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Observer's Books, Published by Frederick Warne


Further to the success of the series in the UK and US, from the mid fifties onwards, Warne collaborated with a small number of Dutch and German publishers (Werner Classen Verlag, Verlag NZZ and Delphin Verlag for example) to produce a wide variety of foreign language versions. In addition to this, between 1979 and 1981 Warne and Methuen in Australia jointly published a series of eight books with Australian themes, including some now highly sought-after editions such as Snakes and Lizards of Australia (A1), and National Parks of Australia (A7).

As new editions in the Observer Books series were published, their jackets also evolved. Early jackets - often referred to as being "wavy line" editions due to their distinctive hand-drawn border pattern - were printed on thin paper and hence ripped easily, picked up stains and invariably sustained some sort of wear, making mint editions now very hard to find. Until the end of the '50s, the standard format for these jackets was for there to be a picture (usually a reproduction of one of the book's many illustrations) printed in the middle of the cover in an unbordered box but, from the start of the 1960's, as colour printing techniques improved, many titles sported glorious full-colour jackets.

At the beginning of the '70s the series received another facelift. Gone now were the wavy lines and the individual look of the jackets, gone too were the quaint drawings on the front covers. Instead, Warne introduced uniformity, providing clean antiseptic white jackets with red and black lettering, together with black bordered colour photographs. These jackets were coated with a thin layer of lamination, making them much less prone to wear than earlier editions, but they were not as eye-catching as before, as can be seen when comparing the two different editions of Sculpture. The final stage in the series' evolution occurred in the late '70s, where jackets were abandoned entirely and the books were instead laminated, with the white covers bearing the same format as before.

However, while these later white editions were indeed better protected against general wear, they were no less subject to degradation - certain inks and dyes used in the printing process were fugitive in nature, with the result that the white covers were prone to sunning, growing darker as they aged, while the red lettering, particularly the titles on the spines as they sat exposed on sun-lit Berkshire living-room bookshelves, would become bleached and gradually fade away, first to pink, then orange, then to yellow, eventually to disappear altogether. As a consequence, perfect white editions with strong bold red lettering are of considerably greater worth than editions showing any of these age-related failings.

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