because of their very high prices; in most cases double the asking price of the more genuine type of collector persons with just a few odd books to dispose of. Even so, there were so many bargains on offer than any new collector who visited the event would have been lucky in being able to obtain a large quantity of Ob's at well below average asking prices. Anyone with a lot of money to spare who was seeking the more hard to get high numbers and other rarities would have most of them here. I spotted 3 World Atlases and most other high numbers present. There were also 2 Airplanes, one with and one without dj. I know you're seeking these Nick, but like the (ex-library) Paris as I'd already mentioned in my letter, the asking price of these were exceptionally high. I didn't look inside the copy with the d/j to see which printing it actually was because I'd heard enough when I heard the dealer quote ### to the enquirer. I might have been tempted with the jacketless copy ### for myself had it been (1945 edt.) 49.1144 and in much better condition because my copy has several pages missing. Unfortunately this was rather a grubby and well-worn 1943 (346.543) edition. There were perhaps more "Aircraft" here than I've seen at most other OPSCS events, but alas none of the really early ones, or those of the second printing without the spine year number for those years of spine dated copies. Anyone looking for 'spine dated' issues, or those in the white djs I think would have found them all. It's unusual for an OPSCS meeting, but a 'b&w' Ob's was on offer. I didn't see this until just before Pauline and I started packing up. Someone who had enquired the asking price pointed it out to me, but at ### I kept my money in my pocket, not that I had that much on me anyway. Although most high numbers were present, I wasn't able to locate either a Kitchen Antiques, or Folk Song in Britain, but Silver, Herbs, Opera, Canals, Gardens, Victoriana (3 at least) and Tanks I can remember as seeing. There were others, but my eye is attracted to the more whiter covers and those with the 'smoke stain' effect I seldom more than glance at these days. Perhaps Fred Drake himself had more high numbers than any other individual because his special security display case that he made himself was full to the brim.
Hayden didn't come with me to this event as he had other things on as planned by his school. Because I would have had a problem in both looking and in trying to sell my few spare items, Pauline decided to come with me and run my sales table. This was good because it gave me the chance to have a slow walk round and also have a chat with many of those who I knew. It surprised me that Pauline came because she's never been keen on going to one of these even though she's been with me to the odd book-fair.
As advertised, the special "75th Meeting" cake was present and decorated as something to do with Observer's. Unfortunately, I didn't see it until it was cut up and I was offered a piece with my cuppa. Sorry about this, so I'm just hoping that a photograph of it will appear in a future edition of the magazine. Mentioning photos, it was nice to see the actually photos of Frederick Warne's grave that Geoff Crabtree and Geoff Towne kindly took when visiting Highgate Cemetery. I thought it was nice of Geoff to kindly leave someone in charge of his table whilst he brought the photos round to show to everyone. Hopefully these too will eventually find their way into the magazine.
On the buying front, I didn't purchase much in the way of Observer's, but one seller who I was buying some Collin's Gems from, did have an excellent Australian "Birds" for sale. ### At a couple of previous Ob's events, Hayden had bought quite a lot of Ob's from this man and his wife. They asked where he was and beings he was unable to attend because of this school event, they kindly pointed to their 'half marked price' box and invited me to pick a book for him as a gift from them. There were some more expensive books in the box, but not being greedy I selected a cheaper, but nevertheless VG "Geology" for him in a cover I knew he didn't already have. I thought this was exceptionally kind of them. I did have a Collin's Nutshell that they were interested in, so to thank them for their kindness and for reducing the price of the Aus. Birds, I let them have it for free.
Kettering OPSCS Swap Meet
Report, November 2001
It was 0700hrs by the time we hit the trail, instead of the intended 0630hrs start, as Ellis had somehow overslept (unusual for him). We could have left earlier, but Ellis is like me, 'no move' before getting a strong brew of Pauline's lovely tea down our throats, both of us using a big mug, instead of a dainty cup. Owing to the normal very heavy traffic on the A14 (from Bury St. Edmunds to Kettering) as experienced on our earlier visits, we decided instead to take the A47 route, going via Peterborough as we'd been informed this was a less traffic congested route. This proved to be so, but in places we got slightly held up by slower moving trucks where it was impossible to overtake and although this turned out to be 8 miles further (138 instead of 130) we still arrived in the area of the venue at 0955hrs. Unfortunately, being later in arriving than normal, we could not find anywhere to park near the hall, thus the delay in finding a parking space further away, and an extra 100 yards to walk to the hall, meant we were 5 minutes late. (unforgivable to us ex-forces people who are brainwashed into turning up 5 mins before 'parade time').
