Shopping with mother

Ladybird book Shopping with Mother illustrations

I grew up on Ladybird books. I think my original copy of this one, Shopping with Mother, fell to pieces. It may be the root cause for my ever-since obsession for all things retail.

My favourite image in the book these days (and, I suspect, those days) is the chemist shop.  Setting aside the mother’s nice 1950’s suburban Dior-esque suit and hat, her lovely bunch of daffodils and enviable basket with blue trim (the daughter has a matching mini one) you can just taste that nice ‘chemist’ lettering in red and chrome. It looks to be a 1930s shop, still going strong in 1958, when this book first came out.

We had a nice old chemist where I grew up. I can still smell it. Cardboard strung with tortoiseshell and pink combs. The spinning display of hairnets, nail files and sundries for I knew not what. Gingham plastic hair slides – I loved them. Behind the counter stacks of secretive mahogany drawers with glass handles and gilded Latin lettering. Cough sweets. Nivea. A chair to sit on whilst waiting for a prescription to be filled.  Clear plastic rain hoods. A wooden floor, worn down the centre. Dandruff shampoo. Pastel coloured face flannels. Skin-sandpaperish natural loofahs.

And big purple, blue and red coloured-water filled glass bottles with elaborate chunky stoppers set high on a shelf in the window.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Shelf Appeal if I didn’t hunt for the font used in the book.  It seems to be called Ladybird and after a hand-lettered start, the company retained it exclusively.

Series 563, of which this book is part, was entitled Learning to Read and was authored by ‘expert’ M E Gagg and beautifully illustrated by J H Wingfield. I’m sure I did learn to read from this book. But I also began to read shops through it, too.

5 Comments

  • Demy says:

    Ah – I was just about to tell you of my travails working on a Ladybird styled party invitation for my then about-to-be-three year old when I realised that perhaps that was a link in your piece. And lo – that leads to discussion of my search last year.

    Sassoon Infant sort of worked, but I really did want that original font – I even tried hacking it out of pdfs, but then realised that perhaps the invitation actually needed to go out before the birthday in question!

  • shelf appeal says:

    Might be some fancy typography software out there that could work with a scan but it’s not easy, I’d think. I work on the principle someone even sadder than me has already done it, or wants to do it. Perhaps even my brother, who runs the Easy on the Eye site and knows more about Ladybird books than he should? He’s also a graphic designer. Let’s see if he bites..

  • I really like this. It reminds me of something but I can’t put my finger on it. That font is lovely. How can I incorporate it into my daily life…?

  • String says:

    I love these books. I think it is largely because they bring back so many childhood memories. I too have a real thing for the font. The re-issued books just aren’t the same. I prefer the slightly grubby around the edge with a bit of grafitti thrown in originals!

  • No, I don’t bite.
    Ladybird always handlettered their covers during the first 25 years or so of their life, but used a sort of Times serif face inside. Shopping With Mother was a forerunner of their Key Words reading scheme launched in the early 1960s, and the text pages inside were certainly handlettered, though it may be they had a font put together later on. You could put together a version using Fontlab software but take a while to trawl through the pages and find an example of each letter to scan!
    Don’t get me started on the way Penguin (who now own the copyright) have ruined the brand and bastardised their heritage with cheap made in China merchandise and reprints of dreadful quality. How difficult would it be to carefully commission a few illustrators to do some classy modern Ladybird books? Not very.

Leave a Reply