judging a book by its cover
I know, I know, there are plenty of good reasons why we should never judge a book by its cover. I know this, and yet a part of me says to myself, if this is the case, then why do publishers put so much effort into book covers? Obviously I’m not the only one who can be persuaded and influenced to buy so easily.
But my latest little book affectation is a little different. I’m actually not really interested in the covers of these books at all. Well not the dust jacket covers anyway. Because if I was just shallowly judging these books by their dust jackets I would possibly not buy any of them – except perhaps for the very oldest of the series which had lovely paper dust jackets with typeface and fonts reminiscent of their era. But paper covers aside, I love everything about these quirky little books.
The Observer’s Books were a series of small, pocket-sized books, published by Frederick Warne & Co in the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1983. They covered a variety of topics (some seemingly obscure) including hobbies, art, history, transport, sport, nature and wildlife.
The first Observer’s guide was published in 1937, and was on the subject of British Birds. This is now rare, and a mint copy with a dust cover is worth hundreds of dollars. The same year, Warne published a second Observer’s book on British Wild Flowers. When the popularity of these was recognized, several more titles were added ‘uniform in the series’, but during World War II production was limited due to paper and labour shortages. Even so, by 1941 Warne had published the first six Observer’s books – British Birds, British Wild Flowers, British Butterflies, Trees and Shrubs of the British Isles, British Wild Animals, and Freshwater Fishes of the British Isles.
I love some of the later, more obscure titles – The Larger British Moths, Mosses and Liverworts, British Birds Eggs – I’m still looking for these!
I have to be honest – I remove the dust jackets from these books as soon as I acquire one. They are filed away for safekeeping. I love the beautiful colours of the hardcovers, with the title stamped on the spine, and it was for this reason I initially started my collection. The older books are all linen covered, and later editions, though not linen, are a beautifully textured board. Stacked together they look lovely, and they make beautiful little ‘stages’ for some of my small ‘objet trouve’ as part of a vignette.
Inside, the books are all beautifully illustrated, and they truly are an amazing source of information on their subject matter. They are quaint and the text is gentle and of its era. In several of my books there are pencil marks and notations in the margin from previous owners. Pressed flowers are tucked in amongst the pages of my copy of British Wild Flowers. I love this extra layer to the story. All the books in my collection I have picked up here in New Zealand. I wonder about how they came to be here, miles and miles from home. There are exactly 100 books in the series. Although if, like me, you are more interested in the aesthetic nature of the books rather than necessarily collecting for collecting’s sake, then you are probably only interested in books printed before the late 1970s.
Although my copies of British Birds and British Wild Flowers do not have dustjackets, I was pretty excited to discover that they are both first editions. They are definitely not in mint condition but I rather like the remnants of personality left by the previous bird watchers and gardeners. The birdwatcher has made special notes about where and when he (or she?) has spotted certain more elusive birds.
I now have 34 books in the series and counting. My little collection is bordering on obsessional. Each time another little parcel arrives in the mail Brunnel groans. Of course he doesn’t get it at all. Funnily enough, there is no Observer’s Guide to Rugby.
(photography and styling Amanda Holland for perfectly imperfect living.)