Upon entering the hall, there was a throng of bodies everywhere and brisk trade was definitely the order of the day. Pauline's mugs of tea (2 in my case as I'd already had one whilst waiting for Ellis) did us no favours as a quick visit to the toilet was the first priority for both of us. Ellis disappeared off into the crowd and I took a slow walk round before setting up my sales table. This revealed a bigger crowd and far more tables selling goodies than the May meeting. With the numbers of people crowding the tables at this time, I couldn't really see much of what was on offer, so I thought the setting up of my sales in a quiet corner near the stage where I spotted a large unused tea/food trolley would be far more sensible at this time.
Wow!, I'd hardly laid the first book down, (with it's price ticket sticking out clearly visible) when I was surrounded by a large crowd of potential buyers. Most of the books I sold disappearing in the first 5 minutes. Oddly enough, many of the books I anticipated not selling, as these were in the main, 'commons', were some of the first to go. I guess these went possibly to new collectors, but as most of these were priced at *** each and were in the main in much better condition than many in the 'any in this box ***', I later saw, I can understand why. What really did surprise me was how quickly my spare copy of the rare 1961 'H & Ponies' was sold. This was the 3rd book I took out of my box and as soon as I laid it down, a gent picked it up, examined it, said, "I've been looking for one of these for a long time, but have always been outbidden in auctions, or seen not so good copies of this at much higher prices, I'll have this please" and promptly placed the *** asking price in my hand. I couldn't believe it as I didn't expect to get anything near like this and basically only stuck *** on it as I really intended it to go in the auction. (Later on I was talking to the guy and gave him the run down, etc., on this book and mentioned my auction intentions, etc. He still maintained he was more than happy with the book especially as examining it later more closely, it was even better than he at first realised. In fact he even thanked me for what he thought was a fair price and was not at all bothered when I explained, my own slightly better copy cost me about 20 quid at Beccles. As he said, auctions are a gamble and by putting it in an auction here, I probably would have made more as he knew of two others present who were also after this book and that he was just glad he saw it first, so I guess we were both happy people).
As I wanted a good look round, once the 'hornets nest' around me had disappeared, I just put a note on the trolley saying who I was and was the guy with 'glasses, in tie and shirt, wearing my name badge'. I was being nosey really, as I could not understand why a crowd of people were interested in something in the other corner of the stage, but were walking away without buying any books. Yes, it was the 'Observer's Poster' as mentioned in the current Newsletter, that Mr. Whittaker of Peregrine books is hoping to reproduce at around £15 in price. A lady was displaying it, laid out on a table, protected by a large plastic sheet. Yes, it is a very nice poster. Basically it's a series of rows (of what appears to be full size front covers) of many Ob's books in full colour. The back of the poster gives written details of the (I think) authors and a rough description of the contents of each book. ...
Whilst browsing, I had quite a few people finding me to buy one or more of my unguarded books. ... Most just paid the asking price, but the odd person buying more than one, did haggle (a fair one). With the (unusual) high numbers of Jazz and Big Bands I spotted on sale, I just didn't think any one would be interested in your two books John, even though some on show were grotty, thus with the many on sale that I'd seen, I was then reluctantly considering auctioning them. I was talking with and buying some 'Little Gems' from Mick Burgess when a sudden tap on the shoulder revealed a 'haggler' with both your books in his hand. I had asked *** each for these, but in the end we settled on *** for the better of the two, 'Big Bands' and *** on the poorer 'Jazz'. Hope *** is OK. ...
This visit, there were far more books for sale than I've seen for a long time. How the prices varied and it's a wonder to me how some people sold anything at all. ...
In the end, I only purchased this one
Ob's Aircraft and 4 'Little Gems'. John, these 'LG'
It's a hell of a way to go for just 5 books, but it was a good day out seeing what's on offer, people getting carried away in auction bidding (less enthusiasm than normal here this time) and meeting and chatting with so many known faces.
Swap Meet Report, May 2001
There was not as much there as normal in the way of tables, but some people did have quite a lot of books. Took 38 of my own spares, selling exactly half (19). Oddly enough, most of the ones Ray sold for me were the ones I least expected to sell and some of those I thought would possibly go first, I brought back home.
There did not appear to be as many OPSCS members there as in the past and not a lot of money appeared to be changing hands. Not on any one table, other than a poor Vintage Cars, did I see any of the sought after high numbers. The guy I bought the Autos from had a lot of Autos and Aircraft. He must have had at least 30 paper d/js, about 20 white gloss covered ones and maybe a dozen laminated Autos. Aircraft he had about 30 of, most being £6 up to £15. No wonder my £3-50 A/C in good condition sold fast. Even my early ones at £6, £7 - 50 and £8 - 50 were snapped up. Ray sold my £8 - 50 one a bit cheaper as the buyer bought 3 other books.
