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These delightful pocket sized books have
become both a collector's delight and a torture for those
whose aim it is to collect every variation of every edition.
Prices for books in this informative series vary from the
hundreds of pounds for a 1st edition of The Observer's Book
of Birds, with a wrapper, to a few pence for some titles
published in the Observer's heyday of the 1970's.
So where did it all start? Frederick
Warne had a history of publishing both children's books
and natural history books. Of particular note are the Beatrix
Potter tales which blend the two areas together with their
charming stories and illustrations. In 1895 Edward Step
had Wayside and Woodland Blossoms published which was his
first book and the first in the Wayside and Woodland series.
These books were designed for the observant wayfarer. They
were the forerunners of the present day field guides with
the revolutionary features of being short, concise, well
illustrated in colour, accurate and pocket sized, all of
which made them ideal for the beginner. Edward Step's books
were so successful that some of the text was reused verbatim
in some of the early Observer titles.
But why were The Observer books
so successful, with some titles still being published today
under a new publisher of Penguin? The reason is best captured
in an extract from the fly leaf of the original Editions.
- Popular Price
- Suitable for carrying in the pocket
- Accurate Pictures
The books were published by
Frederick Warne from 1937 (Birds) to 1982 (Opera). Each
book in the series was assigned a number which is found
on the base of the spine, although some of the early editions
were not assigned numbers until their later reprints were
published. Also to confuse matters further, number 86 Country
Houses, was commissioned but never published. The Observer
series covers a large number of diverse subjects, with the
first eleven being natural history based, then moving on
to subjects such as architecture, cathedrals, vegetables and kitchen antiques.
Nearly all of the early titles
have been updated, rearranged or completely rewritten and
even the titles have been changed. Some like Aircraft (Airplanes from 1942 to 1949) and Automobiles (later to become Cars)
have been updated annually.
For most collectors the period 1937 to 1982 covers the
"real" Observer series. After this Warne initially
tried relaunching the series as "The New Observers",
but being in financial difficulty they sold out to Penguin.
Since 1982 there have been two additions to the series -
the reference book The Observer's Book of Observer's Books, published
in 1999 and The Observer's Book of Wayside and Woodland published in 2003.
What makes collecting Observers
so enjoyable is the ready availability of most of the titles,
although some of the later titles, from number 79 Caterpillars onwards, are harder to find as they had smaller print runs.
If you start by collecting a copy of each title, there is
then a natural progression to collecting every edition of
a title, especially those such as Aircraft. You could then
move on to collecting each different style of dustwrapper
as most books in the series were published with different
dustwrappers in their lifetime. Sometimes the changes were
very small, for example the justification of the authors'
names on The Observer's Book Of Architecture. Then for the
really enthusiastic there are the Cyanamid wrappers which
are 13 Observers
There is so much to learn and so many different
variations in what appears to be a simple series of just
100 books that once you have started collecting it can become
very addictive indeed!
|Contributed by Adam Parker