I only bought 3 Observers myself. A 1st Weather, the 6th Automobiles and a Birds Eggs. I only bought the B/Eggs as the 2nd type d/j was the best I'd ever seen with bright new red lettering. The book and the d/j were in excellent condition and I don't think the book had ever been opened. In addition to these I bought 10 Little Gems from Mike Burgess as these were titles I didn't have.
In the main, prices had gone up quite a bit since I went to the last one in November. There were boxes of not very exciting or that good of a condition stuff, for £3. Better condition, but mainly common easy to get titles. £4. The remainder were as individually marked, some being quite high for easy to get stuff. I thought a few Zoo Animals and 3 Manned Spaceflights at £4 - 50 were way over the top, especially as none of them would I class as higher than good. All were far from being VG.
As we did not go shopping yesterday, we went to the Corton carboot this morning which is only half a mile from one of the large Tesco Supermarkets. This was Corton's first this year. This is only about 1/10th the size of Kessingland. Only one stall had a few Ob's. The same chap with the same books as last year who is too expensive. We had been home for about 45 minutes when my eldest son called to say he was looking out for Pauline and me at Kessingland as a stallholder there had 36 books at £3-50 each, one of them being a Tanks. I showed him my Tanks to confirm this is what he saw and he said "Yes, the same one, but his was whiter than yours". He couldn't remember any of the other titles. He could only remember that some were the older books, some were the white gloss type and a few like the Tanks were laminated. As you may guess, my moral immediately dropped down to zero as it was then too late to drive the 12 1/2 miles to this place to look for myself. He didn't buy any as he had no idea of the prices, or rarity, etc. All he knew was that World Atlas is hard to get, but one of them definitely weren't there. The stallholder actually sells ex military stuff and with my son being an Army Cadet Instructor this is why he looked closely at this stall. Was I sick as I'd seen a military stallholder there the week before last, but never noticed him having any Ob's. Guess I'm not lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time! #
Whilst visiting Beccles, (Suffolk) on other business, I thought that I would attempt to find the exact location of the Clowes Group Printing Museum that had been moved to a new site. It turned out to be much easier to find than I had been led to believe as the Museum is actually housed in a corner of the old William Clowes and Sons Ltd Printing Works.
For anyone visiting Beccles by rail, it's extremely easy to find. Just follow Station Road immediately to your front as you exit the station building for about 200 yards to the first set of traffic lights. Turn right and the Museum is located approximately 150 yards along this street to your right. By car, make for the railway station, drive up Station Road and turn left at this first set of traffic lights. This is a 'one-way' system at this point and all vehicles have to turn left at these traffic lights. Follow this road (Newgate) for 100 yards and there is a car park on the left. Walk back to the traffic lights and continue straight over.
The Museum Curator gave me a leaflet on the opening times. This leaflet also giving a brief history of the Museum and some of the machines displayed there. Unfortunately, my visit was very brief due to other commitments, but nevertheless, extremely enjoyable and well worth a fuller visit when I've got time to look around at a much leisurely pace.
Not only did the Curator show me a type of photographic plate with many of the coloured pictures on it as used in Observer's Birds, but one of the other staff members pointed out some of the printing machines upon which many Observer's books were printed. This lady informed me that she stitched many of the Observer's pages and that they were sewn as a pair, then cut after stitching into two separate blocks before being fitted into their covers. I was carrying my Mike Burgess Bibliography at the time and she was very interested in this, pointing out the ones she remembered being printed here and some of those that she actually stitched. She further explained that most of the Observer's printing was 'reserve work' and only done at times when work in the printing shop was slack. From this statement, I formed an opinion, possibly wrongly, that perhaps Warnes placed printing orders well in advance and this work was done on the cheap with very low profit margins, thus Warnes gained by being able to sell cheap books and Clowes also gained by having work in hand to cover slack periods, thus preventing layoffs, short time working, or losing money by having to pay a work force idling around.
They do have a Visitors Book that they invited me to sign. This I did, mentioning the OPSCS and also signing my membership number.
Although I was only there for a very short period of time, I found this visit to the Museum extremely enjoyable and informative. If any member is in the Beccles area, I would recommend a visit.#
INTRODUCTION to Observer's Books & Warne's
6:43:32 AUS Eastern Daylight Time
Although there are 98 titles in number, only 97 of this type were produced because No. 86, "Country Houses" never became published. There are in reality more than 97 different types of Observer's book titles, because some new titles appeared after 1982 in paperback form, plus 8 hardback types (A1 to A8) were printed in Australia. 6 of these covered subjects relating solely to Australian and the other two, Australia and New Zealand. These 8 books were in white covers and issued without dustjackets. One of the titles, "Birds of Australia" is also produced in a slightly smaller size in paperback. In this format it's quite difficult to obtain.
Although the first 7 titles covered Birds, Wild Flowers, Butterflies, Trees, Wild Animals, Freshwater Fishes and Grasses, these were the species found mainly in the British Isles, even though several also thrived in Continental Europe.
Other titles covered subjects like Dogs, Horses & Ponies, Aircraft, Ships, Music, Automobiles, Garden Flowers, Cacti, Flags, Cats, and a few other titles, all of which had a more international appeal, so many of these titles ended up being exported to many other English speaking countries. Some books relating purely to British subject matters were sold overseas and many went with their owners who emigrated, etc. The odd title, such as Dogs, was also published in a few foreign languages, thus these little books ended up going to many places around the World. In some countries all the books are collectable and well sort after, irregardless of title, or indeed language.
the books themselves came out in what I'd class are
basically 4 different formats: -
Next came the laminated cover type, late 70s to early 80s. These, although still a hardback, had a stiffer white cover showing a picture and the title on the front cover, therefore these were issued without a dust jacket because these was no need for one. From 1983 most older titles and some new editions like Warships, Airliners, Tractors, etc., started being published in paperback form.
Before you jump for joy, your 4 titles are not worth a fortune because these are all quite common titles that over the years were very popular and were sold in their thousands, unless of course you just happen to have the much sort after 1937 1st Edition of British Birds in very good condition complete with an excellent dust wrapper. Even a 1st edition of the other titles would fetch a reasonable price provided again they are in good order complete with dust jacket. In the main, all 1st editions are more expensive than any reprints that followed.
Most Observers that have lost their dust jackets are worth little, apart from the Second World War issues of Airplanes, before the title was changed in 1949 to Aircraft. Most books without a dustjacket, (other than the laminated versions) can be picked up in the UK from 25p to 50p, but some dealers do ask a £ or more. At prices above £1 they remain unsold for years.
Condition also plays a very large part in the price, as does the type of dustjacket on a book. Most dustjackets were basically the same for more than one printing, but the very few that were only issued once with a one off dustjacket can command quite a considerable higher price. Some of the later titles too are hard to get because these were only printed once and much of the book stock on book shop shelves were withdrawn by Penguin when they purchased the series from Warnes and these often got shredded for paper pulp. Penguin also withdrew and shredded some of the paperbacks until they started printing their own versions of Observers, either still as paperbacks, or in hardback form under the names of Bloomsbury Press, or Claremont Books. The titles as published by Claremont Books are still available in the bookshops in the UK today.
How can one tell
what is a rare book, or what is not? Only serious
collectors and book dealers can really answer this, but
first they must know the 'print code'. This is found at
the bottom of a page near the rear of older printings,
but at the bottom of a page near the front of much newer
printings. From these with a condition of the book I
could give you a fairly accurate price of what the book
would fetch in a second hand bookshop in the UK. Some
examples of these codes are: -
I hope this is of some help. The numbers 1, 2, 5, & 8 above refer to the title number of the book. All the earlier titles of any book printed before the late 1940s did not show a title number. It wasn't until title no.11 (Aircraft) was published that Warne started to give these little books a title number. From then on, all printings of all titles had a book number. These are shown at the base of the spine on the books and also at the base of the spine folds on dustjackets. No such number on a book shows it's earlier than the 1950s.
There are collectors to be found in many countries outside the UK. Most certainly in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada and many of the British Commonwealth countries.
Now to the Warne's
Observer Picture Cards. There are 9 different titles.
Although I collect Observer's books, I do not collect the cards and to be honest most Observer's collectors don't either, but there are some that do. Even though these are not that easy to find within the UK in both good condition and complete, they do not very often command a high price. My friend Geoff T who lives in a different part of the UK to me, quotes this to me in his e-mail.
I do not think there is a big demand for them; if a set is in good order it may fetch between £15 and £25 from a shop or dealer, but I have seen them go in OB auctions for as little as £8. What do you think?
I 100% agree with Geoff on these prices because my findings and observations in the past reflect this too. As a point of interest it wasn't that long a go when I had three different sets offered to me for £5 per set, even though one set had a card missing. Shortly after this, a UK dealer offered me these at a book-fair, (not knowing that I had previously been offered them) at £12 the un-complete set and £20 each the other two sets. #
CLOWES PRINTING WORKS, now demolished.
Just ONE page on the Collecting Books and Magazines web site based in Australia.